If there’s a genre which isn’t very well represented nowadays, it’s the arcade racer. Once a titan of the Video game landscape, its presence has diminished in recent times. Thankfully Hydro Thunder Hurricane from Vector Unit is here to offer us thrills and, quite literally, spills.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane consists of four main event types that immediately greet the player upon starting the game; Race, Ring Master, Gauntlet and Championship. Race mode is exactly as it sounds, pitting the player against fifteen other speed boats for supremacy of the track(s). Ring Master involves negotiating rings, with the penalties for any missed ones being added to the overall time. Gauntlet takes the basic Race mode but adds the need to avoid explosive barrels that, depending on the difficulty level, will be densely packed and placed in some pretty devious places. Championship rounds off proceedings with multiple events and an aggregate score rounded up at the end, complete with podium finishes for first, second and third.
Every event entered and successfully negotiated earns points which, depending on class and race type, will multiply the final total. These in turn unlock new events as certain conditions are met and the appropriate tally is gathered.
The full-on rumble of the controller as the player revs the boats engine at the start line, almost snarling in anticipation, helps build tension and eagerness to get into the thick of the action. Lake Powell acts as the players introduction to the tracks, setting the tone perfectly with its bright and breezy look, complete with hang gliders which drift past you at the start line. The incidental detail on display is certainly impressive – bi-planes drop explosive canisters, causing waves to swell and disrupt the racing , while police boats, with their loud-hailers buzzing, implore the racer to abandon their frivolity (only to find themselves nudged aside by the player and the AI working in tandem).
Each track has multiple branching paths, encouraging the player to explore whilst also providing that classic risk/reward structure for success or dismal failure. The absolute pinnacle of this, Area 51, bears all the hallmarks of a classic AM2-era Sega Arcade release, and it would be remiss of this reviewer to spoil the surprises on offer.
Even the feeling of disappointment that certain tracks don’t quite pass muster won’t be enough to detract from the fact that they all looks sumptuous with the bright, DayGlo vibe permeating throughout. Monster Island might be home to some predictable set pieces but, as the track diverges and the hokey theme park monsters do their thing, the player will still appreciate their inclusion after the thousandth viewing.
While discovering alternate paths the player will happen across hidden packages. Sequestered in strategic locations around the tracks, these will feel superfluous to some but help to unlock different skins for your powerboats. Those who aren’t into this sort of treasure hunt will be happy that customisation isn’t limited to collecting, as placing first or earning Gold in events will also unlock them.
A big part of any arcade racer is the controls and here the boats handle smoothly, feeling just right. The different classes (Novice through to Expert) allow for favourite crafts to be found while others are left to languish unloved, save for mastery by a dedicated few. When you eventually get to control the Expert level boats, they do start to veer into silly territory, feeling slightly uncontrollable on times, but leaving no doubt as to their different handling properties.
The water physics, all giant swells and riotous fluidity, feel like a natural companion to their surroundings as they ebb and flow. For the most part they work in unison with the more impressive tracks, but can almost feel like an afterthought on others. Whilst being the embodiment of perfection on some tracks, trying to complete a Ring Master event and having a huge, unforeseen wave rob you of a perfect race through no fault of your own, will always rankle regardless of how tolerant you are.
A welcome addition to the usual array of Multiplayer options is split screen mode. Limited to eight players, it manages to maintain the smooth frame rate in the single player portion of the game and encouraging that most classic of play style; facing off against friends and relatives on the same couch.
There`s something very moreish about Hydro Thunder Hurricane that keeps the player coming back for one more go. Whether it’s just to turn that niggling Bronze into a Silver or (hopefully) even a Gold, looking to nail that elusive ring challenge perfectly, or even if you`re more inclined to collect shiny trinkets, there`s something for most folks here.
Update – 13th November 2010 by Keith Murray
As we enter into a period where DLC for Xbox Live Arcade / PlayStation Network titles is becoming commonplace, there is always a sneaking suspicion that most are shameless attempts to extract extra money from people long after a games release. Vector Unit were upfront about their plans in this respect, and the add-on for the rather excellent Hydro Thunder Hurricane, entitled Tempest Pack, proves you can invigorate your userbase, not fleece it.
In a similar vein to what Smart Bomb Interactive achieved with their addition to Snoopy Flying Ace, Suppertime of Destruction, Tempest looks to expand upon the existing experience but not at the expense of those unwilling to commit. It tweaks the play-lists by adding to the existing roster seamlessly; you`ll flick through them in the same way you did previously, blending everything together. It’s a classy approach and one that other developers who are looking to expand their content could learn from.
Tempest has three new tracks and a similar amount of championships have been added as well. There have also been a couple of tweaks on the boat front, with some additions to the expert class and some surprises elsewhere for the player to find themselves. Everything maintains the high standard found in the main game, feeling like quality additions rather than mere fodder or, a much worse crime, cut from the game before release.
The three new tracks are real beauties, and will delight fans. Atlantis is steeped in Greek mythology, with temples that reveal short-cuts as lap’s progress. Castle Von Boom resembles an assault course from the 1970′s UK game show, It’s a Knockout, but without the embarrassment of the British Royal Family in attendance. Bermuda Triangle is by far the pick of the bunch, with some truly incredible set pieces firmly in the vein of Area 51 from the core game. These new tracks really will put the `oomph` back into the game, especially for those who collected all those medals the first time round. Yes they`re back folks, and placed in just as tricky places as before.
Vector Unit have taken the triumph of Hydro Thunder Hurricane and given their fans even more to sink their teeth into, making it an essential purchase.