Broken Suspenders

Over the weekend I was playing Hydrophobia Prophecy, one of the games I picked up during Steam’s big sale last month. Hydrophobia takes place on The Queen of the World, a city-sized ship built by a consortium of businesses to research solutions to the world’s environmental and population issues.

The ship is then attacked by a group calling itself the Malthusians, who think that the best way to solve the world’s problems is for most of humanity to kill itself. Their goal is to destroy the ship and to capture the result of the ship’s research; a nanotech substance that can turn polluted water into pure water. This substance is dangerous to humans in that if they are exposed to it then it will attempt to turn the water in their bodies to pure water as well; a fatal result when the “water” being purified is their blood.

The player takes the role of Kate Wilson, an engineer on the ship who must fight the Malthusians and prevent the release of the nanotech.

Despite it having relatively negative reviews I enjoyed the game for a while. The environments and setup seemed fairly realistic and Kate was an interesting departure from the normal game protagonist, being a reluctant hero instead of the usual special forces type. (Though I did get tired of hearing her shriek in fright every thirty seconds… deal with it Kate.) It was also interesting to see a game with an anti-twist; the corporation trying to save the world seemed to actually be doing what it claimed to be doing and the “evil” terrorists seemed to actually be evil.

A bit into the game Kate tries to prevent the Malthusians from getting their hands on the nanotech and winds up getting exposed to it herself. Now she has to keep finding supplies of a counteragent in order to prevent her from dying from having the nanotech purify the water in her bloodstream.

Then she hits a point where the countdown timer is running down and she can’t find any counteragent. I was trying to get her through a door but the water flooding the ship kept washing her back. The timer ran out and…

…instead of dying she suddenly gained the ability to telekinetically control water. And I found myself staring at the screen going “What the frell…?”

Any story, be it the story in a game, book, movie or anything else, depends on the person to whom the story is being told buying into the fiction of the story. We know that the story is just that, a story, but we are able to set aside the parts of our brain that would normally be saying “that isn’t real” in order to enjoy the story. This is sometimes called “the willing suspension of disbelief”.

Unfortunately, sometimes stories ask too much of us. They do something that falls so far outside of what we are willing to accept that we go “Oh come on!” Our suspension of disbelief is broken and the story suffers.

Hydrophobia lost me at this point. I have no problem accepting a floating, city-sized ship. I have no problem accepting a nanotech substance that can purify water. I can even accept a corporation actually trying to do good and terrorists actually being evil. What I can’t accept is that a substance designed to purify water can suddenly grant psychic abilities despite any sense of logic, physics or biology.

It’s almost like someone decided that they really wanted to be making a fantasy game instead of a realistic one and so decided to throw magic into the mix. Because that is what happened here, really.

Any world in which a story takes place needs to have certain rules that the person experiencing the story can understand. If there are no rules, of if they can be broken at a whim, then it is hard to stay invested in the story of that world.

I really don’t see why this particular “twist” was inserted into the game. The gameplay as it had been to that point was fine. It seems as if it was introduced just as a “surprise” but to me it weakened the game to the point where I lost most interest in playing. If the world I was in had no rules, then why should I be invested in the story of that world?

Too bad really, I had been enjoying the game up until then.

But what do I know? I’m just a Paleogamer.

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