Hydro Thunder Hurricane
Even with minor annoyances like the generic in-game soundtrack, Hydro Thunder Hurricane is still a solid racer that can easily eat away an idle afternoon
- Excellent track design, water and lighting effects are quite impressive, solid online competition
- Speedboats could use more variety, not very many events or challenge modes, "vector" boat is blatantly better than the rest of the lineup, generic soundtrack coupled with annoying radio chatter
A remarkably solid and wholly enjoyable HD update to a classic racer, Hydro Thunder Hurricane offers up enough sea-faring spills and thrills to do justice to the Hydro Thunder arcade machines of yore.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a perfect throwback to the "high production" arcade games of yesteryear: the expensive looking, incredibly noisy machines that cost upwards of a dollar to play. Back then, expensive arcade system boards could produce slick graphics and fast action that could rarely be replicated on home consoles. Sure, these games weren't deep, but they were equal parts roller coaster and sensory overload.
It very much reminds me of the downtime I'd spend at movie theatres while waiting for the latest blockbuster to get started. Games like this almost make me jealous of people who outfit their entertainment centres with massive HDTV sets and complementary surround sound speakers, since they're literally bringing the arcade home. Even on my (comparatively) small 32-inch HDTV setup, Hurricane looks pretty darn good for a DLC title, whether you're looking at the slipstream effect of your speedboat's engines or the way water splashes and trickles off the screen when you land off a really high jump.
When compared side-by-side with the original Hydro Thunder, the progress in HD-gen console graphics from arcade machines is even more pronounced. It's refreshing to see how much detail actually went into the tracks, and it really pays off on courses like "Storming Asgard." Races feel more like theme park rides, and the pre-positioned (often exploding) set pieces add some real personality to every course. Moreover, the background scenery in each track has additional flair that finely complements the exotic locales. Giant alligators leaping out of the water, tidal waves rising from huge explosions, and tunnels of falling debris are just a few things you'll witness in your races. It's these scene-stealing set-pieces that give Hurricane the constant entertainment factor that keeps the gameplay from getting stale too quickly. Even after you unlock all the boats and tracks, there's a small incentive to earn gold trophies in each event, as well as constant mid-race updates that tell you just how quickly you're climbing the leaderboards.
Aside from solo races, the other three types of trophy challenges in Hurricane add some welcome depth to the small number of courses. "Ring Master" challenges are exactly what they sound like -- single player races where you'll try to beat a pre-established times while steering though massive rings. "Gauntlet" is essentially the same thing, with the rings replaced by explosive barrels that you must avoid throughout the courses. "Championships" are just combinations of the different race types, where placement and timing in each race nets you a set amount of points. With each challenge you pass, you'll earn in-game credits toward unlocking more tracks, boats, and events, and the upside is that you can repeat easier challenges to rack up credit if you get stuck.
Of course, the online competition is where the real challenge lies, and Xbox Live is currently well stocked with plenty of players to race and hundreds of times to beat. Small nuances in the game, like hidden shortcuts and concealed ramps, are key to placing anywhere in the top three, and you'll get a much more aggressive thrashing from actual human opponents than you will from the computer A.I. racers. In fact, the only real downside of playing online is that nearly every single person I've raced against uses the exact same boat -- the Vector.
While it's great there are different boats to unlock, the whole concept feels thrown out the window once you get far enough in the game to get access to the "Expert" class vehicles. And even then, the Vector is so superior to every other speedboat, there's no real reason to pick anything else. It's a shame that the other boats aren't balanced well enough to be competitive, or that there simply aren't more speedboats to unlock. At that late point in the game, the only reason you'd pick something like the Thrasher or the Banshee is to challenge yourself with a deliberate handicap, or give slower players a fighting chance to catch up.
Even with minor annoyances like the generic in-game soundtrack (you'll definitely want to bring your own music) and an incredibly chatty race announcer, it's still a solid racer that can easily eat away an idle afternoon. Midway Games would be proud to see what Vector Unit and Microsoft have done with the Hydro Thunder franchise -- it's a really good example of how old-school arcade games could (and should) be updated for HD console releases.
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