Any new operating system will inevitably be judged by its games. This has traditionally been an area where Windows has excelled, and with the introduction of Windows 8, developers have had a chance to bring fantastic games to the Windows Store.
Though there are many games available in the store, many of them are cheaply made or not worth the money they cost. Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a definite exception.
The Basics: Racing
This is straight-up arcade racing at its simplest (The game has its roots in physical arcades and the Xbox, so this is not surprising). The controls are simple and refreshing and lack even a throttle. All you get is left, right, and boost. This simplicity is a feature rather than a drawback, as Vector Unit has managed to strike an excellent balance between simple gameplay and a game that doesn’t get repetitive quickly.
The game comes with 11 different tracks which are unlocked one by one as your points in the game go up. By the time you’ve mastered the first tracks new ones will be unlocked, and so on until you’ve unlocked all eleven. There’s plenty to race, with a good variety between tracks, and it’s easy to go for hours without getting bored. Every track has multiple alternate routes to follow along which you encounter hidden packages and other perks. This is one of the best aspects of the game as it makes every new track an exciting place to discover new secrets.
The eleven tracks aren’t all the game boasts. Four different game modes — Race, Gauntlet, Ring Master, and Championship — will keep you entertained for four times as long.
In simple race, you have fifteen opponents, and the first across the finish line wins. It’s a simple game mode, and the easiest to master. But the challenges increase with the Gauntlet and Ring Master: special modes which present the same 11 tracks, but with unique challenges in the tracks. The Gauntlet mode contains bundles of dynamite throughout the courses, which you must avoid as you race. The Ring Master contains large rings on the track that you pass through in a sort of slalom race. Championship mode, of course, strings together series of tracks to race in a sequence.
If all of that isn’t enough to stay entertained, Hydro Thunder also offers three difficulties. When you select your boat, there are three classes of boats: Novice, Pro, and Expert. Boats from each class are faster or better handling, but better classes of boats mean harder opponents, too. If Novice can be knocked out in an hour or two of playing, it will take much longer to master the Pro and Expert levels. The game begins with one boat unlocked, and as you gain points, just as with the tracks, the better boats are unlocked. As you race Novice, you gradually unlock the Pro boats, and while racing Pro, unlock the Expert boats, ensuring that your skills grow with the difficulty of the game.
Hydro Thunder manages to strike a good balance between playability and difficulty. The game is difficult enough that you will be challenged, and not beat the game in an afternoon; but at the same time, it is playable enough that you don’t get discouraged and quit after the first race.
Design & Functionality
What can be said here? Hydro Thunder looks like an arcade title of old. The graphics are nice, but not especially stand-out. The sounds are realistic and the water splashes on your screen are a nice touch. It’s neat to run this game on a 42-inch TV, where the graphics and audio are nearly as immersive as you can get. My computer had no trouble pushing the graphics to the TV, and the reward was noticeable. However, gameplay is equally fun on a computer itself. For low-powered netbooks, the game includes options to adjust the graphics quality.
The game works with both touch/non-touch devices. Non-touch users, don’t worry: the controls map to the keyboard as well, and are still just as fun as the touch version. I don’t own a touchscreen Win8 device, so I wasn’t able to test the touch controls of Hydro Thunder. The keyboard version was more than enough to keep me entertained, however.
Xbox Live Integration
Hydro Thunder demonstrates one of the biggest benefits of Windows 8 games: all of the achievements are tied in with Xbox Live, meaning that your achievements and points are synced to the cloud automatically. When I opened Hydro Thunder on a second laptop, everything synced over within a minute, allowing me to race with all of the boats and tracks that I had unlocked. This is a very nice feature.
Along with the points system, which is the way you will unlock harder boats, tracks, and championships, Hydro Thunder Hurricane has achievements, which are specific tasks you must perform that will add to your gamerscore (which also syncs with Xbox Live). Out of a top gamerscore of 200, you can compare with your friends how good of a racer you are. Myself, I don’t go in much for all of that, but the functionality is there for those of you who appreciate it.
Vector Unit and Microsoft have done an excellent job with this title. Since its release, Hydro Thunder has already seen two updates, so if you run across bugs and the like you can rest assured that they will be fixed.
You won’t regret picking up this game — Hydro Thunder Hurricane is well worth the ten dollars and easily the best racing game in the store at this time.