Racing on water. It’s a
concept that never did work too well on video games. This was probably due
to the complex water physics needed to generate the right feel, as
demonstrated perfectly by Wave Race on the Nintendo 64. To this day, no
game has come as close to recreating accurate water physics, and I can
tell you now Hydro Thunder is also no where near Wave Race…but don’t
dismiss the game straight away! Read on, as we look into one of the most
overlooked Dreamcast titles!
Hydro Thunder was
originally unleashed into Arcades across the globe a few years ago, before
appearing on the PlayStation and N64. It then made its way onto our
beloved console just after the American launch, although looking at it,
you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a recent release!
This is the original of
what is turning into a pretty large series of games now.
4 Wheel Thunder developed by Kalisto Software is the second game in
the series, which never appeared in the Arcades and was a Dreamcast
exclusive title. Coming soon to the arcades, the third of the series will
be Arctic Thunder, so to be in the same series there must be some simple
thing all these games share! Well, indeed there is, and for the Thunder
series, it’s the boost!
Now lots of games have
nitro to make you vehicle go faster, but most of them limit you to how
much you can have and use it as a means of giving you an advantage over
the computer. However, in Hydro Thunder, you need the boost as the only
means of standing any chance at all of winning! Picked up in 4 and
9-second capsules, you need to use your boost wisely and in the right
places to get the best speed and slowly overtake your 15 opponents (a lot
harder than it sounds!)
The graphics in Hydro
Thunder as you can tell from the screens are well above the average
Dreamcast game, crisp and clear! But as you’d expect from an Arcade game
it contains all those little things that make it special and come to life!
From helicopters whizzing over to police boats chasing you! This game is
undoubtedly a good looker!
Perhaps the main downfall for PAL gamers is the lack of a 60hz NTSC style mode, and the low frame rate of 30fps compared with its sisters (4 Wheel Thunder) ultra smooth 60fps. However, this doesn’t really detract too much from the graphics! Something of particular note being on Powell Lake when you come across a dam and the police are driving over to stop your (Illegal) race, along with aerial backup from a helicopter! Also, you have to jump the dam and free fall what looks to be several hundred feet! It’s the set pieces like these that make Hydro Thunder stand out! In addition, the impressive draw distance the game generates is worthy of a mention as there really is very little pop up in the game to detract you from racing.
The water physics feel
non existent, the distinct lack of waves apart from on the odd track, and
the water surface might as well have been a bouncy rubber mat all along
the track as that’s all the water is used for, a replacement for tarmac!
However, this does work in the game’s favour, as it is so much easier to
control and maintain a high speed on than say, Wave Race.
The tracks on the whole
are well designed, with all the flair you associate with arcade games, but
with a length that could make a rally game jealous! The majority of tracks
are proper courses where you start upstream and finish at the bottom (no
duh!), while others are the standard circuit affair involving laps, which
adds a small degree of strategy to the mix. For example, once you pick up
a boost, on the next lap that boost isn’t available meaning you need to
conserve them to maintain a balanced speed otherwise you can kiss your
chances of winning good bye as the CPU will simply fly past you!
The tracks have loads of secrets crammed in, some obvious like a simple split in the river, while others remain cloaked behind waterfalls, or having to jump (yes! I said JUMP!) UP water falls or into caves in the cliff faces. Trackside detail is very good most of the time and the textures used are definitely above average for a Dreamcast game.
Put simply, this game
probably wouldn’t look any better on the PlayStation 2 visually! (Except
for maybe a higher frame rate which would now be possible on DC if
Now for the negative
parts of the game, which I would have to say, lie mostly within the
presentation of the game. It is to say the least, very bland. No lovely CG
intro and no menu music… just a voice over from the commentator, which
can get rather annoying. Then the menu screens themselves are all static
affairs with no animation to liven them up leaving first impressions of
the game to be dead and lifeless. Although boring, the menus are, however,
practical and functional.
The game progresses in a
simple order. You have to come in the top 3 in each ‘Easy race’, which
unlocks the Medium tracks and boats, then top 2 for medium, to unlock
Hard, and then 1st on all the hard tracks, for the bonus boats
and tracks which are even more impressive than the original courses!
Unless you’re Billy No
Mates (like me J),
you’ll be pleased to know there is a split screen mode for head to head
racing. One good thing is that, for the majority of the time, the game
still maintains a decent speed and the same graphical quality and draw
distance unlike it’s N64 counterpart… bar the water spray from the
boats, which you wouldn’t notice in split screen anyway.
One thing I haven’t yet
mentioned is the sound on the game and it is fairly impressive… although
the music is not the greatest I’ve ever heard in a game. The score is
reminiscent of movies such as Jurassic Park, but as you should know by
now, Jurassic Park this game isn’t! (Which I can’t help feel makes the
music somewhat unsuitable for the game). However, on the set pieces there
is some movie style sound mixing and choreographing to add tension… for
example, on the dam where there are violins playing a single note like you
get when in a movie someone was going down a dam. In fact, most of the
races are designed to feel like it’s all one movie that, unlike the
music, does suit the game well.
"The best water racer since Wave Race!"
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