Hydrophobia developer Dark Energy Digital has urged gamers to play its water-based third-person action game with an open mind and not like a Gears of War clone.

The Manchester-based studio launched an impassioned defence of its timed Xbox 360 exclusive after stinging criticism from some reviewers.

Hydrophobia, out now from XBLA for 1200 Microsoft Points, managed a 4/10 in today's Eurogamer review.

A snippet: "The result is a game that feels like it needs more playtesting. Part of that is cultural; we are no longer used to being stumped in action games (and make no mistake, this is a third-person action game, devoid of any of the resource management systems necessary for true survival horror), searching the beams and walls for a way out of the room into the next rush of adrenaline.

"But in truth, Hydrophobia is simply poorly signposted, and the rules of its environments are too blurred and inconsistent. Sometimes doors are locked for no better reason than needing a cut-scene to play out first; some pipes that can be exploded in one area to raise the water level will be impervious to the same attacks in the next area, an inconsistency that causes you to doubt yourself and the developers every time you get stuck. Am I baffled by design or by bug?"

"We deliberately didn't take any of the clichés of existing games," managing director Pete Jones told Eurogamer.

"We set out not to produce a third-person shooter. When you're talking about the spread of some of the reviews, some people tried to shoehorn it into the way they perceive a third-person shooter to react.

"This is not a third-person shooter. It's a survival adventure, and the player is using the environment as the prime weapon. That's what they're using to kill the enemy and to get through the game.

"We threw away the rulebook."

Jones added: "Sometimes it is a bit difficult when something new is produced. I think the American president was Johnson who said at the turn of the last century, 'Electricity? It'll never catch on.'

"You introduce something new and immediately people don't always get it. They try to look at it through the lens of their own preconceptions of other games."

While Jones admitted to "an adjustment phase" and "a bit of a disconnect" when gamers first pick up the pad, he said Hydrophobia was as good as XBLA standard-bearers Shadow Complex and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.

"No one would ever say you've produced something that's perfect. We're absolutely aware of that. However it is a completely different experience and it's a real blast."

Creative director Deborah Jones weighed in with her own plea.

"We love the product," she said. "Yes, like anything new there are different elements and mechanics. But it's a stunning game. It's an XBLA download game for ten quid.

"Our game is up there without a shadow of a doubt with [Shadow Complex and Lara Croft]. There's no doubt about it. Honestly, try to produce that game on any other engine. It's not possible. It's a gig file size. It's got incredible effects. There are some amazing gameplay mechanics that have never been done in a game before."

Hydrophobia, which was built using DED's own HydroEngine, has been in development for three and a half years – a period of time Pete described as a "marathon".

"Producing a game of this scale has been a bit like giving birth to an elephant through the eye of your penis. As such I'm feeling a little bit sore at this moment in time.

"It hurts when we pee."

Looking to the future, DED revealed plans to turn Hydrophobia into a trilogy. The second instalment is due at a later date, but PC and PlayStation 3 versions of the first game are expected.

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Wesley Yin-Poole

Wesley Yin-Poole

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