Long read: Who is qualified to make a world?

In search of the magic of maps.

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Give us a wave.

Hands up who's seen the (original) Poseidon Adventure? It's about a boat having a bad day, and it traumatised me, combining latent fears of confinement, deep water and Gene Hackman into one package. Every family holiday that involved a ferry was soon tinged with trepidation.

Kate Wilson, lead character of Dark Energy's Hydrophobia, clearly hates Gene Hackman too, but it's her fear of water that makes her an interesting choice for this physics-heavy aquatic adventure.

It's the near future, and the world is approaching breaking point. Over-population has placed an incredible strain on resources, with supplies of water and food proving inadequate to support everyone comfortably.

Salvation is on its way though in the form of new nanotechnology, which should allow cost-efficient desalination of seawater and the irrigation of the world's deserts. Today is game-day for the new technology, due to be announced on the Queen of the World, a huge ocean liner owned and funded by a conglomeration of all-powerful corporations.

Happy days.

But not everyone shares this view of the future. A group called the Malthusians is looking to spoil the party with the sabotage of the announcement, the corporations' plans and the Queen of the World itself. For Kate it's sink or swim time, as the game's events transform her from systems engineer into reluctant hero, with an awful lot of that nasty wet stuff sloshing around in-between.

Originally slated as a full-price retail release on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, the game is now set to appear as a timed exclusive on XBLA. Apparently it features the first ever full-water physics simulation ever seen in a game, made possible by a system of infinite particle shenanigans which is far too complex to explain, but which is very impressive.

On top of that, the physics modelling extends to life-like smoke, fire, electricity and oil, creating a playground of death for Kate and those naughty Malthusians to experiment with.

Speaking of the Malthusians, for someone who's not supposed to be a killer, Kate finds a vast number of violent ways to dispense with them. Enemies can be drowned, burned, electrocuted, crushed and shot, combinations of these methods building a multiplier to boost the score Kate gets for each kill.

Don't feel too sorry for them, however, because the Malthusians are pretty extreme. Following a loose interpretation of the philosophy of Thomas Malthus, they believe that the act of charity, or any action which helps the weak and disadvantaged to survive, is morally counter-productive, eventually outweighing the survival of the individual thanks to the extra burden placed on the world's resources by the human population.

Instead of keeping things hypothetical, the Malthusians have decided to take direct action against the cornucopian technologists by bombing the Queen of the World so that they can't help the world's poor and hungry.

When I'm first given the pad, after a brief warm-up period of wandering around Kate's quarters, it feels a bit Tomb Raidery. Kate is athletic, thanks to her rock-climbing hobby, and has a very healthy set of lungs for underwater swimming despite her fear of water. She has no gun, but there are not yet any enemies to shoot with one anyway.

Throughout the game, the environment proves to be one of your deadliest foes, and the lessons in dealing with it start right away. One of the first jobs I'm given is to rescue the grizzly chief of security, who's locked in his burning office by a systems malfunction. Luckily there's obviously plenty of water about and the room next door appears to be flooded.

This is where we meet Kate's MAVI, a fold away all-purpose terminal upgraded through various tech packages hidden around the ship, allowing it to see hidden messages, unlock doors, control CCTV and open doors remotely. A quick detour to pick up the remote-door operation module allows Kate to flood the office and rescue the chief from a toasty fate.