Hydro Thunder Hurricane Review
Hydro Thunder might be the most recent of many classic franchises to be dredged up and defibrillated back into the land of the living, but it’s more importantly one of the few that shows a developer with a clear understanding of what made the source material so good in the first place. But can the series still deliver the same wake-weaving thrills a decade on?
Never underestimate the power of brand awareness. While we have a soft spot for the now-defunct Midway’s Thunder franchise – in particular the watery variant in the wake of which Hurricane follows – we had no idea the series had such a following until we glanced around mid-race to see an office full of people ogling the game over our shoulders. And for all you similarly minded Thunder fans out there, have no fear. Fledgling developer Vector Unit has donned the captain’s hat with gusto, producing at least as good a debut title as anyone could realistically expect from a studio.
Right from the off, Hurricane exudes exactly the arcade vibe you’d want from such a follow-up, only to smash the coin-op feel almost immediately by locking all bar the first ship and course away from beginning players. To its credit, it actually reveals the extra content at a relatively rewarding rate, and you don’t have to play events you don’t like – just by repeating early races or challenges you’ll still build up a healthy stockpile of credits with which to unlock the later goodies.
Out on the water, things get suitably silly suitably quickly. Courses are well designed and varied, big set-pieces affecting waves in slightly different ways depending on how and when you approach them, and the flow of the water has a noticeable effect on handling. The new jump feature, when combined with these swells, can propel you to ridiculous heights, and you’ll need to exploit this to reach some of the more abstract shortcuts and pick-ups. While the over-the-top boat behaviour might not be to all tastes, it undeniably works in the context of such an openly silly game.
New events enter the fold too, with the two main introductions putting in impressive maiden voyages. Gauntlet is a glorified time attack mode, the gimmick here being that the trackside is littered with explosive barrels – the way they bob under waves and are popped into the air by larger waves makes for some exciting risk/reward opportunities to shave splits off personal bests, and the cleverly integrated leaderboard support is the perfect motivation to do just that. Ring Master, meanwhile, tasks lone racers with increasingly tough slalom courses that reward precision with boost power for full-pelt water racing at its best.
But with only eight courses and a handful of ships per class, the real problem with Hurricane stems from the fact that you’ll have seen everything the game has to offer in an afternoon. It’s the gaming equivalent of having a bag of Haribo to yourself – it’s colourful, enjoyable and great while it lasts, but before you know it there’s nothing left, and you’re left feeling a little bit empty inside. But with all that water going around, it’s little surprise the flames of potential greatness should be extinguished so quickly…