Hydro Thunder Hurricane: PAX East Hands-On


The original Hydro Thunder is one of the finest arcade racers ever made. Thanks to some well-placed subwoofers, awesome track design, and the feel of boosting over rolling waves, Hydro Thunder captured the raw power and excitement of racing like nothing in its era. Even today, if I find a Hydro Thunder machine at some last bastion of arcade culture, I will play the hell out of it.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane, on display at PAX East (and due out sometime this summer), is a careful successor to Midway’s original – developer Vector Unit clearly wants to do its own thing, but does so without compromising our rose-tinted memories. The game feels immediately familiar. If I hadn’t played the original only a few months ago, I’d have excitedly told you it looks just like the first game. Actually, Hydro Thunder Hurricane looks about a thousand times better than the first game, and it looks pretty with purpose.

Waves and water are obviously big parts of the Hydro Thunder formula, and Hurricane improves upon them with a dynamic physics system. The most obvious result is that each boat has its own wake that directly affects the shape of the waves ahead of you. More interesting though is how the wave physics are incorporated into special track events. In my hands-on time, a rock avalanche tossed powerful waves in my direction that almost cost me the race. These moments, coupled with the huge jumps that define the series, made for a balls-to-the-wall race even on my first try.

PhotobucketThe track design seems really smart. There’s a good balance of safe paths, risky shortcuts, and chains of boost power-ups that allow you to make some satisfying lines on the fly. This will be important, since the game’s 8 tracks will also support up to 8 players online (with split-screen support as well). In light of this addition, Vector Unit seems to have toned down the effects of collisions when boosting. In the original, a hard collision would send boats flying into the air in a ridiculous canned animation. In Hurricane, it feels much more like two hefty and invincible boats slamming into each other.

Speaking of boats, the game features nine different ones divided into novice, intermediate, and expert levels, just like the original. They’ll unlock over the course of a single player mode that mixes things up with special events like slalom races and time trials. Each one has a bunch of different skins to unlock – though as I went through them I was a little disappointed to see they were just different paint jobs. There are other cool things to make up for it though, like the special tenth boat: the rubber ducky. It’s the slowest boat in the game, and it’s intended for a special multiplayer mode. If you’re familiar with Project Gotham Racing, then you probably already know where I’m going with this – it’s essentially Cat & Mouse mode, where one player on each team uses the rubber ducky, and the other teammates have to help it cross the finish line. This mode was a blast in Gotham, so its inclusion in this crazy arcade racer is welcome.

PhotobucketI’ll admit, this is my Hydro Thunder fanaticism doing some of the talking, but Hurricane was one of the most exciting games at PAX East. How often do we get truly great arcade racing games these days? Sure there’s stuff like Burnout Paradise and the upcoming Blur, but there’s something special about the Hydro Thunder pedigree. Playing Hurricane, you can almost feel the familiar rumble of the arcade cabinet, the lights of other arcade machines dancing at the edges of your vision as you boost off of a giant waterfall.

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Written by Joe D

Inspired by a love for obscure Sega Saturn games in the 90s, Joe is pretty much open to anything gaming has to offer. What he looks for in a game: creativity and strong design, or sometimes just an overwhelming sense of style.

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