Video Game Logic: Hydraulic Empire

Hydraulic Empire could have been a simple flash game

Danielle George / The Runner

Danielle George / The Runner

After two solid hours of slogging through Hydraulic Empire, I’m eight levels in and feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing.

The story revolves around you defending(?) your town or country against your own people by attacking(?) areas further and further from the starting point. I use question marks with both of these terms because, although this was intended to be a fairly straight-forward Tower Defense-style game, as I progressed through the levels I was clearly pushing further and further into enemy territory. I had crossed a line and was no longer truly defending—now I was the aggressor. Perhaps there could be a clever analogy made here about how feudal systems “defend” against their populace through force and intimidation, but either the analogy is just too darned clever for me, or the layout and gameplay simply don’t reflect this interpretation of the story.

As a disclaimer, Hydraulic Empire is still in development, but they’re selling the Beta on Steam, so it’s at least considered close enough to completion to be tested. And to its credit the game does have a very good tutorial, making it very easy for players to pick up the already intuitive control system. This doesn’t make up, however, for other areas in which the game’s help would be appreciated but is thoroughly lacking.

The upgrade system is complex only in the sense that it doesn’t explain anything to you, and gives you a only the bare minimum of information about what you’re doing and how you may accomplish your goals. On top of that, you have nine character upgrades to play with and four skills that use “mana”—which is great, since at the beginning there’s a part of the story that tells you magic and wizards are evil and were oppressing your people, but now you get to use mana to power your skills. Could this be a plot twist? Will this pay off in a big way towards the end?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to play the game long enough to find out. Hydraulic Empire is simple, repetitive, and very reminiscent of flash games I used to play online as a kid. It even comes with the same sound effects and music too—the tones are repetitive, grating and loud enough to make me recommend playing with the volume off.

Kyle Prince / screenshot from Hydraulic Empire

In its defense (pun absolutely intended), the difficulty of the game’s levels keep you on your toes, and might force you back into previous levels to grind out a few more kills and experience. There’s also enough variety in the selection of towers to allow for some small measure of customization in each level if you don’t stack upgrades onto one tower. They do make it very easy to modify which towers get the upgrades, which is a nice change from some other games in the genre that force you to plan out all of your future skills the moment you achieve your first skill point.

If you’re looking to be competitive, Hydraulic Empire does offer leaderboard stats showing high scores, so there’s a bit more than just finishing the levels. Beyond that, the real saving grace of the game is the ingenuity of its enemies. You’re a robot defending against other robots and they really took that into consideration. Smaller ‘bots can get a boost from larger ‘bots. Fast ones can hop onto big ones and combine to become faster and stronger, as well as other benefits they gain from being around complimentary ‘bots. It’s enough to keep me interested in the game, if only to find out how they capitalize on this system as development continues.

As it stands now, the fact that the game is still in its Beta stage really shows through in the gameplay. Maybe once they hammer down the dents and smooth the rough edges I’ll be able to say a few more nice things about Hydraulic Empire. Until then, I’d say the game is a little too reminiscent of Transformers, and that’s pretty damn far from a ringing endorsement.

Kyle Prince / screenshot from Hydraulic Empire

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