The graphics in racing videogames keep getting prettier and the explosions keep getting more explosive, but more so than any other genre, racing games never really evolve that much. And yet they somehow still remain as compelling as ever. Hydro Thunder Hurricane is the modern sequel to the 1999 Sega Dreamcast and arcade staple Hydro Thunder. While it never achieves the excellence Blur and Split/Second both reached a couple of months back—Hurricane is a mere diversion by comparison—it does temporarily satisfy the primal need to drive fragile vehicles at breakneck speeds.
Hurricane’s object involves navigating increasingly fantastical water-based tracks in a phallic speedboat. Early tracks feature modest jumps and semi-choppy waters. Later tracks are tricked out with great sea beasts, undulating waves of Homerian proportions, and Odin himself smashing the waters with a hammer the size of a subway car. During these holy-shit moments, Hurricane achieves a kind of absurdist racing-game poetry. Unfortunately, after navigating the same tracks again and again, which the game forces you to do in the name of unlocking new boats and new challenges, the holy-shit moments become ho-hum moments.
Aside from straight-up races against 15 other computer-controlled opponents, Hurricane also offers Ring Master and Gauntlet modes. In the painfully prosaic Ring Master, you’ll drive the same tracks—hello again, Odin—only this time, the challenge is to steer through a series of neon-colored rings. The somewhat more interesting Gauntlet has you avoiding floating explosive barrels. But Split/Second's Survival mode, which featured horn-blaring 18-wheelers spewing explosive from their backsides, makes Hurricane’s Gauntlet mode look dull and unimaginative by comparison.
The game’s splashy water effects are soothing, especially during August heatwaves. But again, it’s the oddball moments, as when a Nordic ship pulls up behind you and begins ramming your boat for no apparent reason, that give Hurricane the irreverent momentum that makes it worthy of a download.