Hunter or Hunted?
These kinds of games always put people on the fence, we've been playing it single player and cooperatively over the last few days and finally we're ready to share with you, what we think. Whilst everyone else is swannin' around E3 that is! Hunted: The Demon's Forge is a good game, you'll find better because some of the flaws take away from the experience and it feels like a throwback at times, to older games of the genre. However, the bottom line is that the game's fun and with a friend it's even better.
In Hunted a pair of mercenaries, E'lara (the last elf of her kind) and Caddoc (a thoughtful human warrior) are set upon a crazy quest to rescue villagers from an invading force, known as the Wargar. Think like goblins from Lord of the Rings and give them some crazy Hellraiser aesthetic. Along the way they find out that things are more interesting than they first assumed and fantasy hijinks ensue. It's not a bad story, but it is clichéd. However what really sets Hunted apart are Caddoc and E'lara.
Yes she might be a bit scantily clad, but she's a total professional and ready for a fight. Caddoc is more a thinker and it's the relationship between these pair that makes a far more interesting journey than the main story itself.
Hunted is basically a fantasy Gears of War experience, there's cover, cover mantling, cover shooting and both characters are equipped with a ranged weapon and a melee variant. E'lara is the archer and Caddoc is the melee guy. Later on you can unlock a second weapon slot and keep two weapons of your primary type in your inventory. All of this unlocking is done by killing monsters and finding secret areas, eventually you'll begin to upgrade the core elements of your character, increase their health and mana, the amount of vials they can carry and so on. This approach makes it far more interesting than levelling up via experience points and keeps you in the action.
Caddoc and E'lara can find secondary weapons on their adventures as well as equipping armour and shields, these often degrade over time and need to be replaced. Magical weapons have a spell effect bound into them that only lasts a short while and once it's done the weapon defaults to the base damage compared to the spell damage which is lower. Then it's time to smash a weapon rack and find a new weapon pretty quickly. Fortunately these weapon racks are hidden all over the various large levels.
Depending on which character smashes the rack depends upon the weapon released as well.
Caddoc and E'lara can cast weapon and battle magic, these two types of spells are useful and some of them can be powered up to battle charge your ally. The AI is very good at using battle charge magic once you've unlocked it for single player and often times the use perfectly when you just about need it in a tight spot. There are numerous battle magic spells, such as one that lifts your enemies skyward allowing E'lara to pepper them with bow shots. One that creates a Sigil of Pain on the floor that damages the enemy over time and in E'lara's case - her weapon magic can transform her arrows into ice, fire or armour breaking shots. These skills are upgraded via hidden crystals you discover as you delve deeper into the various environments and levels.
The whole thing plays well enough in cooperative single player with the AI and there's a lot of teamwork opportunity, if you or your partner go down you can toss a revive vial their way and get them back up. If you have unlocked it, a double battle charge will release a spell link that damages the enemies and forms a spell bond between the two characters. The levels are pretty big and there are numerous hidden secrets to find, magical weapons to uncover and gold to collect - gold is your ticket to the Crucible Map Creator and the more you have, the more complex maps you can create to play/share and enjoy.
Combat is pretty satisfying as both characters and its visceral enough; you need to become adept at blocking and dodging for some of the fights since the game will throw staggered waves of enemies at you from time to time. It's very rinse/repeat but as I'm fond of saying, so are most shooters and that includes the blockbuster style Call of Duty games at their core design. Caddoc cracks skulls and E'lara lets the arrows fly, there are several kinds of bows to suit her style as well - fast bows let arrows go at an insane rate and are good for from the hip shooting, medium bows are the same and slow bows let you zoom in to get a better shot.
If you're in melee with either character, learn the value of a well placed shield block and you'll survive a lot longer.
With its mix of cooperative based play, that works fairly well overall and the myriad of secrets and things to find, Hunted works well as a game in single player. The best experience is in multiplayer and we'll cover that in a short while.
The game uses checkpoint based saves.
The Crucible is a simple and flexible level editor/map maker that lets you eke out some more value from the whole package. It's pretty easy to use and the maps you can create add a lot of hack and slash value onto the whole thing, if you're tired of the story or you just feel like setting up a brutal dungeon crawl, then this is the place to do it. The maps are created on a grid, the room exit can be changed direction wise and the arenas can be set up with various waves and spawns of monsters. You can decide what loot package is there for your heroes and just how hard the whole thing is going to be. It might not be as deep an editor for some folks, but it's good enough to add replay value to Hunted. Maps can be shared with the community, played System Link or Split Screen.
Ah...here's where things fall down a bit. Hunted looks a tad dated, but graphics are not the be-all and end-all of a game. Fortunately the gameplay is still solid in Hunted and regardless of how jagged and in some cases old-school the game looks using the Unreal Engine...it is still pretty decent. Some of the areas are really well designed and they give the right atmosphere and theme to the various zones you're in. There's a pretty nice level of lighting and special effects in the game but you will find you've been spoilt by other releases in the past. The textures on the models seem somewhat low-res at times but they almost fit with the dark and gritty theme of Hunted so I think we can forgive them a little.
The frame rate holds steady even when lots of special effects are triggered and the screen is swarming with enemies.
The lip synching for some of the characters (not Caddoc or E'lara) doesn't seem to be as good. Overall the rest of the animations, running, jumping, climbing and fighting are all decent enough with Caddoc's combat moves differing from those of his partner E'lara. He's big and heavy and she's nimble with quick strikes and acrobatic dodges. Her executions are all based on the bow so involve long range Sam Raimi style camera-attached arrows to the target. It's not the best animation we've seen, but it's not the worst either.
The physics of the game ties into the combat system quite nicely, some objects can be shot so they explode and send bad guys flying. You can be knocked over by the bigger monsters and some cover can be destroyed by the very same. All in all, it works fairly well and delivers that extra kick in combat that comes from having good physics.
Overall the AI is pretty good, there have been a few times where Caddoc has lost his way and remained stuck until we've transitioned to a new area. These have been few and far between though and frankly the only non-AI problem we encountered was when E'lara got stuck on scenery thanks to an ill-placed invisible boundary and couldn't move. This forced us to reload a checkpoint. The enemy AI uses cover and moves around to provide a challenge in ranged combat as well as in hand to hand.
The atmospheric sound in Hunted is used really well, a lot of the environments have their own sound sets and you get a taste of various moods from that. There's also a decent amount of visceral combat in the game so the sounds match the combat pretty well. It's all clear and there were no sound errors that we discovered as we played through the various zones.
Hunted has a nice dark and moody soundtrack that matches the on-screen action spot on.
Caddoc sounds suitably gruff and E'lara is prim and prissy, with a petulant nature to her voice. They fit really well and it bucks the stereotypes usually found in games like Hunted. The rest of the cast, supported by the feline tones of Lucy Lawless as Seraphine do a nice job of their roles. There are a few over-used voice types that blend after a while similar to the problems found in Oblivion and Fallout 3, but again, it's not a game breaker.
The script to Hunted is a clichéd one, though the characters of E'lara and Caddoc are well written. It's that very dialogue and their non-romantic relationship that drives the game forwards. They are good friends and it comes through in the way they act and react to each other. They have a Legolas and Gimli vibe going on and E'lara is always trying to outdo Caddoc, she'll keep a tally after a fight for instance and you get the feeling that Caddoc just doesn't care as long as the bad guys are dead.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is a great cooperative experience and you can enjoy all of the modes: single player and Crucible with a friend. Setting up a match is easy on Xbox Live and you can also play Split Screen and System Link, which is nice change to see these days in the industry. More coop is needed and definitely more Split Screen to support those gamers who don't have a connection to a friend via Live or System Link.
From reviving a downed comrade, working out cooperative based puzzles and fighting side by side Hunted nails the experience in that respect down to a T. The host can set up a fair few options and any conflicts between host and client are resolved randomly. So if you really want to play E'lara and so do they, the game will toss a virtual coin and decide who gets who.
Multiplayer (we played a lot of it) is smooth and there was only one case of de-synching after a few hours of play. For the most part it was extremely stable and a hell of a lot of fun.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is one of those games that is really built to enjoy with a friend, the AI in single player is good enough to carry you through though and it's a solid enough game. There are a few flaws which mar the experience but it's worth checking out. The Crucible is the icing on the cake and provides a lot of hack and slash fun if you are looking for more outside of the main campaign.