A Diamond in the Really, Really, Really Rough
HIGH The easy, nonsexual relationship between the two main characters.
LOW Why is everything so damned unpolished?
WTF The randomness of how the game saves progress is hair-pulling.
If I was to start this review by listing the things wrong with Hunted: The Demon's Forge, I doubt many people would make it to the end with any intention of giving the game a second thought -- and really, I wouldn't blame anyone for crossing it off their list. The number of minor issues, rough edges and oddly unpolished bits is a little ridiculous, and I have to admit I'm curious as to why so many corners were cut. However, in spite of all the bumps in the road, my overall stance on the game ended up being more positive than I would have expected, and I walked away from the adventure with a (fairly) good feeling.
For me, the best way of describing Hunted: The Demon's Forge is that it's a project with good ideas and a lot of heart. I suppose that can be seen as a bit of a backhanded compliment, but I don't intend it that way. While it's absolutely true that the game seems like it's held together with a hell of a lot of duct tape, bailing wire and crossed fingers, it does have its share of successes.
The biggest example of where inXile struck gold for me was actually a bit of a surprise -- the amiable, innuendo-free and entirely platonic relationship between main characters Caddoc and E'lara. While the pair come off as painfully generic in terms of visual design, their partnership and interactions with each other were a delight. This pair of wonderfully cynical mercenaries never lose sight of the business they're in, and it was utterly refreshing to see them treat each other as equals without the usual gender nonsense that so many games lapse into. I would very much like to spend time with these two characters again.
Another win for me were some of the high points that Hunted presents to players during the campaign. Although the adventure is absurdly long for a game of this sort, there was a constant stream of interesting bits to keep me moving forward. A few unusually-designed dungeon rooms here, a clever ambush or two there, and some occasional swaths of attractive world design were strung together in a breadcrumb trail that was just substantial enough to keep me going despite plenty of areas that could have been excised from the game without any negative consequence.
It also needs to be said that playing through the game in co-op mode adds a certain level of enjoyment that isn't there in single-player. I'm a little hesitant to call this out as a positive unique to Hunted since I think the case could be made that playing cooperatively enhances the appeal of almost any game, but I do admit that I liked the way Hunted's buddy system came together.
While each character is capable of melee, ranged and magical combat, Caddoc and E'lara have their strengths and weaknesses. I enjoyed the balance between the characters, and many otherwise standard encounters often became exciting skirmishes thanks to the ability to shout out verbal commands to my real-life partner and work as a team without being held back by potentially questionable AI. If nothing else, the venue Hunted gave my partner and I to play in was appreciated.
With all that said (and again restating that I actually liked Hunted: The Demon's Forge) I can't give the game a heartfelt recommendation. Things here are so appallingly, utterly unpolished from top to bottom that I'm almost surprised that I was be able to get genuine enjoyment from the "finished" product.
The list of things that need little more attention is quite long, and touch nearly every aspect of the experience. Examples? Crude graphics, loose controls, taking frequent hits from enemies off-screen, uneven distribution of health and mana items, no pausing when playing over Live, inconsistent ability to break some items but not others, incredibly unwieldy menus, unimaginative special abilities, picking up items that are not added to the inventory, poor instruction on important game mechanics, unpredictable auto saves that often require areas to be replayed unexpectedly, side-quests with "rewards" that aren't worth the effort, items glitching into an area's geometry and being rendered uncollectable, and so on, and so on, and so on.
There is no question that Hunted: The Demon's Forge has a general roughness that will be off-putting to many people, but at the same time, I was able to look past most of the problems and see the unrefined potential that the experience offers. It's not necessarily an experience that I think most players would appreciate, but after rolling the credits I can honestly say that I would be interested in a sequel to this Gothic Gears of War as long as it was half as long and twice as polished. Hopefully Caddoc and E'lara will get that second chance.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to campaign, all of it spent in co-op mode. The game was completed.