Surviving The Game

HIGH High-tension multiplayer stakes.

LOW There is only so much my heart can take.

WTF That Spider boss is too realistic.

It’s been an interesting year for multiplayer games with experiences that elicit fear out of the possibility of death, especially on console. DayZ finally came out, PUBG continues to go from strength to strength, Vigor was a blood pressure-raising delight when it came out of early access, and now it’s Crytek’s turn with Hunt: Showdown exiting the Game Preview program after being on PC since 2018.

Hunt is a multiplayer FPS that blends PvE and PvP with roguelike elements and permadeath set in a series of creaky Bayou settings where zombies and monsters hang out in addition to other intrepid hunters.

If that sounds like a handful then the overly-busy UI combined with a control system that is clearly a port of existing PC schemes do little to help with that initial confusion. There are layers upon layers of muddled options to tweak and multiple currencies to contend with. Fortunately, the tutorial does a good job of explaining in-game objectives and setting the (often terrifying) mood.

The map is open-ended and the main objective of play is to kill a monster and harvest it. The secondary objective is to kill a roaming enemy.

Finding a monster requires tracking down three clues placed in the environment. The hunters have a ‘second sight’ ability that highlights the clues in blue, and the larger the blue glow, the closer the player is. Once all three clues are found, the target’s hiding spot can be targeted. Killing it will offer a huge experience boost that can then be spent on unlocking traits like carrying extra gear or extra immunity to poison.

That might sound simple enough, but getting through the swamp and its decaying fishing villages and settlements is complicated by wandering undead — things like half-rotted hellhounds, bloated corpses that secrete poisonous worms, and of course, garden variety ghouls.

…And then there are the human players.

Since Hunt is an online multiplayer game where everyone has the same objectives, players on all sides will be drawn to the same clues and bosses. Knowing that there are other humans in every map adds an extra level of tension as players are rewarded for killing others and, in the beginning, a death means earning only half of the experience earned. Hunt eases the player in ‘gently’, but once a certain threshold is reached, deaths have a more severe penalty — permanent loss of a character and all the traits they’ve accrued.

As a result of this structure, Hunt is hugely tense game impacted by the atmospheric levels and fantastic sound design that accentuates the gunfire, the moans of zombies, and eerie moist sounds in the environment. These sounds are dialed up even further when it’s nighttime on the map and the player has to rely on a limited field of view to navigate. Every crunch of glass and every murder of crows scattering suggests someone around the corner with violence in their hearts. It is isolating and terrifying in equal measure.

In addition to the audio, the gun handling received a lot of attention and it feels satisfyingly precise in typical Crytek fashion — the recoil and punch of the handguns is particularly gratifying, and the shotguns drop creepers with a wallop. When those guns hit, they hit.

Hunt: Showdown‘s map is big, and there are abundant opportunities for emergent stories to happen when players are immersed in the experience.

In one match I was ambushed by a player, and I had to run across a bridge to avoid their fire. Before they could give chase I heard groaning. When I looked back, I saw a fire-wielding zombie attacking my attacker and forcing them to engage. I circled around, waited for the fight to end, and then shot the player in the back and collected their gear.

During a co-op mission with a partner, we found a spider boss inside a ruined two story building. As we were both trying to summon the courage to go in and confront the skittering horror, two other players snuck up behind us. One took out my teammate, and the other climbed onto the roof. As we traded shots, the local threats were alerted by the noise and converged on our position. I barely got away, and felt like I was on the verge of death the entire time.

Despite a healthy amount of competition roughly covering the same territory, Hunt: Showdown manages to find its own fresh take. It’s not as polished as it should be and the interface needs work, but as an experience it carves a niche for itself within this blossoming genre.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Crytek and published by Koch Media. It is currently available on PS4, XBO, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO-X. There is no single player mode. 12 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore and Violence.The M rating is very justified — all the monsters are suitably repellent looking, the violence is explicit, and the setting is creepy. This is not suitable for young teens.  

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This is a game that will be incredibly difficult to play without sound. A lot of things like distant gunshots have no visual indications, and it can be hard to tell where incoming fire is coming from. Text size cannot be adjusted and there are no font color choices. This game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable and the game has four different controller configurations.

AJ Small
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