Its been a while since a game has been as guilty of giving me blood-shot eyes as Hunter: The Reckoning. As I relentlessly plow through small legions of the undead, occasionally glancing at the clock in a feeble attempt to remind myself I need to get up bright and early the next morning, I simply mutter to myself, One more level. Yea, Ill get through this next one and then Ill quit. Famous last words at 2:00 a.m.

Based on the White Wolf role-playing game of the same name, Hunter: The Reckoning is a well-crafted evolution of such classic frantic-action titles as Gauntlet and Smash TV. Perhaps in an attempt to stay true to its roots, the game does feature some role-playing elements; but it is ultimately an action game focused on the timeless idea thatwith a little tenacity and a small arsenal of guns, swords, axes, and other such tools of destructiona few well-armed warriors can conquer armies of otherworldly beasts, no matter how overwhelming the odds. Interspersed with the unceasing action are some in-engine cutscenes that, despite slightly unrefined looks, are quite clever and exceptionally well acted. Hunter does not aim for leaps of innovation. It aims to recapture, renovate, and revive the classic style of the action genre by diverging from the slightly more methodical pacing of modern interpretations (many first and third-person shooters, for example), opting instead for a nonstop barrage of thumb-taxing brutality.

Breathing life into aging gameplay concepts is no small task. Hunter scores highly because it rises to the challenge. What was passable for addictive gameplay in gamings infancy (and, to a lesser extent, its adolescence) often seems shallow and uninspired by todays standards. The best modern action games demand as much from players wits as from their thumbsgaming mechanics are, after all, only as strong as the contexts in which they are applied, and mechanics can only evolve so much. In Hunter, there is no complicated artificial intelligence to outwit, and there are few variables to lend pliability to any given situation. But despite its obvious roots in the simplistic gameplay of its forefathers, it seems refreshing when offered along side todays often blatantly derivative action titles. Its just unapologetically pure, unadulterated mayhem.

The plot goes something like this: unbeknownst to millions of blissfully ignorant humans, our world is secretly ruled by monsters. Only a select few are "imbued," able to see these monsters. Even fewer have the power to stop them. During a bizarre incident during a killers execution in a small-town, fortress-like prison, four bystanders are imbued with both the ability to see the monsters and the skill to destroy them. After a healthy tussle, the four imbued "Hunters" seal the prison and, so they think, the monsters. However, a year later, a large gathering of youths unwittingly release the monsters during a rave at the abandoned prison. Havoc ensues as monsters storm the townbreaking things, killing people, and generally just being mean. The Hunters return to put a stop to the evil once and for all.

Like Gauntlet and Smash TV, Hunter is suitable for a single player but is best experienced with a few friends. Using a overhead view, Hunter allows four-player cooperative play. Each Hunter features slightly different strengths and weaknesses that will improve as he or she gains experience. Players can earn extra lives by saving innocents, and lives are pooled rather than being given individually to each character (this move prevents players from hoarding extra lives for themselves). The game can still continue after all lives run out, but players will lose any experience gained over the course of the game.

Each Hunter has a two default weapons: a melee weapon and a range weapon with unlimited ammo. Additionally, each character begins the game with a magic power called an "Edge." These powers may increase a hunters speed or strength, destroy or hamper enemies, or allow a Hunter to heal him or herself. Edge powers vary by character, and each character will gain a second and third Edge as the game progresses. As characters gains experience, their Edges become stronger.

Hunter looks and sounds great, and it plays even better. Dozens of monsters will fill the screen at once and really put on the pressure. There are an eclectic variety of spooky undead beasts, from various kinds of staggering zombies to giant rats and living gargoyles. The animation is very smooth and the detail is very impressive. The music (generic industrial rock) kicks in only occasionally, when the enemies really start to pile on. Its the sound effectsthe whap of a shotgun, the chime of a sword being unsheathedthat are truly the stars of the show. There are some great ambient sounds as well; this is a game that should be played loud and in the dark. The gameplay is a game of constant adaptation; as the enemies pile on, players will have to alter their tactics and make some key choices on when and where to use their Edges, melee weapons, and range weapons. Each character has a basic melee combo, a running attack, a jump attack, a 360° attack, and a quick dodge. Its nothing complicated, but its sufficient enough to stave off monotony. The controls are fairly easy to learn and the hunters are very responsive. Joining up with few friends just adds to the intensity, as the balance between the hunters skills (not to mention a limited supply of power-ups) mandates a healthy dose of teamwork. A second, third, or fourth player can join the game at any point.

Hunter: The Reckoning is addictive to a fault. The action is very well done, and the game moves along so smoothly that its all too easy to want to hang around just to see whats next. However, its a relatively short ride, easily conquered over five or ten hours of play. After the game is beaten, theres not a whole lot to see; you can play through with the other characters or try to beat the uber-difficult "Nightmare Mode" while being treated to some new costumes for each hunter. The action rarely wears thin, though, and its a credit to High Voltage that they have so successfully recaptured the spirit of classic action games without allowing the gameplay to feel aged or derivative. Hunter: The Reckoning is a breath of fresh air and great ride. Now if youll excuse me, I have to catch up on some sleep. Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.

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