At a glance, it would be easy to write off Hunted: The Demon’s Forge as Gears of War with swords and crossbows. While the grimy art design, battered environments and gore-laden, cover-based combat certainly warrants comparison, this is actually a game that strives to be more of a Left 4 Dead for the hack-n-slash crowd than anything else. Sadly, while a brilliant idea from a conceptual level and home to some very solid core mechanics, Hunted’s co-op centric gameplay is marred by technical glitches, a lack of an individual identity and the developer’s unwillingness to truly commit to the co-op experience.
With one character playing as the melee focussed human, Caddoc, and the other taking on the long distance attacking capabilities of scantily clad elven warrior, E’lara, Hunted had the opportunity to take the visceral, in your face experience of Gears of War’s co-op and cross it with the team working sensibilities encouraged by Left 4 Dead and the always addictive looting element that has served the fantasy genre for so many years. Simply put – Hunted: The Demon’s Forge could have been exceptional.
Although falling quite a bit short of its potential, inXile Entertainment’s Hunted is nonetheless a solid piece of interactive entertainment. Despite its disparate ideas never quite coming together as one would have hoped, there are enough good ideas and solid individual gameplay elements to make Hunted more than worthy of a quick play through. At six or so hours, Hunted’s length feels just about right (does that sound dirty?), while Crucible Mode and Adventure+ will delivery additional adventuring for those eager to keep up the killing.
Once you have finished the story mode, Adventure+ essentially allows you to re-run the game with specific laws and tweaks to the core gameplay, while Crucible Mode plays out like a more user defined take on Gear of War’s Horde mode, in which you can choose the order of environments that you visit and the enemies you meet within each challenge. Neither will set the gaming world alight, but both deliver an additional diversion for fans of the game.
And despite its rough edges, there will be fans, because Hunted is a game that somehow overcomes its technical issues and poor design choices to become a surprisingly enjoyable experience. While co-op is rarely essential to progression (a pissing in the wind approach will usually lead to success), joining up with a friend to take on the evil Wargar (magic ravaged humans with a bad attitude), is rarely anything less than fun. While the combat is only as tactical as you want it to be, taking on enemies with carefully placed arrows from E’lara’s bow, while Caddoc comes in to annihilate the thinning lines, is rarely anything but good old fashioned fun.
The cover system can be a bit sticky and often feels like a poor man’s take on the all but perfect Gears of War cover mechanic, but it does a good job of keeping battles interesting and certainly feels surprisingly fresh when approached with melee combat in mind. New abilities and increased powers that can be purchased with collectible crystals that expand and improve the battle system at a well constructed pace serve to keep things fresh, while the consistent promise of loot once again does a great job of pushing you forward onto the next battle. An array of strange glitches that really should have been ironed out before release can take you out of the action, but I found myself constantly pulled back in by the brutality of combat and the pleasing weight that each strike delivers. The combat certainly doesn’t rival Bayonetta for complexity or depth, but it’s a perfect fit for this kind of game and certainly varied enough in its own right to carry the story through to the end.
Although it can be enjoyed as a single player experience thanks to the game’s tidy AI, Hunted is clearly a game that benefits greatly from being played with a friend. While it can be played locally via split-screen, this option never works as well as it should thanks to the painfully limited view of the battlefield that it offers – it’s playable but should only be approached as a last resort. Ideally, you should be playing this online, which, thanks to a solid lobby system and a connection that I never once dropped out of, is a slick and trouble free experience.
The story, involving our two relatively aimless mercenaries being dragged into a large scale conflict thanks to the arrival of the inappropriately dressed Seraphine, is nothing to write home about, but the dialogue and voice acting is certainly of a much higher level than you might have expected from a mid-range hack-n-slasher. Caddoc’s accent does have a tendency to vary wildly between English, American and Scottish, but the surprisingly well written dialogue is consistently delivered with the kind of vigour and believability that makes the rather forgetful story more interesting than it has any right to be. The banter between the two isn’t electric, but it’s mostly believable and mercifully for a game of this ilk, is rarely cringe inducing.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is more than the low budget Gears of War for the fantasy crowd that many will have pegged it as. Sure, it’s dark and gritty environments, roadie run and cover-based combat is pure Gears, but this has enough unique ideas to differentiate it from the crowd and, if played in the right way, can be one of the more enjoyable co-op gaming experiences you’ll have this year. Rough edges and some poor design choices occasionally sour an otherwise solid package, but this nonetheless stands of one of the more pleasant gaming surprises of 2011.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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