Hunt: Showdown Review
Down in the bayous, life is cheap. As the sun begins to set, shambling monstrosities creep out of the quagmire, intent on sending me back to a painstakingly long loading screen to start the nightmare all over again. Before getting into the meat of Hunt: Showdown, it’s worth acknowledging that I was playing on the recently released PS4 port; the game has been out for some time both on PC and Xbox One.
I’m not sure why there was almost a year’s delay between the game’s initial release and the PS4 release, but the fact that my enjoyment was hampered by some technical limitations and poor porting foresight suggests this may not have been an easy process for Crytek, the developer of Hunt: Showdown.
Upon first launching the game, I’m presented with a virtual cursor that takes an age to drag across the screen to launch my first match. The text on the main menu is suspiciously small as well, leading me to suspect it hasn’t been resized for this console release. I also encountered quite a lot of texture popping and the draw distance proved to be troublesome when a lot of the time combat took place across expansive fields.
Port gripes aside, in Hunt: Showdown you are given a selection of randomly generated hunters to select from. These hunters all have different health bar configurations, skills and weapon loadouts, the latter two of which can be freely customised. While each hunter earns XP from matches, you also earn bloodline XP which is not tied to a specific hunter. Increasing your bloodline level gives you access to new weapons and utility items and, at level eleven, the training wheels are removed and permadeath for your hunters is activated.
Before taking on other players, as Hunt: Showdown is almost exclusively a competitive multiplayer game, I opted to try the tutorials. These serve as single-player instances of the multiplayer mode, and allow you to tackle the objective of hunting your monstrous targets without the risk of other players hunting you. In these tutorials, your target is always a sickeningly fast and large spider that can scuttle across the walls and ceiling of whatever building it’s built its nest in. There are two other monsters that are randomly selected for regular multiplayer matches, a lightning-fast Assassin and a pig-faced brute called The Butcher. To find your target, you need to visit up to three spots in the map that help narrow down the search. In multiplayer matches, these spots are the same for all players so often serve as a location for frenetic firefights and nerve-wracking ambushes. The tutorial helped explain the mechanics well enough, but without the threat of players I certainly didn’t get a grasp on how to best play Hunt: Showdown.
It should also be said that Hunt: Showdown is best played with surround sound headphones, and the game even suggests upon launch that you play this way. Broken glass and hanging cans litter the map and serve as audio clues for when another player is close by, and the fantastic score on the main menu is much appreciated considering how much time is spent there waiting for the next game to be found.
When entering a match, you’re given the option to play solo, in a team or two, or a team of three. I figured I should spend my first few hours playing solo with the knowledge that I still had the comfort blanket of no permadeath, before frustrating my teammates by having no clue what I’m doing. After about eight straight deaths, I realised that solo play was no easy feat, and the game awards extra XP to players who are brave enough to tackle the matches as a lone wolf. Without being able to observe how a teammate tackles hunting the target whilst also keeping an eye out for other players, I found I’d often be shot without warning and ejected from the game. This just proved frustrating, as I’d have to go through the process of re-searching for a game again and spent a lot of my time just watching loading screens.
It wasn’t until I jumped into teams of two or three that I found the fun in Hunt: Showdown, and I think it’s indicative of the battle royale genre that these games are more enjoyable when played with friends. Working alongside more experienced players, I started to get a few kills and even a few wins.
Every now and again, there’d be explosions of action where we’d encounter another team of players. During one such event, we managed to garrison a homestead and reign fire upon another team attempting to cross the adjacent cornfield. This felt fantastic with the 19th century period rifles and shotguns that makes up the majority of the game’s arsenal. Each gunshot feels deliberate, as often enough guns need reloading after every bullet. Thankfully, a headshot with most weapons is enough to take down another player and landing a shot feels great.
It’s just a shame that, between these standout moments, we’d be running between clues and mowing down fairly rudimentary AI zombies that posed little to no threat and really just served as a way of populating a fairly bland map. Had I been playing exclusively with a friend or two, I feel the monotonous sections of each match may have felt like less of a chore.
Even playing with a team, we would often be picked off mercilessly and chucked back to the main menu, though it must be said that you’re given the option to revive downed teammates if you can stay alive long enough. PvP combat was unpredictable and, while in one game I might encounter seven or eight other players, in another I may finish the entire round without encountering a single one. There’s no leaderboard or way to know if players have been killed, so you’re often stalking through the map unsure if you’re the only player left standing. This paranoia is definitely intentional, and I admire the intent, but it does sometimes mean that games can feel incredibly lacklustre and uneventful.
Hunt: Showdown is a series of frustrating experiences punctuated with exhilarating moments of high stakes, heart-pounding action. Did I enjoy it? Yes, for about ten minutes every hour. If this is a ratio you’re comfortable with, then you might have a great time. For me, it was a little too infrequent to sustain interest.
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