Even though it is currently still in the Microsoft Game Preview program, we’ve been playing Crytek’s Hunt: Showdown intensely for the last few days and let me tell you, it might be the most promising online shooter of the past three or four years.
The market for first person shooters has become increasingly saturated over the years and differentiation is hard to come by. A huge number of games take World War II or a current or near future war with Russia as their inspiration, ending up as a fairly grey experience as a result. Others focus on zombies, sometimes the fast kind and sometimes the slower, shambling sort – either way, I’m kind of done with all that.
I’ve had much more fun over the past few years with games that have taken the cooperative aspects of Left4Dead and reinvented them. Vermintide, for example, is a fun evenings distraction, whilst I really enjoyed the fairly underrated World War Z as I mentioned in my recent review.
Hunt: Showdown takes the criminally underused idea of working as a team to a point, before turning the tables on whichever player has been most successful by making them the subject of the titular hunt. The game unfolds on large, open maps filled with genuinely unpleasant enemies. Thanks to limited ammo, stamina, poor weapons and permadeath, it poses a number of challenges that will attract only the most dedicated players.
Starting out in Hunt: Showdown, players will be advised that until they reach level fifteen — they’ll be playing in rookie mode. This period insulates the player from the real consequences of losing, which always include permadeath and loss of all items and upgrades on that character, not to mention the character attachment issues that are associated with such possibilities.
Hunt: Showdown uses a bloodlines system which allows the player to level up and for some traces of their past achievements to continue from one character to the next, but in summary, a dead character is still dead and starting again is always a really tough prospect. Money is accumulated globally across all characters, so it is still possible for a higher level player to reinvest in a brand new character and still have a fighting chance.
The game itself is where the potential really begins to shine though, even if the dilemma of possibly losing everything adds a lot of extra spice. There are basically only two modes; quickplay and hunt. Hunt is where you’ll spend most of your time and in this mode, you’ll play alone or with a teammate on a map that also features a number of other human players and/or teams.
The players can use the right bumper to invoke their dark sight, which will initially be used to guide them towards clues. Collect three clues and you’ll unlock the location of the big boss for that level — and should you defeat this gargantuan enemy, you’ll become the target of the hunt for every other player, who will then be drawn to your location when using their dark sight. Reach the extraction point and you win; simple.
On the Xbox One, this feels achievable. I’ve managed to reach my boss enemy numerous times and kill it several times — reaching the extraction point seems to be about a fifty percent chance, but if players of the PC version are to be believed, it won’t be long before players learn the extraction points off by heart and begin to camp them. I expect Crytek will address this with new maps and random extraction locations, but for now it wasn’t an issue for me anyway.
All of this is easier said than done, anyway, especially as your character becomes more powerful and you feel the need to preserve them. During early games with a brand new character who costs you nothing, it’s all too easy to grab a sledgehammer and wade into open spaces filled with enemies just to chance your arm — this might earn you a few dollars, but you’ll never take down the big boss with whatever health you have left, let alone defend yourself from other hunters.
Gunplay is always risky, but melee combat is more so. Sneak up behind an unarmoured zombie and a knife or sledgehammer to the head will dispatch it, but if it hears you, you’ll need to hit it several times. Shooting is hit and miss, with six shooters, rifles and shotguns being the slow, gutless and inaccurate weapons you’ll have access to at low levels. Even when you do kill enemies, you might wish you’d saved the ammo for the more dangerous threats that roam the maps.
On that note, the setting (and I doubt I’ve seen all of them) appears to be based on turn of the 20th century backwater USA. Swamps and bayous are common, as are wooden walkways leading to broken down shacks. Large stations and derailed locomotives make for more exciting scenery, but the overall effect (especially combined with music that reminds me of Candyman) is creepy and unnerving. Again, this is helped by the real threat of what happens when you die.
These buildings include plenty of environmental threats and distractions too. Walk through chains and they’ll jangle to signify your presence, or shoot an oil lamp and it will explode, especially if there is oil on the ground nearby. Water is almost always deadly thanks to the unseen menace lurking within, so getting backed up against a large expanse of swamp is never where you want to be.
Thankfully, for all of the crunching broken glass or dying horses that alerts enemies with their screams as you pass, there are holes in fences, hatches and other ways to escape aplenty, and I really do like the way the map (or maps, I’m not sure) come together. My experience has demonstrated that encounters with other players are relatively few, and the game doesn’t seem to tell me how many players I am sharing the world with, so I can’t comment on how that will pan out once the game is in full release.
Where the issues begin to show really are with the enemies. Whilst there are a number of basic designs and a fair few models (among the basic zombies at least) the AI is incredibly stupid. Enemies react to noises in the environment almost completely randomly, and I can’t get any sense of what their range of hearing or line of sight is — I’ve been charged from miles away and I’ve snuck directly past enemies who seemed to be looking right at me.
Similarly, enemy pathing AI seems to be somewhat lacking, especially for bosses. Enemies will commonly get stuck on scenery or lose the player entirely if you can put enough physical objects between you and them. They’ll simply not get around them. Whilst I’m talking bosses, I should also say that I’ve only ever had one boss spawn — I don’t know if this is bad luck or simply because at this point, there is only one for the game to choose from. In any case, he commonly gets stuck behind doorways and other objects as he rushes at me.
I mentioned before that Hunt: Showdown has a huge amount of potential and it certainly does. The concept is absolutely fantastic; the bloodlines system with its permadeath, the games creepy setting and score make for a fantastic, foreboding mix of circumstances. Being the hunter is tough and exhilarating, but becoming the hunted completely flip the experience in a way that never seems to grate on me.
With its huge, well designed and intricately detailed map and some really visceral, slow paced combat, there’s something to look forward to here. I trust Crytek to resolve the issues with enemy AI and pathing (which right now are completely unacceptable) in due course, and if they do, Hunt: Showdown is a game that could really shake things up in the world of first person online shooters. Here’s hoping.
Hunt: Showdown is available now in Early Access on PC and the Preview Programme on Xbox One.