A great idea is only worth so much. As anyone who has ever sat in a room with some particularly stoned people will tell you, it’s easy to say things like, “Let’s grow our own weed” or “Let’s get off the couch and go get tacos.” Accomplishing a great idea is another matter entirely.
Still, there is some value to a good idea. That’s especially true as it relates to video games. Even though the indie market is filled with novel ideas, its pattern of releases is starting to become more predictable. Retro platformer, dungeon crawler with roguelike elements, survival-crafting, and so on.
This is where Crytek comes in. You may remember Crytek as the makers of Crysis, a game so technologically demanding that it became a meme for what your computer was capable of running. Sadly, the company has faced tough times since then. Crytek has struggled to really find that next great idea that captures the imaginations of PC gamers.
In Hunt: Showdown, Crytek hopes it has found just that. And you know what? Judging from a recent closed alpha, this multiplayer survival horror shooter might be exactly what the studio needed.
Hunt: Showdown isn’t a game that’s easy to explain with a few Steam tags – this tutorial video does a great job of breaking it down in full – but it’s also not an overly complicated game. You start by picking a hunter (your avatar). The in-game character models for these hunters take cues from both the American West and Victorian England. Each hunter also comes equipped with his own items, abilities, and weapons.
Once you’ve chosen your hunter, you’ll have the option of jumping into a game. Now, you can play solo, but we don’t recommend it. The better option is to partner with a friend or a randomly matched companion. We’ll discuss why that is in just a second.
For now, what you really need to focus on is the objective of the game. Once you and your partner – or just you – are thrown into one of the game’s maps, you’ll be tasked with collecting clues scattered across the area. The location of these clues can be identified by using a special sight power that allows you to see a lightning bolt above the general location the clue.
On your way to these clues, you’ll encounter various types of monsters. While some are little more than basic zombies, others will require a bit of strategy to take down. Better yet, you might just want to ignore them entirely.
In any case, collecting clues will narrow down the number of possible locations the area’s target bounty – boss – is at. Once you’ve found the boss, you and your partner will need to take it down, collect the bounty, and get out of the area via an extraction point. Do this, and you can build your character at the end of the match.
What makes all of this so very interesting is that you are not the only hunter tasked with collecting the boss bounty in each given area. While you’re collecting clues and fighting monsters, other players are wandering the map trying to do the same. Running around trying to kill them is a perfectly valid strategy, but it’s not the only one. For instance, you can just wait until another team kills the boss and triggers the bounty. At that point, you’ll be alerted to their location and can hunt them down. You can also find the location of any taken clues that may be in another character’s possession.
However, you’ll want to choose your battles carefully. As bad as it is to lose out on a bounty, it’s even worse to lose your character. That’s because once your hunter dies, he’s dead for good. You can earn “bloodline” XP that carries over to your next hunter, but dying in this game can undo a lot of progress.
That death system, combined with the presence of other hunters, creates a level of tension that few multiplayer games can match. Adding to that tension is a series of clever mechanics that make it feel like you’re truly hunting (or being hunted). The most apparent of these mechanics is the game’s excellent use of visual and audio cues. Run through some rusty chains or trigger a flock of crows and you’ll tell anyone in the area where you are. The same is true of gunshots.
This all leads to a genuine feeling of horror that we don’t typically get from multiplayer modes. Granted, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Hunt is bathed in classic horror film atmosphere. The wide-brimmed hats and woefully ancient firearms will speak loudly to those who harbor fantasies of becoming Van Helsing. As for the graphics…well, this is Crytek. Hunt is a stunningly beautiful game that demands the absolute best out of your gaming PC.
The game may have suffered through several redesigns, but this version of the game does truly feel like the idea that the studio has been dreaming of delivering to those in need of a game that doesn’t feel quite like anything else out there. However, there is a big difference between an idea and the execution of that idea.
Where Hunt fails to get off the couch is in Crytek’s ability to make the player feel like he or she is really getting the full experience the game’s concept promises. That does start with the game’s quite severe framerate issues. Yes, this is a closed alpha, but this is also a game that Crytek submitted to streamers out of a desire to show it off in its current state.
That may have been a slight miscalculation considering how rarely Hunt is able to maintain a playable state. Even a few errant gunshots can send the frame rate plummeting. Again, the game is lovely – the use of rich foliage as a constant tool is particularly brilliant – but this current build of the game does make you suffer for that loveliness. At present, the game doesn’t even offer custom graphical options.
Given that the alpha’s performance improved over the course of its first few days, we are confident that Crytek will address these technical issues. However, that’s not the only element of the game that may leave you feeling like you’re missing out on the full experience.
For instance, there’s reason to question just how deep the game’s strategic elements truly go. As it stands, it’s really not that difficult to wait until another hunter has collected the final bounty and then track him down. There’s enough time from when you’re alerted to the location of the hunters doing battle with the boss to the time they’re able to extract that you’ll rarely be entirely out of position.
Combat also feels somewhat awkward at this point. Smaller monsters can – and should – be taken down with quiet melee weapons. Bosses will demand nearly all your ammo and resources. Larger wandering monsters, though, are fairly easy to ignore. There’s really just not enough incentive to battle them.
The best part about fighting other players, meanwhile, is the thrill of the hunt. Did you leave that door open? If you rush that basement, will you be walking into a trap? Did you just hear the rattling of chains? It’s the same kind of tension that makes PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds one of the most popular games in the world.
The difference between the two is that PUBG is always rewarding you. You get to watch the player count tick down and the zone decrease. You pick up increasingly better loot. You get to play the game at your pace. Worst comes to worst, you just queue into a new match.
Hunt’s psuedo-permadeath system and currently long load times make it so that you almost always have to play at a very deliberate pace and employ the cheapest strategies possible. Meanwhile, there’s the issue of not really having enough incentive to make that first move as doing so puts a huge target on your back. As such, getting caught by a lucky shot or simply being outflanked doesn’t always leave you feeling like you should hop back in.
As for the gunfights, there’s definitely some tweaking to be done here and there. Aiming these old weapons shouldn’t be easy, but there are some rifles that can take down an opposing hunter with just two shots to the chest from a decent distance. Those same weapons aren’t great for boss monsters, but that can be compensated by your partner’s weapon selection.
Yet, we don’t have a single issue with Hunt’s alpha that we feel can’t be fixed by technical tweaks and gameplay incentives that encourage players to consider and employ a variety of strategies. That’s the value of a great idea. It gives those truly willing to work towards something great a foundation to stand on that wobbles, but doesn’t falter. There is enough passion flowing through this game to suggest that Crytek has the motivation needed to turn Hunt from a fantastic idea into something that’s truly great.