Premature Evaluation – Hunt: Showdown

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Premature Evaluation is the weekly column in which we explore the wilds of early access. This week, Fraser’s living out his dream of being one of the handsome boys from Supernatural by hunting down demonic beasties in Crytek’s multiplayer shooter, Hunt: Showdown.

Hunt: Showdown never has any silence to break. It’s always noisy. Every groan, gurgle and scream, even the rustling of leaves — they all echo across the swamp, exploding out of invisible amps. After awhile, it becomes a low, menacing drone; an ever-present threat that you just get used to. The trick – I can only assume, as I’m quite terrible at this bounty hunting malarky – is to cut through the background din and pick out the real dangers. The closest roars. The loudest footsteps. The bullet whizzing right past your head.

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In a game about hunting down supernatural beasties and sending them back to Hell, one of the top causes of death is still a bullet to the face. Monsters are ancillary obstacles that spend most of their time moping around like moody teenagers, right up until the moment a bunch of them swarm out of a barn and slaughter you and your partner because you were more worried about being shot. Ultimately the bullet still gets some credit.

Each match, or contract, starts with a monster being the focus, however. Hunting duos are dropped into a map with a single goal: find one specific monster and kick its arse right back to the Devil’s BBQ. Finding the monster involves following clues that can be spotted using a special vision mode. You go from clue to clue until you find the monster, kill it, banish it and then escape the map before other hunters can stop you and get your loot.

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It’s extremely bare bones and the clue system isn’t remotely satisfying – it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re actually tracking anything – yet this skeletal frame proves to be just enough to hang a great many standoffs, chases and unexpected moments on. Every group is gunning for the same creature and will ultimately, if they survive, head towards the same location.

Unexpectedly, I’m reminded of Plunkbat. There’s more than a hint of a last man standing mode about Hunt: Showdown, but the similarities are more in their shared desire to cut away a lot of chaff and get groups to collide with each other as they race or sneak their way to a simple objective, usually with a climactic gunfight to close things out. And like Plunkbat, it’s a game that really favours ambushes.

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It pays to be an awful person. If, for instance, you find the monster’s lair before the other hunters, you might not want to engage it. Most creatures, like zombies or human-beehive-monsters, can be taken out pretty easily, but these boss fights go on for a lot longer, and they hit a lot harder. Even if you do manage to survive, you’ll have given the other hunters a lot of time to home in on your position, putting your prize at risk. So maybe you don’t rush in, guns blazing. Maybe you find somewhere nearby to hole up and wait for another group. Maybe you let them do the heavy lifting and put a bullet between their eyes when they’re done.

The risk is not taking them out quickly enough, because duels are a bit tricky. The guns all feel exceptionally beefy, but they aren’t easy to use. Reloading takes just long enough that you feel incredibly vulnerable, and you have to aim even if you’re firing from the hip, pressing shift on top of that to aim down the sights. In close quarters, firearms can feel too slow, especially against an opponent with a penchant for constantly jumping. That’s why shotguns, dynamite and barbed wire grenades were invented, I suppose. And partners.

I can just about forgive the aiming eccentricities because of the gorgeous reload animations. They’re extraordinarily satisfying, even if you might not get to enjoy them while you’re trying to fend off a giant spider that’s intent on eating your face. Gawk at them for a moment.

I’m not what you’d call a crack shot, and I’m prone to panicking, so I’ve gone through my fair share of hunters. Hunt: Showdown has an unusual progression system. When you’re taking a contract, you need to first hire an actual hunter from a list – exclusively male, awkwardly – that can be refreshed. Each of the randomly-generated hunters comes with a primary and secondary weapon and some tools, like medical syringes, a flashlight or some dynamite.

When a hunter dies during a contract, they’re gone for good. All of their weapons and tools, whether they were part of the hunter’s original loadout or you bought them with in-game cash, are lost with them. If they survive, however, not only will you get extra rewards, you’ll also be able to start upgrading them.

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Even when you lose a hunter, it’s not the end of the world. As well as being able to nurture your living hunters, you’ll also get experience points that empower your bloodline, unlocking new weapons and tools. It’s possible to earn cash even from a failed mission, which in turn an be spent on better hunters and more effective gear. So while, yes, you’ll undoubtedly play some games where you spend 20 minutes walking around until you’re sniped from the roof of a barn, it’s never a waste of time. Even if you’ve just killed a single zombie or uncovered one clue, you’ll get points.

Randomly-generated hunters and multiple progression systems mean that it can be hard to plan for a confrontation with another hunter. While the matchmaking system seems to match players up based on their bloodline level, there can still be significant disparities. Even at the lowest levels, you could be traipsing through the swamp with a bloke with no abilities and a simple pistol and rifle combo, while one of your opponents has silenced weapons, explosives and the ability to run faster. They might have just had more money to spend, or generated a better roster of hunters to pick from.

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But that lack of predictability is also the source of some exhilarating fights and some tense games. Perfect balance isn’t always a desirable trait. The game goes out of its way to tip the balance and conjure up interesting scenarios.

In my first attempt to hunt down the spider, I had the good fortune to spawn right next to a compound containing a clue, which almost made up for the fact that my partner got lost between the lobby and the game, leaving me playing solo. I’ve not had any connection or performance problems, but it definitely looks like I’m one of the lucky ones. I headed towards the compound on my own. Not only did I discover the third and final clue straight away, but the actual target location was just down the road. Five minutes into the game and the end was already in sight. Of course, I also had to kill a spider (literally) from Hell. On my lonesome.

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Not wanting to draw any attention to myself, I did my best to avoid the animated corpses chewing on carrion. I didn’t want to fire my weapon and let everyone know where I was. As I made my way inside the compound were the spider had made its nest, I started to feel my hand sliding off the mouse. I’m dreadfully arachnophobic, and I could hear the monster scuttling around in the rafters. I was terrified. I followed the noise anyway, until a swarm of mutant bees attacked, carving off a chunk of my health.

Realising that I’d die in a couple of hits, I hung back. Five minutes later, other hunters started to appear. I had an elaborate plan for taking both them and the spider out, but it wasn’t necessary. They were being chased by hives and zombies and the moment they found the spider, they were killed immediately. I’m so much better than that, I thought, so I decided to take a risk and fight the completely uninjured giant, demonic, venom-spitting spider.

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I snuck through the attic, and just as I caught a glimpse of the spider, I got a fright and bumped into some metal chains, creating a terrible racket. When I looked back at the spider, it was gone. It somehow got behind me, and when I turned around I was treated to a face full of venom. My shotgun went off and I freaked out, stumbling backwards. I fell to my death.

Finding the monster first guarantees nothing.

Despite getting to the spider in that match, I didn’t kill a single thing. That’s not odd for me. Some players will run up to every nearby enemy and take them out with a knife, others are more trigger happy, but I try to avoid conflict for as long as possible. Hunt: Showdown has a lot of tricks to catch out sneakier players, though. Everything you do makes noise, whether it’s crawling through the undergrowth or walking on wooden floorboards, but that can be mitigated by going as slowly as possible. What you’ve really got to watch out for are the animals.

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Crows scatter and shriek when you approach, dogs bark and snarl, and seemingly dead horses raise their heads and make an ungodly racket. The equine alarm systems are probably the most nightmarish things in Hunt: Showdown. Stopping the alarm is worse, of course, because you have to murder a horse. During one contract, my partner stumbled upon one such horse and then tried to take it out with the butt of his gun. Hunter animations normally leave a lot to be desired, but as he slowly beat this horse to death, it looked far too real.

Horror aside, the game doesn’t really communicate what it is very well. It sounds like Evolve with PvP, but it’s not a game about hunting monsters, it’s a game about hunting people. Sometimes that means using monsters as bait, but just as often it happens by stumbling on them and getting into a gunfight. And it’s not clear if that’s a result of the monsters simply needing to be more aggressive or if the PvE is always going to play second fiddle.

It’s not quite what I thought it was going to be, but Hunt: Showdown is still a clever competitive shooter and an excellent source of emergent stories. And disasters. Mostly disasters.

Hunt: Showdown is out now on Steam and the Humble Store for £25.99/$29.99/€29.99.

23 Comments

  1. drumcan says:

    Those reload animations are gorgeous. And the sounds! If this were a single-player game in the style of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., I would eat it up. Competitive multi-player is not my sort of thing, sadly.

    • ctkag says:

      Two negatives for me; one, co-op, second, PvP. Neither particularly appeal to me. Looks like something I would like otherwise.

      • WoodGuyThreepBrush says:

        I was on the closed Alpha. You can play solo, so it isn’t exclusively co op.

        Plus for 90% of the game you won’t be seeing other players

  2. Ben Damage says:

    One to eyeball I reckon.

  3. caff says:

    With headphones on cranked up a bit, lights off, and graphics turned down (because it’s quite intensive) this is pretty immersive and scary. I’m more intrigued by it than wow-ed by it, so far.

  4. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Crows scatter and shriek when you approach, dogs bark and snarl, and seemingly dead horses raise their heads and make an ungodly racket . . . During one contract, my partner stumbled upon one such horse and then tried to take it out with the butt of his gun. Hunter animations normally leave a lot to be desired, but as he slowly beat this horse to death, it looked far too real.

    Now that’s beating a dead horse.

  5. TΛPETRVE says:

    Western setting aside, this almost looks like a Resident Evil 7 multiplayer mode.

    • caff says:

      I think that’s a fairly good summation of the atmosphere. With a bit of L4D in too.

  6. Tomo says:

    I managed to get a solitary game in during the beta, albeit with hugely unoptimised settings, and it was fun. It was very atmospheric and I could see different tactics being rewarded, ie: ambushing your fellow players at opportune moments, or just going gung-ho throughout. Both felt like they could feasibly work.

    The bloodline system also sounded pretty good. A semi-permadeath system, whereby you really don’t want to die, but it’s not a complete disaster if you do. Definitely enough motivation to play carefully, which probably massively heightens the in-game tension.

    All that said, I was left feeling the whole game is a little slight. I can’t see a huge amount of longevity in the game. Despite the variety of maps and day/night variations, they all offer the same experience, just slightly re-hashed depending on the map. I can’t see the competitive hook that, say, Plunkbat has which makes up for the barebones content. And equally I’m not sure how rewarding it is going to be levelling up your heroes, whilst playing the same maps and scenarios over and over.

    Hmmm.

  7. Eldritch says:

    This game is fantastic. My friend and I are absolutely hooked. It can be nerve-shreddingly tense, but when you successfully kill the monster and extract with the bounty, fending off ambushes – and sometimes the ambushers get ambushed, setting off some wild emergent carnage – my god, but it is a blast.

    It’s Cryengine so it looks stunning, incredibly atmospheric and the sounds … genuinely brilliant.

    Can’t wait to see how it evolves during Early Access, cos it’s already great.

  8. Troika says:

    For those worrying about co-op, there is an option to go in solo only (And it is exactly the way I prefer to play). It is harder for sure but still feels more rewarding. Nothing is more satisfying than taking out other hunters duos.
    And if you are in for the atmosphere try the night map, it is simply gorgeous. All in all I really like the game. It is slow and contemplating experience, any hassle more often than not means troubles, needless gunshots will attract AI and make other hunters aware of your position; patience, observation, stealth and planning are the keys for good hunt.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      By “solo only” do you mean you vs AI, or are there still human controlled characters but you’re just without people on your side?
      Because for me I’m only interested in the former, people on the internet are horrid.

      • haldolium says:

        versus other players. However there is no scoreboard, no chat and only proximity voice so very little contact with other players until (and if!) you run into them.

      • Troika says:

        Yeah, I mean there are still other players but you can go hunting without a partner. I thought to clarify that but then thought that “taking out other hunters duos” part kind of did that.
        Anyway, I second what Haldolium said. Unlike PUBG and the likes the game never feels overcrowded, quite the contrary actually, and for me it is definitely part of its charm. There are around 5 teams per map, each team consisting of either solo or duo players which gives us only 5-10 people per match (and some of them will fall prey to the natural (AI) hazards even before you’d have a chance to encounter them). There are no global chat to break immersion, no nicknames, no scoreboard etc. There is push to talk but one has to be close enough to actually hear anything and I have yet to encounter any inappropriate usage of it, usually people are just too busy coordinating with their partners or too preoccupied with dodging, aiming and general survival or just willing to keep silence in order to not give away their position.

  9. BaronKreight says:

    The game idea was changed during the development in an attempt to jump on PUBGs glory wagon. They changed the game, but haven’t changed the name. I tried it, I didn’t like it but it certainly has its charm and fanbase.

    • WoodGuyThreepBrush says:

      Specifically, from what, to what? :)

      Sounds like interesting trivia!

      • DuncUK says:

        My guess is they added PVP, which for me is the bit I’m least interested in. I hope they add a 3 or 4 player co-op mode with no PVP.

      • BaronKreight says:

        AS far as I can remember it was initially marketed as a 4 player coop PVE monster hunting game. What it is now we all know.

      • Lord_Mordja says:

        You’re right that it was originally going to be a F2P, 3rd-person coop game called “Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age” but I’ll contest your statement that it shifted focus because of PUBG. For one, its new direction was announced in May of 2017, just a couple months after PUBG entered Early Access, so before Battle Royale became a phenomenon, and way too soon for Crytek to have retooled their entire game to copy it. The second thing is that the only things it really has in common with PUBG are that it’s a high-stakes shooter with no respawns, and that both games offer pretty unique takes on multiplayer PVP.

  10. Kyuurei says:

    They would need to change a few things for me to buy it, but from the closed alpha I got to play, it was good. The atmosphere, sound design and the slower paced gameplay are all amazing. The hire your hunter system feels really bad, they die almost all the time and I don’t see how it’s fun trying to get one to live as long as possible just to get randomly headshotted and lose all his progress… Also, has very little content and map/monster variety, it’s terribly optimized and has plenty of network issues, but these are all things I hope they fix during the EA process. All in all, not recomended for the price right now, but definely follow its developement and see how it goes.

  11. DuncUK says:

    Is there an option to play co-op only? I like the basic idea of the game, I would just prefer to play it more casually with mates and not have to stay ahead of the hardcore FPS twitch curve.

  12. JoeD2nd says:

    “exclusively male, awkwardly” *sigh*