Of all the games I saw at this year's Gamescom, sci-fi team-based shooter Hyenas easily claims the title of "Most Confusing Overall Experience". Bouncing between appointments in this sea of booths and lanyards was jarring, but I'd eventually settle in after a few minutes of reconfiguring my brain to whatever presentation or control scheme was placed in front of me. Hyenas never gave me a chance.
I sat in a 20-minute presentation of the game and tried my level best to understand SEGA's stab at a live-service FPS. Instead, I exited the booth with whiplash... and a sense of curiosity. Somewhere inside the game's insufferable tone is a kernel of cleverness, I just need to get my mitts on it to confirm my suspicions. Otherwise, it's very difficult to really understand whether it can survive in such a saturated space.
First, a touch of backstory on a game named after cheeky carnivorous mammals. It's being developed by Creative Assembly, the folks behind the Total War series and Alien: Isolation. And if that wasn't a surprise enough, it's about pilfering pop culture relics of SEGA's past, like Pez dispensers and - in my behind-closed-doors presentation's case - a large Sonic statue.
Five teams of three hyenas compete against other teams to raid "Plunderships" for merch like swag bags and off-brand Funko Pops, perhaps going a step further for 'cooler' merch and more valuable rewards. You aren't unhindered in your insatiable quest for cringe commodities, however, as you've got AI-controlled guards who'll fend you off as well as any other enemy teams who bump into you. Once a team has collected enough stuff, they'll then need to extract their booty by calling in a VIP shuttle. Of course, this takes time and alerts everyone else!
Essentially, Hyenas loosely models itself around Hunt: Showdown or Escape From Tarkov and their brand of PvPvE battling. Rather than aiming for the highest kill count or positioning yourself to better survive a poisonous mist, decisions in Hyenas seem based around alerting others or succumbing to devilish opportunism. Do you go looting and extract as soon as possible? Or do you let someone else do all the hard work and swoop in for the kill? In entering the PvPvE gauntlet, the game does have an extra pizazz to it that separates it from the usual battle royale crowd, that's for sure.
And the three characters we saw in action seemed fun: El Silbon, a sniper who came armed with a foam grenade that could provide temporary cover; Galaxia, a tanky drag queen who could taunt enemies with a scream and chuck "Cat Bombs" that would cover zones in a damaging field of lights; and Prima, a black swan ballerina who's able to resist zero-g areas and float through them with her jetpack. I wouldn't say they were a particularly memorable bunch with mind-blowing abilities, but they seemed armed with well thought out abilities that should prove handy in a pinch.
Memorability is a key theme here, as I'm worried the presentation didn't do the game justice. I mean, how could a 20-minute blast to the senses do anything justice? I'm trying my absolute hardest not to get too caught up in what I'd seen and hoping that some actual hands-on time will prove some sticking points wrong. For instance, the tone of the whole shebang which was quite - how do I put this? - "outgoing". An overly chummy narrator cracked jokes that made my lips purse with cringe and the game mentioned teams earning "Clout Points" and uhh. It all seemed mired in this perception of what gam3rs like, which is unironic uses of social media terminology and "KABLAMO!", sprayed on a wall or a gun somewhere.
Genuinely, the game's presentation fit snugly into that Rage 2 or Far Cry 5 bracket, both games with edges that commit so hard to paintballs and mohawks that it becomes non-committal; swirl all that colour together and it'll form a unmemorable grey mulch. Now, I'm not saying that Hyenas will succumb to the same fate, I'm just hoping it doesn't.
Then there's the game's combat, which seems fine, if a bit stiff. Although, this is a secondary concern to the game's general flow, which is incredibly important to a live service shooter that hopes to differentiate, or at least, survive among the many. Is the action paced well? Are matches too long? Will zero-gravity combat actually be decent, and not like, floaty and imprecise? Once again, I'm left with more questions than answers and it's only when we get some sit-down time with the game where many things will become clear.
Hyenas has me curious and concerned, because it's a live-service shooter that must tango with some big, big competition and it's set in a universe which pushes me away more than it does sucker me in. Only time will tell whether it'll have the last laugh...