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Hunt: Showdown moseys on down for a spooky free weekend

Undead redemption

My first try at Hunt: Showdown was going so well. The demon, The Butcher, was dead (along with one rival in the fracas) and banished to hell, and I was off to claim my due. In the dark, I didn't see the cultist near the swamp's edge, and got a swarm of poison death-hornets in the face as punishment. Half blind, I panic and flee into the water. The bugs leave just in time for me to see something moving under the surface. Crunch. I'm bleeding. Another hit, and I'm out. A loss, but a good first impression for the early access weird western monster-hunting FPS, which is free to try this weekend.

I can't say I've played any shooter like Hunt: Showdown before. It's a curious beast. Set in a haunted old American west, a handful of rival hunters (alone or in pairs) close in on a demonic bounty somewhere in a single large map. Players can use their Spooky Ghost-O-Vision to find clues, often guarded by cultists. Each clue eliminates a few places on the map. Three clues tells you its precise location. Then all you have to do is go in, kill a supernatural monster using revolvers and lever-action rifles, banish it to hell using a lengthy, loud ritual, claim a trophy and get out alive. Easy.

My first match was solo and at night, giving it a real survival horror edge. Every strange movement in the shadows had the potential to hurt bad, and I only won because when I finally found the boss, a rival player shot at me instead of it. The meathook-wielding, pig-headed monster gave chase, thwacked him one for his efforts, and I finished the job with a pistol round. Satisfying. If only I hadn't been in such a hurry to make my escape, I might have made it out alive, but at least my character didn't die permanently, which is a thing that can happen.

Yep, permadeath in a competitive FPS. It's disabled until you have a few levels of experience under your belt, but your characters -- each with their own starting loadout and perks -- can croak, forcing you to spend bounty money on hiring and equipping replacements. As you level up, you can buy more esoteric weaponry built for hunting monsters, like a bomb-shooting harpoon, but early on it's all familiar guns if you've played Red Dead Redemption. There's also a Quick Play mode, offering a shorter, less investigative game. It's a clever, and very different breed of shooter.  Worth a try, if nothing else.

Hunt: Showdown is free to try over the weekend via Steam. If you like what you played (note that it's still in early access) it's discounted to £20.79/€23.99/$23.99.

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