Straight off the bat, Hunt: Showdown feels like a Deep South DayZ, but this time with slow shuffling zombies wading through the water a la Dead Island: Riptide. Crytek's new shooter sits somewhere between the two, with its undead-dodging gameplay reminding of Bohemia's mod-turned-game, while the co-op focus leans closer to Riptide. Then again, you can feel the PUBG-vibes too, albeit there's more of a focus on in-game objectives here, giving each match a more narrative feel than PlayerUnknown's genre-defining title. That might sound like a strange blend of ingredients, but our initial impression of Hunt: Showdown is that it's a mix that works.
You can play the game solo, but doing so would be to miss the point. Crytek is crafting a game built around co-op gameplay, where working with a partner is heavily incentivised throughout, from the moment you spawn until the last shot is fired and the match is over. But we're getting ahead of ourselves...
Before you're dropped into a game you have to choose your hunter. Using the small fund you have at your disposal you can hire a character, and each one has different stats and equipment that will change the way you play. Our first game was with a shotgun-wielding gent - there seems to be a lack of female characters for some reason - but thereafter we opted for riflemen as we prefer being able to dispatch opponents from range. If you pay a little more you can get hunters with additional bonuses, and the one we kept seeing pop up was an increased stamina recovery rate, but you can also get various secondary weapons and helpful items to use in-game.
As far as we can tell, there are up to five pairs of players in each game, and each team is dropped on the fringes a swamp-filled map set somewhere in Louisiana (we think). It's a decent size, and after playing several games we still haven't seen all of it, but at the same time, it's not so big that you'll be miles away from the action at any given time. Each team has the same objective: take out a designated target hidden somewhere in the environment, before collecting a token and then making good your escape. However, while that may sound simple, it's not.
The hunting alluded to in the title involves triggering "dark sight", a blackened screen and distorted vision whereby you see a cluster of blue particles floating in the darkness off in the distance. Teams must head to these markers and investigate the clues found there, and once they've done so an area on the map will darken and you know that your target isn't there. Like the shrinking circle in PUBG, this dwindling playing area means teams are on a collision course. After enough clues have been found, the final location is highlighted, and everyone can head there. Once the target is taken down, the winning team can grab tokens and head for extraction, although the tokens can be tracked by other players, essentially painting a target on the back of the team in the process.
Extraction is quicker together, so it pays to stick close throughout, and ammo is in relatively short supply, which encourages coordination, the preservation of supplies, and ensures you move between areas with care. You can also patch each other up if you've got the health packs, and opening fire on a target in tandem is an efficient way of removing a threat before it can get too close (there are pestilent zombies covered in swarms of flies, and it's particularly important to dispatch these before they get in your face, lest you get stung). However, firing your weapons makes quite the noise, alerting nearby human opponents as to your location.
That gives us a nice opportunity to segue into the audio side of the game, because Hunt does a good job here. You can talk to your partner when they're nearby, but when they're stood further away it'll be harder to catch what they are saying. It's another way of encouraging players to stick together and plan their actions. The only issue is that your opponents can also hear you talking if they're nearby, prompting tense silence when you suspect human enemies are in close proximity.
When you do bump into an enemy, whether AI-controlled and undead or player-operated and very much alive, it's time to open fire. As we mentioned before, you don't have access to lots of ammo, meaning your actions need to be considered and deliberate. Player movement isn't the fastest, which slows combat down a little, but that seems to be a conscious design choice, encouraging players to weigh up a situation before acting on impulse. What's not on purpose is the hit detection, which feels a little off (though that could always be our aim or even the lack of iron sights, it's hard to say with any certainty), and that's something they'll want to tighten up as development progresses.
Then we come to the major issue affecting Hunt: Showdown, and that's optimisation. Even when played on an extremely capable rig with a top-end graphics card, you're going to see lots of frames dropped when enemies fill the screen. While it's early days and there's clearly work to be done, it's unavoidably bad at the moment, and Crytek is going to have to do something to get the game running at an acceptable speed on more modest gaming PCs.
Apart from the aforementioned optimisation issues, we were very impressed by what Crytek has pulled together here. It's a given that work needs to be done to improve performance, and we'd like a second map eventually, if only to mix things up and add even greater variety. However, the basic concept that underpins the action is rock solid, and the mix of ingredients has resulted in an experience that has huge potential. There's a long way to go, but Crytek has everything it needs to turn Hunt: Showdown into a resounding success, and after spending a few hours in bayou wading through this early build, we can't wait to see what they can do in the weeks and months ahead.
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