Oh how we scoffed when we first heard the title of Crytek's newly released online shooter. Now, having played the game both during its development and since it has been deemed finished by its creators, we have to say we take the whole thing a bit more seriously. The generic-sounding title might feel a bit too broad, but it's actually very apt and describes things rather succinctly.
During a typical match, the action kicks off with the titular Hunt. Players, either alone or with a friend or two, must seek out otherworldly rifts and shut them down in sequence, dodging the advances of deadly zombie-like creatures of various shapes and sizes. Then, once they've found enough of these markers or clues, it's time for the Showdown, when those individuals or teams left standing must battle each other and the remaining undead as part of a mad scramble for the exit - and the glory that awaits the victor/s on the other side.
While Hunt: Showdown borrows a couple of the pillars that form the core of the battle royale genre, Crytek's take doesn't feel like another game trying to grab a slice of Fortnite-flavoured pie. The features that have been borrowed are supported by equally clever design decisions that ensure distinctiveness. Most notable of these positives is the setting, but the restraint shown in terms of the player count can't be underestimated either.
The swamp-filled Lousiana maps (as far as we can tell, there are only two) and ye olde setting immediately set Hunt apart from its rivals, and we have to say that we absolutely love the overall aesthetic and the arcane lore. It's grimy and edgy and quite unlike anything we've played before, and the unique setting also really lends itself to the horror theme that underpins the PvP/PvE shenanigans that we'll get to shortly.
The bayou wherein Hunt: Showdown takes place is full of old wooden buildings and rickety shacks, and it's patrolled by some truly gruesome creatures, each one happy to munch on any passerby and most with their own attacks that can easily swallow half a health bar if you're not careful. Each match starts the player on the periphery of the map and using your mysterious darksight you can track each objective based on its distance to your current position. Then it's a case of exploring and scavenging for improved gear, and slipping past the undead you discover en route (you can shoot them dead, although stealth is often preferable).
These swamps look fantastic, and Crytek's designers have really given life to the playspace with a mixture of detailed textures and atmospheric effects (although it is a demanding game best enjoyed on a capable rig). That said, it's actually the quality of the audio that is the game's standout positive, and we were impressed by everything, from the crunching theme tune through to the use of 3D audio to really place the player in the scene. You might be following your supernatural sight between markers, but it's just as important to use your ears when trying to work out where enemies are, and where opposing players might be coming from. Pinpointing where gunshots are being fired is obviously a big part of this, but the world is also full of noise-making obstructions, from doors that require careful and deliberate operation through to broken glass that crunches underfoot.
Given the setting, the weaponry is suited to the era and further feeds into the uniqueness of the setting. Underpinning your progress through the game, however, is an overly complicated unlock system, but if you like to tinker with your build there is a chance to do that here. While you can give your hunter new equipment to make their life easier in the swamps, after a certain number of levels the safety wheels come off and when the character dies, they're gone for good. You can always unlock more, but the permanence of death is an extra sting in the tail after your latest run has come to a bloody, miserable end.
There are two ways to play the game at launch. The first is Bounty Hunt, whereby players can band together in twos or threes - or play alone if they're feeling brave - and then seek out various objectives on the way to defeating one or more bosses. These bosses, such as the giant spider that spits poison at you, must be banished once killed, a move which takes time and effectively signposts your position for all to see, but once that's done you can make a break for the exit. Failure sees you lose half of the experience points earned during that mission, although if you're a glasses half full sorta person, this setup ensures that even a busted flush is still rewarded with XP.
Bounty Hunt, with its bosses and expanded playtime is complemented by a solo variant that offers a quicker, more immediate way to play with no powerful AI-targets to tackle. Here you're up against a handful of other players who are all looking to close down the otherworldly rifts before one player opens the so-called 'wellspring'. At this point, there's another showdown and the rest of the players must approach the defending leader and try and take them out before the clock runs down. These matches are over more quickly than they are in the main game, however, it ties in nicely not only by offering a change of pace but by also granting the winning player the character they just used (and levelled up) in solo play for use in the main mode.
The player limit is a modest 10-12, and while that number is low, it stops Hunt: Showdown from turning into a wild west shootout and keeps things tense and balanced throughout. Knowing that there's only a very limited number of player-controlled enemies out to get you is at least some small comfort when you're desperately clinging to life and hiding while the clock ticks down, but overall we felt that the player-count heightened the tension without overpowering the experience, and for that we were grateful. Having said that, we still feel like there's room for new experiences, and fresh maps and modes that change up the dynamic would be warmly received in the future.
Behind the atmospheric world, the unique game modes, and the nice blend between action and stealth, there's a convoluted setup behind the scenes where players can upgrade their characters with abilities that unlock as they progress, and equip new weapons. This part of the game seems overcooked to us, and while those who like to tinker with their setup might enjoy the depth on offer, it's clearly been made to incentivise player spending via microtransactions. Taking into account how the experience has been monetised, plus the fact that there is already DLC to pay extra for, and considering the relatively limited number of modes on offer, some might feel like the price tag is a little steep.
It has been a while since Crytek put out a really good game, and for a while there it looked like the studio was on the ropes and ready to check out, however, this twisted online shooter is both unique and cleverly designed, and we love the atmosphere that the developer has been able to create. It needs more content and it utilises a progression system that muddies the waters, but if you're after a multiplayer shooter that does things a little differently, Hunt: Showdown is well worth wading into.
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