Asymmetrical multiplayer specialist Illfonic has secured another famous cinematic license to replace their in-house developed Friday the 13th: The Game. Thinking about Jason Voohres tracing your steps is terrifying enough, but not as much as being stalked from distance, with the Predator waiting above on the trees. In fact, the studio revealed the first gameplay trailer at Gamescom and we also had the opportunity to play as both hunter and hunted.
Predator: Hunting Grounds is a four versus one online shooter with some PvE combat inspired first and foremost by the film directed by John McTiernan in 1987. That said, this game is set in the modern-day and it comes with modern weapons. As the alien creature, you are a powerful hunter with a lot of well-known abilities and the sole mission of killing every human being on the map, collecting trophies as you go. Playing as a human, you're a member of the Fire Team, an elite group of soldiers who have arrived in the jungle to face down the alien threat.
There was just one stage and one mission in the pre-alpha build shown at Gamescom. Assisted by Illfonic creative director Jared Gerritzen, we started as the Predator. This extraordinary creature has the potential to destroy a squad all by itself, but it's not invulnerable so you have to play your cards right. Equipped with a few weapons, including the infamous wrist blades and plasma caster, he can take down a soldier in seconds. However, other members of the team could well be watching out for him, so you have to move in the shadows to avoid unnecessary risks.
There is no better way to hide than the Predator's cloaking mechanic. With the press of a button, no-one will see you if you stay still, although if you crouch just a little bit then the environment will react, revealing your location. Water and tree branch physics will work against the hunter - we will elaborate further when talking from the other side of the game. At the same time, you can see everyone from a certain distance using your infrared vision. That sounds great, but using any ability depletes a blue gauge, so you have to plan your approach and movements with small pauses in between.
Probably the biggest advantage the Predator has is when climbing and traversing the woodland. As Gerritzen told us, every area of the map is connected by branches, almost like a highway in the trees, and you can move around simply by pushing the left stick forward. When you are far away from the soldiers you can run like a parkour expert, slowing down when your targets are close. First, we tried to take them down at long-range, helped by the iconic plasma canon and its laser-assisted aiming, but the beam travels really slowly, making hard to hit your target.
Meanwhile, the soldiers on the ground were working on their own mission and fighting a local militia in the jungle. This is a perfect distraction for the Predator, letting us get down to ground level and kill a couple of them with our blade. That turned out to be a bad idea, however, as another player shot us, leaving a trail of green blood for others to follow. We healed ourselves before trying to return to combat, but we couldn't easily climb and get away - leaving us cornered. But did we let them take our head as a trophy? No way! We pressed the self-destruction button and died.
Playing as a Fire Team member in Predator: Hunting Grounds sounds like everyday business for an FPS player. There are four available classes (Assault, CBQ, Scout, and Sharpshooter), with a familiar arsenal and button layout. What makes it different, however, is the menace of the Predator - you always have to look and listen carefully as you explore the jungle around you.
Your main goal is to survive the Predator and escape the jungle, but before you can do that there are a few objectives to complete, including capturing small facilities found all around the map (these are defended by AI-controlled soldiers). That wasn't a simple task and these battles hit us hard a few times during the demo. Health is not unlimited, but your allies can revive you a few times. That said, your game is over when the Predator executes a fatal kill and extracts your spinal cord, which is represented in a gory cinematic seen only by the human player.
That said, we didn't feel weak or useless. Having played as a Predator already, it wasn't that difficult to guess their movements and track it down, helping our colleagues follow his steps even when cloaked. As a team, talking and playing tactically is essential. You can also cover yourself in mud if you want to hide from the Predator's thermal vision for a few minutes. More importantly, your weapons hurt, so you're certainly not defenceless playing as a human. Also, it's worth adding that the controls already feel tight and responsive, and we're talking about a pre-alpha build, which is encouraging.
The game is still in the early stages of development, so we are not going to be harsh on the technical side. Sure, we suffered some frame-rate hiccups, failed to climb some trees, and noted a couple of other problems, but the release date is still a long way off. What we hope Illfonic can add in the meantime are more varied environments, structures and enemy design, things that we're sure are on their internal roadmap. Gerritzen also told us that the map will be even bigger, and it was already so big that we spent a few minutes jumping from branch to branch in relative peace.
We had fun playing Predator: Hunting Grounds at Gamescom, both as the deadly alien hunter, and as a soldier tasked with taking them down. The game is set to land at some point next year, it's heading exclusively to PS4, and we're looking forward to seeing more.