Hunt: Showdown – Stunning but Savage
PC, Xbox One, PS4
‘Crack’. I freeze, unsure if the snapping twig was caused by my movements through the dense brush or the sound of something else here with me. I turn around, checking for signs of something trying to get the drop on me. I hear nothing but the gurgling of water running along the shore of the river next to me. The one good thing about hunting through these cursed lands is the noise. Whether the groaning shuffling of zombies, the ear-piercing screams of the Hive’s or the thud of the Meatheads, paying attention to your surroundings will keep you alive. Engaging my Dark Sense, I narrow down the location of the first of the three clues that will lead me to my target. I see it ahead of me, tucked under the support struts of a derelict building. Cautiously, I make my way to the clue and activate it, ruling out the areas on the map that I now know my target is not waiting for me. Once again I engage my Dark Sense to find the direction I need to go for my next clue. I notice movement in front of me and I revert to my normal senses. Too late, another Hunter, himself looking for the clues, came across me while I was distracted. A single shot to the head was all it took to end my hunt. A rookie error from a new hunter who didn’t know any better. One less competitor left in the hunt.
Hunt: Showdown has you taking to an 1890’s era Louisiana that has been overrun with zombies and other monstrous creatures. Nothing populates the zones but these undead creatures and the hunters tasked with tracking down and banishing select targets back to hell. Tracking the targets is no easy feat either, with large procedurally generated maps filled with rivers and swamps and all manner of buildings, from ramshackle farmhouses to big abandoned churches, and the most dangerous thing of all, the other hunters.
What makes the game and draws you in is the dynamic sound effects that fill the world. The game recommends you play with a headset on and once I put one on I noticed just how deep the work on the sound effects and background noises was. Whether it was the sounds of zombies groaning while shuffling along or the sound of my footsteps on creaky wooden boards, the sound pulled me further into the experience in a way that I have not previously encountered while playing a video game. With no radar or markers to show you where enemies are, it is only your hearing that can provide you with an inclination of what is coming, or just what might be waiting for you on the other side of that doorway. It got to the point that there were times when I would find myself holding my breath, straining to make out every little sound so I could move forward as prepared as possible.
To find your target you have to track down clues, which will shrink the possible area your target is located. Once you find three clues the map will show you the location of the target and then it is up to you to kill it and banish it back to hell. Where this is complicated is there can be up to 11 other hunters in play as well, each of them after the same target. Thus decisions that have to be made. Do you attempt to take out the target yourself, or do you wait for someone else to kill it before taking them out and claiming the bounty token for yourself? Unfortunately Hunt: Showdown has been available as an early access game from as far back as February 2018 and while it has just been released on the PS4, the Xbox One version, of which I received a review copy, has been available as an early access title, since September last year. This meant that most of the players I came up against were of a vastly higher level than myself, and I found that my lowly hunter was no match for them when they inevitably decided to remove the competition from play.
So I devised a new tactic. Instead of trying to get to the clues and track the target myself, instead, I would focus on just killing whatever I come across to farm XP and therefore level up my hunter to gain access to better weapons and gear. This was a tactic that allowed me to boost the level of my hunter and lower the risk of being killed. It was this tactic that also led to my greatest moment in Hunt: Showdown so far.
The thing is, when you are put into a match you have no idea how many other hunters are in there with you. The game has a max player count of 12 hunters per round, however, you have no way to see how many are in the match with you and or when they have met their demise to the monsters or other hunters that populate the map. There are a few ways to know if there are still other hunters in the match, but the easiest for new players is to just listen out for the gunshots as hunters make their way towards the target.
There I was, wandering the desolate land, killing any monsters I came across, utilising a legendary sniper I had purchased with the complimentary premium currency the game gives you when you start for the first time. After about ten minutes of killing, I get the first of the only four notifications the game gives you. A player had started to banish the target back to hell. This doesn’t mean a thing to me, and I continue my XP farming. Sure enough, a notification alerts me that the target is banished and the two bounty tokens are up for grabs. Straight away a token is picked up, with the second snagged by another hunter a few moments later. I know that I won’t have that much time left. Once the bounty tokens are extracted any remaining players will only have five minutes to reach an extraction point to claim their XP. I check the map and can see the line of lightning that depicts a player carrying a token making their way towards an extraction point on the south-eastern side of the map. Aware of my low level, and the fact that I only had eight rounds left for my pistol I begin to make my way to the extraction point on the south-west side, making sure to avoid the compounds that could be holding multiple monsters that I do not have the ammo to deal with.
I can see the extraction point in front of me when the final notification appears on my screen. A player has extracted with a bounty token. I find it curious that there was only one token extracted. Since both were picked up at nearly the same time. I assumed that the hunters were a team and would make their way to the extraction together. Bringing up my map I can see a bounty token still in the world, right where the target was banished in the north-eastern corner. I have a decision to make. Do I extract with the XP I have gained so far, or do I take my eight pistol rounds and hope I can make my way to the furthermost point on the map from my current position, grab the token and extract it for an even bigger amount of XP in under 30 minutes? Big risk, bigger reward.
Screw it! Off I go, at first retracing my steps where I know there are no more enemies to surprise me. Soon enough I am on my way through uncovered territory. I quickly check the map and plan out which pathways to take, making sure to give compounds a wide berth. Through the swamps, alternating between existing paths and cutting through the bush and murky water. Twice I make a detour to avoid provoking any monsters, but then I arrive at my destination. Engaging my Dark Sense I can see the lightning storm above where the token lies, narrowing the area I need to search. I crouch and slowly, stealthily, make my way through the swamp water. I’m lucky, there doesn’t seem to be any monsters in the area I am coming in, although I can see a few off to my left that I will have to keep an eye on.
I see a dead hunter on my way in and trade my empty sniper rifle for an old, mud-covered rifle. It has ammo, and if there are any other hunters left in this world I might just need it. I grab the token and make a break for it. I follow the same path out that I took to get in, racing through the swamps, blasting a few zombies that I encounter in my haste to reach the extraction point. I am making my way to the same point the first token was extracted from. If anyone is going to attack that is where it will be. I reach the extraction point and take cover, my heart pounding as the counter slowly ticks down, sure that I’ll hear a gunshot and my run will be brought to an end.
3…2…1… I did it.
In extracting that token my hunter jumped up 12 levels in one fell swoop and earned myself a nice bit of coin too. The big downside is that my legendary sniper is now lost, and for some reason despite owning it before I cannot re-buy it until my hunter has reached the level that allows them to buy the base model of that gun. I can live with that. It is a small price to pay for the win in a game that does not favour the new guy.
In the time I had with the game, this was the only time I managed to secure a bounty token. The only other time I managed to come close was when I finally managed to find a random partner to play with. The game is very quick to pair you up with available hunters who are looking for partners to play with, however, most of those hunters are just as quick to exit the match-up when they see how low your hunter level is. When my random partner, a lovely guy from Canada who had been playing for a few weeks, and I took to the map we made swift progress, moving faster than I ever would as a solo player, finding all three clues and attempting to take out the target ourselves. He didn’t last long in that final confrontation, leaving me to take on a bounty target for the first time without any back-up, but I managed to slowly whittle away its health. Then I got shot in the back.
Hunt: Showdown is a game that is fun to play, albeit, frustrating as well. While the temptation to wait for someone else to take out a bounty and then swoop in to claim it for themselves is something that was known to happen, it sucks when it happens to you by players that have such a higher level than you that you feel like a lowly peon cowering at the foot of a vengeful higher being. Whether there is an issue with player balancing that the game needs to tweak to better match you to players of your level or if it is a lack of lower-level players I know not. Combined with long wait times, it made me long for a single-player mode where I would be able to get my hunter to a level where I felt that I could hold my own in a real hunt. There is talk that Crytek is working on a single-player mode for Hunt, and I hope it comes to pass as this is a game that has real potential, if it can capture, and keep, new players to the game.
Overall despite these issues with the game, I had an enjoyable, if sometimes frustrating, time with Hunt: Showdown. Crytek made great use of the CRYENGINE game engine to make a game that draws you in with stunning visuals and even better ambience that draws players into the world and makes them rely on their senses to survive.
Hunt: Showdown was reviewed on the Xbox One with code kindly supplied by Koch Media Australia