The first few moments spent playing Hunted: The Demon’s Forge will test the souls of the best of gamers. There should be an achievement or trophy with a glib title like “You’re still here!” after you find yourself murdered by an enemy that comes suddenly at you from off screen and hits you with a five-hit combo that completely drains your health for the tenth time. When you first begin Hunted, it is easy to become quickly discouraged, mainly because the game cheats, and badly. But if you can keep at it long enough to earn magics and powerups, there is a fun game waiting for you. Not a great game, but a fun one.
At first glance, Hunted is a cross between Gears of War and any dungeon crawler you would care to think of. On second, third and fourth glance, that impression won’t have changed, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the surface, Hunted is what video games were made for. You step into a fantasy world as either an elf or a brawler, and you smite enemies that want to do horrible things to people because they are evil. To emphasize this, the bad guys are even said to eat people, the cads. Of course none of this is really ever an issue. They bad, you smash. The game takes it from there. Mix in some strong co-op options, and you are golden. At least in theory.
Hunted: A love story
The plot of Hunted is little more than a bad guy is doing bad things and you want to beat him to death. The playable characters of Caddoc and E’lara are mercenaries only out for gold and nothing else—or so they say immediately before risking their lives selflessly. There is a slight prelude regarding a vision that Caddoc has, followed by the guidance of a pasty magical woman with ridiculously large breasts that would make a 14-year old turn away in embarrassment, but for the most part the story is a secondary concern. That doesn’t mean the game doesn’t try to tell a story, it just doesn’t do it very well.
You might think that the main characters are the focus of the game’s story, but they really aren’t. Caddoc and E’lara have an odd relationship that is somewhat akin to siblings, and the idea that they are each others only family is fleetingly mentioned. But you never really discover their origins, and building the characters seems to be a low priority for the game. The voice acting is solid, and the dialogue between them is fine, but neither character ever really becomes more than their stereotype. E’lara is an elf and an archer, while Caddoc is a human brawler, and that’s all they will ever really be. And that is not just a problem with the characterizations, that is a problem with the story in general.
But Hunted isn’t about the plot, it is a dungeon crawler made for people that are in love with dungeon crawlers. The missions typically just push you further into new territories to rescue someone, defeat an enemy, or whatever the excuse you need to go kill things. The chapters generally have one main objective, but they will branch out along the way as you explore your surroundings, hunt for hidden passages and crush your enemies.
The world in which Hunted takes place never feels like anything more than a setting born out of necessity. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but the levels are also a victim to this. Once you have seen one crumbling dungeon or a burned-out temple, you have seen them all — and there are plenty in the 12 to 15 or so hours it will take you to complete the game.
The Demon’s Gameplay
With the story being little more than a mechanic to push the locations at you, the game is all about the gameplay — which is spotty, but it has its moments. It would be easy to write this off as a Gears of War clone, and it is at times, but to be fair, most third-person action games are using a similar setup these days. Still, you will often be running down hallways or areas with a chest-level piece of cover just waiting for you. It will feel familiar to say the least.
Hunted is a co-op game by design, whether you are playing with another human being or not. If you are playing solo, you will have the opportunity to switch between characters at established points that you will come across as you play. It is somewhat limiting that you can’t switch at will, but that is by design.
Each character has a unique style of play. Caddoc is a fighter that relies on powerful melee attacks, and also has a crossbow, but it is slow to reload and should only be used when necessary. E’lara uses her bow for ranged attacks, and while she is able to get down with melee fighting when she needs to, her strength is in the bow attacks.
Regardless of which character you are, you have a health bar and a mana bar, plus a slot for potions. If you fall, your teammate can use one of their potions to revive you (assuming they have one). Thankfully, they can be anywhere in a line-of-sight and toss the potion at you to revive. No rather than any lengthy animations. This is a blessing as you will die a lot at first.
When you are playing with the AI, you can use them as bait to take damage and knock out a few waves of enemies. They will rarely surprise you with their intelligence, but they do a serviceable job and tend to stay alive for the most part. When you play with another person, the game ratchets up the difficulty significantly, and you will both die often—at least at first.
For those who have the patience to grind through the opening level, you will soon be rewarded with new weapons, and more importantly, new special attacks. Each character will be able to power up their own unique magic-based attacks, and both characters will have access to the same magical attacks that either character can use to support the other. You will also receive secondary bonuses for completing in-game objectives, like killing a certain number of enemies, or healing your partner a certain amount of times. These abilities will come naturally through play, and they will unlock more inventory slots, better life and mana, and a slew of other benefits.
One thing that may raise a few eyebrows is the lack of any type of inventory. You can collect gold, but that’s about it. When you come across a weapon’s rack, you can check the offering and see if it is more powerful that your current weapon. Sometimes a weapon may have a magical enhancement, and certain weapons will be faster than others (although usually at the cost of power), but that’s it. It isn’t a major deal, but for a fantasy-based dungeon crawler, removing the ability to go hunting for special weapons is a weird choice. It limits the desire to explore, and anyone who has ever played a dungeon crawler, or an RPG for that matter, can attest that finding special, ultra-powerful weapons is a staple to the genres. Removing it makes the game feel less immersive.
Where Hunted excels is in the co-op play — that is what it is designed for. There are some problems, though, which are somewhat baffling. For the most part Hunted is a hack n’ slash game, but to beat the toughest enemies you need to combine your powers. For example, E’lara can freeze an enemy with an ice arrow and Caddoc can smash them, or Caddoc can create a whirlwind to lift enemies, allowing E’lara to fill them with arrows before he slams them down. The abilities are impressive, and when you are in sync with your partner, the options make Hunted more fun.
Playing solo, you will see this occasionally as your AI teammate tries to coordinate attacks, but it will never be as rewarding as with a real human. Possibly the worst decision in the game, though, is with the splitscreen co-op. When you play a splitscreen game, each player’s screen shrinks down and is bordered by unnecessary graphics. They do nothing and make the game almost unplayable unless you have a giant TV. Even then it is annoying. The reasons are almost certainly technical, but regardless, they ruin the splitscreen co-op. That leaves it to the online co-op, which would require both players to own the game, naturally. That might prove tricky with so many other online games that are easier and more fun to play co-op.
Seen one, seen them all
In addition, there is the “Crucible”, a mode which allows you to create your own maps with gold you found during the game. In theory it is a good addition, but the inability to load it online or download any other player created maps make it feel like an afterthought.
The graphics and tone are hit or miss. Hunted is a game spent in repetitive hallways and dark areas. It isn’t trying to be pretty, and in that it succeeds magnificently. The levels are repetitive, but that is to be expected in this type of game, but it doesn’t stop it from getting old quickly, especially with average graphics and mediocre level design. The sound and voice acting are actually very good, but the presentation of the world you are in somewhat undercuts the epic that the game thinks it is. You fight a deadly empire of monsters, and end with a major confrontation that will determine the fate of the world, etc., etc. But there is no sense of scale. This game will never really impress you, and that is something that defines it.
Hunted is by no means a bad game, but it never really moves past the land of generic to become what it could be. There are some great moments, especially when you fully utilize both characters, but once you have seen one skeleton warrior charging you in a dimly lit sewer, you have seen them all.
But almost despite itself, Hunted manages to be fun. The co-op is where it’s at — as long as you have a friend with the game or a giant TV — but the campaign is entertaining too, albeit incredibly repetitive. Its an unimpressive game, but it can still be entertaining.
Hunted will be a game that is quickly forgotten and ultimately will be relegated to the discount bin. It is underwhelming more than disappointing. But if you are looking for a button masher crossed with a dungeon crawler and plenty of fantasy flair, you could do worse than Hunted.
Score: 7 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Bethesda Softworks)