In ‘Hunt: Showdown,’ Hell is other people – and also demonic creatures you banish for cash

Fires burn in the distance, reflecting off the still waters of the Louisiana bayou — but the orange flames are not the only things squirming in the darkness. There are decaying creatures that used to be men, and as a pair of hunters watch, a shot rings out, slicing through one of their skulls.

The two hunters decide to move quickly away, avoiding the other humans slinking around the swamps in search of demonic quarry, as well as the undead milling nearby. In Hunt: Showdown, there will be plenty of chances to fight both. After all, killing demons — and the other players who hunt them — is the whole point of Crytek’s new first-person shooter.

We didn’t get a chance to lurk in the black, murky waters of 1895 Louisiana ourselves at E3 2017, but the hands-off demo Crytek showed of its upcoming multiplayer game was still pretty impressive.

Hunt reanimates some of the best ideas of multiplayer games from the last few years.

It’s significantly different from Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age, the game by the same name originally announced back in 2014. That game, a third-person title developed by the now-defunct Crytek US, has been all but excised from this version. All that seems to remain from the first Hunt is the setting and a focus on hunting dangerous creatures.

The current version of Hunt reanimates some of the best ideas in multiplayer games of the last few years. There’s a pinch of DayZ‘s huge map and mistrust of other players, some of The Division‘s Dark Zone player-versus-player shootouts, a helping of Left 4 Dead‘s careful cooperation in a hostile environment, and a heap of Evolve‘s monster-hunting mayhem.

Into the darkness

As monster hunters at the turn of the 20th Century, players head into Hunt‘s bayou to kill the minions of Hell that are spilling into the human world. You’ll play Hunt in teams of two, with as many as five teams in a game at a given time. Everyone is simultaneously hunting a boss monster and competing for the valuable bounty. You’ll catch the creature’s trail by using a “detective” mode, that lets you see clues left by evil creatures. In the demo, our hunters found such a link in a ruined house filled with zombies.

When the shack was cleared out, one touched the dark spot on the ground and was treated to a vision that showed a giant spider perched on the wall of a barn — from the spider’s point of view. The clues in the vision helped the hunters figure out where they’d need to go next.

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Hunt Lead Designer Dennis Schwarz explained that for players well-versed in the terrain, that view of the inside of the barn might be enough for them to figure out exactly where to go. But after finding and using three clues, the team would be given the monster’s location regardless.

Much of the hands-off presentation had the two hunters carefully avoiding conflicts. More than once, a crack and a puff of smoke would rise in the distance, indicating another team fighting its way through the random enemies scattered around the map. Carefully moving around the map also encouraged the hunters to think about how they’d kill the creatures in their paths.

Melee weapons are quieter, attracting less attention from other players, but obviously more dangerous for the wielder. Supplies are limited, and can be replenished from supply points on the map, but these shared caches are also a prime spot for an ambush by opposing bounty hunters.

Your most dangerous enemies are other people

Avoiding conflict is a matter of strategy, since death in the match is permanent. When you’re killed, your teammate can revive you. If you both die, you’re out of the match. You lose your character and whatever gear they might have carried.

When our hunters finally found the barn they were looking for, they were greeted by a horror movie moment.

All isn’t lost if you die, however. Hunt carries two progression systems to reward you for your hard-won monster bounties. The first is character-based, with a hunter improving and gathering gear the longer he or she survives various hunts. But there’s also an experience progression system, with dead hunters contributing to your “bloodline,” which gives benefits that can be transferred to new characters. When our hunters finally found the barn they were looking for, they were greeted warmly.

The huge spider darted in front of the door like a scripted jump scare, then flung itself around the barn as the pair tried to fight it off.

But it’s not until the spider was down that the real finale began. Killing the creature isn’t the ultimate goal. Players have to banish it back to Hell to collect its bounty. That starts a timer, and alerts all other players to the bounty’s location. As the banishment timer ran, the hunters prepared to defend the location, sniping a couple of players as they moved onto the farm.

Non-boss enemies can be deadly, too. Apart from zombies, the demo featured some kind of twisted demonic creature, and a huge, headless brute wrapped in barbed wire. As more and more players showed up, our hunters managed to fight them off in a climactic, deadly scramble to stay alive.

When the banishment timer expired, it was time for the hunters to get out. Taking a page from The Division, you don’t get any of your rewards until you escape with them alive. That meant the hunters had to run for a waiting wagon to exit the match. That also allowed for strategy from attacking hunters. They can guess which of several exit points the players might go for and try to set up an ambush.

“The boss is just the middle step. It’s not the grand finale,” Schwarz said. “Why we call it Showdown is after you’ve kill the boss. We see the bosses as the most challenging AI we have in there. It’s walking on walls, ambushing, using hit-and-run tactics. It’s a true, proper boss fight — but it’s not what we put the focus on too much. What we want is that the players drive their own stories.”

Hunt: Showdown really mixes of some of the best multiplayer ideas from the last few years, solid first-person shooter mechanics, and a dark and infernal art style that makes sneaking around Louisiana swamps an altogether spooky affair. The combination of cooperation, competition, and big gross monsters makes Hunt a tense and frightening entry into the multiplayer shooter genre.

There’s no release date on Hunt just yet, but expect to see it on PC sometime in 2018.