Hunted: The Demon’s Forge
It’s hard to get that excited about Hunted. On a first glance it seems to be heading down such a predictable, un-ambitious and well-worn path. It has been described – probably to its detriment – as an old-school dungeon-crawler for the modern age and, while as redundant as that idea may sound, inExile has gone some way to sexing the whole idea up. First, we’re slightly sceptical about Hunted for its by-the-numbers character design, but on closer inspection, what seems to be a much more pressing issue is the idea that this is in fact taking the best elements from the dungeon-crawler and repurposing them for the modern age. Other than sharing a few key features, such as setting, general characters and abilities, Hunted has much more in common with the co-op found in Gears Of War or Resident Evil 5 than anything else.
For inExile founder though, Hunted represents a return to the developer’s roots. “Brian Fargo would never shut the hell up about his desire to make a dungeon-crawler,” explained inExile President Matt Findley at a recent Bethesda event. “It was the genre he felt that was abandoned by the industry, it was games like Wizardry that ultimately made him create the first Bard’s Tale back in the mid-Eighties and it was the love of that genre; the sense of wonder and exploration that sparked his imagination.” As the basis for a modern triple-A game, we can’t imagine a more saturated art style, but with the gameplay focusing on the two characters – meathead Caddoc and elven lovely Elara – and the way players will be able to utilise both into a seamless co-op heavy experience, there could be life in the old skeleton yet.
“When you're making a game focused on co-op, it’s really critical that it’s designed into every single facet of the game from the beginning,” continues Matt. “Every single spell and special ability, and even the environments themselves, were all designed to exploit this concept of co-op.” We can see how wandering the lush Unreal Engine 3-created dungeons with a friend could be compelling stuff but, from what we have seen of Hunted’s combat, there’s a lot of work to be done. That’s not to say the raw materials aren’t there – Caddoc is the perfect tank and his lumbering attacks are combined perfectly with Elara’s ranged bow – but with collision detection patchy at best, a lot of the drama is taken away from what should be the game’s strongest aspect. If it doesn’t feel like you’re chopping chunks out of your foe, what’s the point?
Those gamers who look back at Wizardry with big gooey eyes probably won’t be happy to hear that though exploration will be key to Hunted, it’s been streamlined in order to not scare off all those ‘stupid’ console players that require their hands to be held. It’s being dubbed the ‘critical path’ – stay on it and you’ll blitz through the game and bypass all the extras and hidden content. Step off the path and you’ll come across all sorts of hardcore enemies and content. We have to ask: if ineXile is making an homage to the dungeon crawler, why exactly does it feel the need to dilute what made them great? To pander to the perceived ineptitude of modern audiences might be Hunted’s greatest problem.
Developers have long been concerned with making games that aren’t totally impenetrable to audiences. It’s something many have become obsessed with, from lengthy tutorials explaining exactly how to duck under a low-lying tree to hand-holding right through to a game’s climax. Hunted is attempting to weave its more contentious dungeon-crawler elements into the game’s fabric so that they don’t stump players who aren’t necessarily prepared for them. Sounds good in theory, but what it actually means is Hunted becoming a diluted mess and a shadow of the games it’s attempting to pay tribute, instead of the hardcore crowd-pleaser it could be.
Combat, exploration, puzzles and two half-naked warriors, all mixed up in a modern cover-based template. We won’t deny that, visually, this isn’t looking too bad, but we have to question some of the fundamental designs when they don’t exactly seem to be working particularly well. Nail the basics and this could turn into a fun co-op brawler, but as it stands now, Hunted is lacking the depth in all its most interesting areas.