Updated: 6 days ago
Available On: PC (Epic Store)
Release: April 24th, 2020
If you have been keeping up with us here at CGC, you may already know that my Impressions (right here folks) were cautiously optimistic for Hunting Grounds. There were a lot of issues that cropped up during the beta that really hampered the experience at times. Specifically, I was worried that the spate of big releases in April would over shadow this title and for a game that will live or die by it’s community, a poor launch in any capacity could kill any momentum right out of the gate. It also does not help that licensed games are rather tough to get right and Predator as a franchise in general…is a bit pants these days and could really use a win. Well in true casual tradition, I’ve taken my sweet time to absorb this game, given it the time to really sink in with me and I'm ready to walk you guys through my final thoughts, so let’s dive right in.
So, Want to Recap that for Me?
Certainly! Hunting Grounds is an asymmetrical multiplayer shooter i.e a 4 v 1 slug-fest of Predator versus elite squad of marine/hardboy types in the form of the Fire-team. Eschewing the premise of the ‘87 classic, an elite squad is sent in to accomplish a varying set of objectives, which changes per match. Usually involving shooting hostile locals up to no good and culminating in a chopper extraction once all objectives are complete, all set to the backdrop of a South American jungle ala the original movie.
While the gameplay will never change, matches can play out in a few different ways. Something that surprised me in the beta and while losing its luster a bit, still continues to be appreciated here and helps keep things interesting in it's varying set of win conditions. What I mean by this is, while the Fire-team does have an overall mission, this can be abandoned once the Predator is in play. There is a push and pull system in effect here, a coordinated Fire-team will be able to keep the Predator at bay and complete the mission, or they can take the fight to him opening up new gameplay scenarios.
Assuming you have proven that you in fact, have not been pushing too many pencils, a downed Predator can set two things in motion. Either try make a bee line for the nearest tree line and activate a second wind, which will give the player one more chance to make mince meat of the Fire-team. Or in true end of the movie fashion, set a self-destruct sequence and listen to the Predators iconic laugh while the surviving members run to the hills before the resulting explosion obliterates anything nearby. As the opposing team, you can either shoot the hell out of the Predator, to knock off its mask and put a bullet in its skull to stop the countdown or engage in a mini game to match the on screen icon sequence before it blasts everything into oblivion. If the latter is successful, then the Predator dies and the Fire-team must abandon the previous mission and protect the body against enemy waves until extraction.
The general flow of a match is what can make or break your enjoyment here. There is an option for those of you lucky devils with friends, to create a private lobby and go nuts but if you’re just kicking back with randoms you might find your patience tested. I’ve been in as many tense, edge of your seat matches where a tenacious Predator player has widdled down our motley crews resources, only for us to either die at the aliens hands or escape by the skin of our teeth. As I’ve had matches end in frustratingly quick ways where zero coordination ends in getting steam rolled or using somewhat cheap tactics to absolutely mangle a Predator the second it shows up. There is plenty of fun here, but it can be inconsistent and that may further be compounded by your affiliation for the franchise. This game can at times feel like it’s banking on player nostalgia for the original movie, it gets away with it mostly but is glaringly obvious at others.
Another thing to mention here is the progression system. It is not tied to a specific character or class (unlike SOME asymmetrical games) instead you level up both Predator and Fire-team concurrently. This means that as you hit level milestones you unlock perks and equipment for both classes at the same time. On the Fire-team side, you can tailor your soldier between Recon, Assault and Sniper, but there are no strict rules. For example, you can rock a mini gun as a secondary with your Sniper rifle, is it logical? No, but it’s fun. Though, it has resulted in times when I played a match where the whole team made Blaine proud (sweet reference bro) and we all had mini guns ready to tear apart scenery and paint the jungle bright green with Predator blood alike. There’s a thought to overall game balance that should be considered too. It can be all too easy to cheese your way to victory, but you must know how to game the system. These are issues that will certainly be addressed over time so take from that what you will. So far it hasn’t impacted my own enjoyment.
And Now for Something, Completely Similar
What absolutely hasn’t changed but is considerably better since beta is the state of the game. Yes, it is still rough around the edges so if you’re expecting a buttery smooth experience, at least on PS4, you won’t find it here just yet but the good news is that the developers have been on top of the game with patches. It will not contend with the likes of Call of Duty: Warzone or Apex Legends for framerate but it is a lot less choppy on launch and I suspect this will only improve with further updates. It works in its favor that this game isn’t trying to compete with those heavy hitters, it has a naturally slower pace and the gunplay, while run of the mill, is perfectly suited to what it is going for.
Matchmaking has been greatly improved, especially when it comes to playing as the Predator. Whereas before I had regular wait times upwards of 10 minutes to get into a Predator game, this has essentially been halved after the most recent patch. Stability once in a match can vary but this comes down to whichever player is hosting the match and your own connection too. Unlike the beta, I have only experienced minimum lag during play and have not been booted from the game unceremoniously. It could always be better but from keeping an eye on Illfonics social media and forums they are very much on top of player feedback. Which is always refreshing to see.
To pivot slightly, I feel that customization might be the biggest sticking point for players going forward. While they do partially unlock as you level up, they are mostly earned through “field lockers”, which is another word for loot boxes. However, as of this writing there are no micro-transactions at play here and the in-game currency (which name alludes me…there are so many these days) is the only way you can get these boxes. It’s an odd choice and I really can’t say if the option to buy these with real money won’t come later. But for now at least I get the sense that the satisfaction you are meant to feel from opening a crate is meant to entice you to play more to become the most fashionable Alien on the jungle walk. These cosmetic unlocks hearken back to the franchise roots so you can deck out your marine and/or Predator to match your favorite characters, it’s like in-game cosplay…but better?
Ah, isn't he gorgeous...
The Curtain Call
For the diehards out there, there is some extra lore available in the options menu (rather oddly placed I thought) that seems to tie in the “story so far” from the movies. Now I am not fully versed in the comics but I did notice the little nods to other events in the predator universe as well. This is no surprise really, given Illfonics previous venture with Friday the 13th, a game that maybe didn’t get its fair shake, but was absolutely dripping with fan service and there is plenty of that here.
All things considered, I’d be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this game, I do…like a lot. For my money, I get exactly the experience I wanted and then some. Licensed games have this unique nostalgia factor tied to them that no other game can really muster. Whether it’s having a dedicated button to turn on and off a lightsaber in Star Wars or perched in a tree with the heat vision on as the Predator and just listening, because the sound gives you chills, very few games can offer that and when it is done well it’s unforgettable.
It is also true that companies have preyed on this exact feeling to take peoples money unfairly and deliver a subpar experience that are better off forgotten. I truly believe Predator: Hunting Grounds is a good game with some excellent potential. Between the consistent fixes and tweaks provided by the developers, the clear love and admiration for the series on display and a solid gameplay loop, I will be coming back to this again and again. There’s enough here to build something great, time will tell ultimately how this game grows but I for one am excited to watch and experience it as it unfolds.
Play This Game If….
· You’re a fan, this game is made for you
· You’re intrigued by the unique spin on the multiplayer
· You’ve played Friday the 13th and can’t get enough of the concept
· You want to make it bleed so you can kill it
All images taken from the press kit found here.
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