Updated: Feb 16
Soon the hunt will begin….any day now….
Platform: PC, PS4
Release Date: 24th April 2020
If there is one thing you should know about me by now, it’s that I do enjoy me some licensed video-games. At the onset of the announcement last year I had my doubts. For one it’s very hard to come up with examples of excellent move tie in games and for the other, the developer Illfonic, had a bit of an unlucky run with their stab (heh) at Friday the 13th. Whereby an unexpected rights issue caused them to cease production on the game less than a year after its release.
Now you might say that is an unfair assessment but in my brief dealings with F13 it was a very unpolished game albeit made with absolute adoration for the source material. I also have made no secret of my love of The Predator franchise and wish for this exact game. So let’s just say I was waiting for the other foot to drop with this one and getting the chance to trial the game early this past weekend, I jumped at the chance.
So… What’s it all about?
Glad you asked, Predator: Hunting Grounds is a 4 vs 1 asymmetrical online multiplayer shooter. With four players depicting the elite macho manly man fire-team, like the ’87 classic film and the other as the titular Predator. For the fire-team, a randomized set of objectives needs to be completed, with the tiniest of story background to set the stage for the match. This usually involves going from point to point, taking out NPC controlled camps (the Predator isn’t your only worry here) then blowing something up, finding documents or defending terminals and so on. Followed by a final jaunt back to your extraction via helicopter (I refuse to say it).
For the Predator the goal is simple, kill and kill well. You must stalk and hunt the fire-team down to the last man and do so in any manner at your disposal. You have access to a variety of gadgets to get started, unlocking more of the Predators iconic arsenal of weapons as you progress through character levels. Now, I hinted at killing well and that is where trophies come in. Yes, you can just explode enemies into chunks with your plasma canon, but you are rewarded with more xp and unlocks by getting up close and personally ripping your enemy’s spines from their bodies in a very Mortal Kombat fatality style fashion.
The Good Stuff
The atmosphere is what struck me the most in my play-through. The jungle map is the perfect foil to play through this carnage, evoking the same feeling of bad-ass unease the first film balanced so well. I loved the feeling of running through the jungle as a marine, scanning the trees for that familiar shimmer all while trying to keep up with my teammates so as not to be left behind.
The gunplay is fine, as this is a trial and I’m not the best at shooters (see exhibit A above) I didn’t get to unlock or mess around with much of the weaponry outside of the very satisfying shotgun. It serves its purpose here and I certainly felt like I could handle myself in a firefight. Going toe to toe with the Predator is not recommended, if you find yourself cornered and separated from the team, you’re in for a world of hurt.
Now should you be downed near a teammate they will have the option to revive you and you are able to spot enemies ala Apex Legends to warn your buddies of any danger lurking nearby. For my time with the fire-team, which was most matches, my mileage varied. Sometimes the team was willing to stick together and take things slowly, others it was every man for themselves. While I never tested private matchmaking, I could easily see the benefits to having a full squad at your side with friends, mics on and maybe even a light beverage ready to go.
Post superhero landing selfie
As for the Predator itself? Feels good man, I wish I had more of a chance to play as the titular character but what I played was satisfying. Running through the jungle scaling trees, leaping from pillar to post using the crudely named “Predkour” movement system is fun. After a bit of fumbling around it becomes second nature to navigate the environment. I got maybe three matches, not including the tutorial, to try things out. Predator vision in general is just the coolest thing and it is vital in finding the player characters as you make your way through. Sometimes I spawned right next to their infiltration point while others required me to listen for the sound of manly explosions to narrow down their whereabouts.
A standout moment in my trial was realizing the added variety to fail states in the game. What I mean by this is, even if you fall to the fire-team you can still affect the mission outcome.I had one instance where I was taken out pretty quickly and entered a downed state. Once this happened the squad ignored me and I was given the option to start a self destruct sequence, just like the films of course. This started a countdown timer to extinction and I got to watch as the fire-team tried to get the hell out of dodge until BOOM! A short sequence then played out where the support chopper arrives to nothing but a smoldering crater, so despite being taken out I still had the last laugh and took out the entire team with me and that felt rather unique to this multiplayer experience.
For a game that will live or die on the strength of the fantasy it's trying to recreate, so far so good is all I can say. There's enough here starting off that playing as the Predator is easy to learn but difficult to master. The only weapon I managed to unlock in my time was the net gun which can be used to essentially stun enemies, giving you a chance to create crowd control or close the gap for the kill but not much else. There's a sense that a more measured, careful approach will reap the most rewards and I can certainly see, given enough time, some real intense matches playing out between skilled players on both sides. This however requires enough breathing time for the community to grow and learn, which leads me too...
...The Not So Good...
Keeping in mind that this was a beta test, the matchmaking needs a lot of work, on the PS4 version at least. The above screen you see is something I very often ran into and an exercise in patience. I don’t know if the state of this mid-COVID pandemic affected things with everyone stuck inside and on Netflix but it was a little frustrating to be waiting in the menus so often. Only to endure further waiting in a lobby once a connection was made, where players could drop out at will thus restarting the whole process again. I am a patient man but relying on the patience of others as well does not inspire confidence.
Hunting Grounds is rough around the edges. When it flies it soars but then, like Icarus of old, it can come crashing down. Enjoyment of this title will likely vary depending on your affiliation with the franchise, but then that’s the rub isn’t it? I’m a fan and I can see this, much like Friday the 13th, having a very dedicated fan-base. One which has been under served for years I might add. The full release is right around the corner but I worry that with heavy hitters like Resident Evil 3 and Final Fantasy VII Remake hitting one after the other before it, this game could be buried by much bigger fish before it even gets a chance.
All images captured by me in-game from PS4 Pro
Gif created by me and uploaded here
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