Apologies to Chris for stealing his titling convention!
Let’s get this right out on the table: Hunted: The Demon Forge does not make a good first impression.
You might be put off by the ridiculous outfits the main female characters wear. But me, I grew up with The Vargas Girl so I’m comfortable with the overt sexualization of fictitious characters.
You might be put off by the banter between the main characters. Joystiq called them ‘grating’ but I have to admit I find them amusing. I’m easy like that. Having Lucy Lawless purring in my ear doesn’t hurt, either. I’m easy like that, too. Call me, Lucy!
You might be put off by the oddly muddy textures on the character’s faces. If they’d put the same care into the faces that they did on E’lara’s frequently glimpsed butt cheeks the game would look a lot better.
Or you might be put off, as I was, by the fact the Hunted isn’t the game you might have thought it was.
Me, I thought it was a hack and slash RPG (see prior post about Dungeon Siege III to hear about my love for that genre) but it turns out it’s kind of a fantasy shooter. I shouldn’t have read the Joystiq review before writing this post because now I can’t get their comparisons to Gears of War out of my head.
Assuming you get past all that, the “Prologue” (aka Tutorial Level) is glitchy as hell. I kept doing things the game didn’t expect, which then failed to trigger a tutorial pop-up, which in turn caused my partner to stop moving forward. Example: at one point you’re playing E’lara, the elven naked huntress. Big brawny guy Caddoc runs ahead, jumps down off a ledge and starts whinging about bugs. So I, being a vaguely smart gamer, decide to keep E’lara up on the ledge to snipe down and take out said bugs. Once they’re gone I jump down, but Caddoc ain’t moving. I can’t find anyway to move forward. Huh.
Eventually I restart and when I get to that spot, I dutifully jump down, at which point a tutorial pop up teaches me about crouching behind cover. Ahhh. And then we move forward. That kind of thing happened a few times.
That aside, let’s pull back a bit for the 1000 foot view. You’ve got two active characters and can switch between them at certain checkpoints along the way. Both have melee and ranged weapons, but E’lara has skills based around the bow and Caddoc has skills based around melee. They both can learn magic, too.
There’s no inventory. You carry 1 of each type of weapon, and when you find something better you have to drop the old one. This drives me batshit crazy, leaving loot behind! LOL. But that’s just me being crazy. What’s really annoying is that if you find a magic weapon, it has a set number of charges on it. You seem to fire off these charges by doing a multi-hit combo (I’m still figuring some of this out) so if you want to conserve these powerful magical attacks you have to be careful to single hit enemies. I kept expending precious magic axe attacks on the equivalent of rats. Once a magical weapon uses up its charges it just becomes a piece of crap mundane weapon and you’ll want to replace it ASAP.
According to my research you can eventually unlock a 2nd weapon slot, so you’ll be able to carry a solid mundane weapon for regular fights, and conserve your magical weapon for epic battles. I can’t wait to get that second slot.
Aside from the odd piece of gear, enemies and chests drop various geegaws and potions. There are health orbs that immediately add to your hit points. There are health potions that, when you trigger a ‘pick up’ action, will either fill your health bar or go into a reserve for later use. You seem to be able to carry only 1 extra health potion though. I left a lot behind. There are revive potions that let you revive your companion when he or she falls (and the AI does a good job of reviving you when you fall). There are crystals that you spend to develop your character at certain points. There’s gold that…I dunno what it does. There are no stores, but there’s a big gold meter that slowly is filling up. Oh, and mana orbs and potions too.
A lot of this stuff looks really similar and too often I found myself trying to pick something up over and over and not being able to, and not really understanding why.
Oh, and finally we get to actual gameplay. Combat as Caddoc is basic button mashing stuff, with an active shield button. E’lara’s bow feels much more like a fantasy shooter (Caddoc’s crossbow does too but again, he gets no skills with it). There’s the cover system I mentioned and battlefields so far have been quite chaotic. I’ve mostly played Caddoc and generally I’ll hear whistling arrows and be turning back and forth frantically looking to find the enemy. It’s both annoying and kind of realistic, in a way. Your AI pal isn’t ineffective. In fact at one point Caddoc was near death with a single enemy left, and I decided to just block/block/block and sure enough E’lara took the bastard out with arrows while I ‘tanked.’
At certain points you can nudge your friend into doing something, such as shooting a burning arrow at a distant brazier. These instances are scripted; ie you can only do them when the game knows there’s a specific action you need to accomplish in order to proceed.
There’s no jump button, and to get over a wall you first have to take cover behind it, then vault over it. Dumb.
So E’lara shoots burning arrows (which often triggers a door or hidden room). Caddoc can push stuff. To do this you hit B to activate the “Push system” and them pump the A button endlessly. Caddoc grunts and groans and struggles against the object until you’ve blistered your thumb pumping A…and then he stands up and effortlessly moves the object. Dumb. From both an animation point of view and a gameplay point of view. Who ever decided pumping a button is fun?
The first ‘real’ level is a total maze. Over and over I’d see stuff I wanted to collect, but couldn’t figure out how to get to it. I still don’t know if I was missing a means of entry or if I’ll be coming back to these areas, or what.
So that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I think there’s an interesting game hidden in there somewhere. Notice I said “interesting” and not “good.” If you were thinking of running out and picking up Hunted at full price, I’d urge you not to do that. It just feels wonky and rushed in a lot of places. Maybe it gets better; I barely got into the post tutorial bits. But my instincts say it won’t.
This is the first game we’ve seen from InXile and Brian Fargo in quite a while. Was “The Bard’s Tale” (the bawdy, silly remake, not the original) their last game? I can’t help but think they would’ve had more success sticking to the formula for hack and slash RPGs rather than trying to make (thanks Joystiq) a Gears of War fantasy shooter with lite RPG elements.
My rating so far: Buyer’s Remorse