If we rewind back to 2014, we would see a very different game to the one you are reading about today. Announced at E3 2014, Hunt Horrors of the Gilded Age was to be a co-op, third-person shooter, solely focused on PvE. Six years removed from that initial announcement, developer Crytek have released Hunt: Showdown – a game with a completely different approach, while still retaining a lot of the DNA from the original concept. The end result is an atmospheric PvP/PvE hybrid shooter that encourages strategy and punishes ill-planning, with permanent consequences.
That’s one spooky building, lucky I have my good friend crossbow
The Louisiana bayous are dangerous at the best of times – between murky water and alligators, they can be all kinds of treacherous. In Hunt’s version of 1895 Louisiana however, they are far, far more deadly. A supernatural plague has mutated the population into savage and horrific beings straight out of a nightmare, transforming the swampland into a boggy hellscape. Things can’t hardly be left as they are, so help will need to be enlisted. Said enlisted help is you – a hunter
There are two modes on offer – Bounty Hunt and Quickplay. Bounty Hunt has you and 11 other hunters enter the bayou, track down a particularly gruesome ghoul, kill it and then exit the swamp in one piece (though it is nowhere near as easy as that sounds). Quickplay on the other hand is closer to a battle royale, pitting you against the 11 other hunters, with only one surviving.
The general gist of Bounty Hunt is simple enough, but the execution makes things much trickier. You and your partner/s (depending if you’re playing in trios) spawn on the outskirts of the rather sizeable map and are tasked with finding and killing a boss creature. You can stumble upon them, but using Darksight, an ability all hunters have, you can sense clues. These clues, once interacted with, will narrow down the map until you have the boss’s exact location (three clues does the job).
Using Darksight is essential, but it leaves you vunerable so use it wisely
The setting is the real standout, with the swampy marshland teeming with creepy, dilapidated buildings, murky bogs and old-timey cemeteries and worksites. Atmosphere is king in Showdown. There is no music, instead you are left with the sounds of the bayou – the squelch of mud under your feet, the barking of wild dogs, the moaning of undead horrors and the echo of gunshots in the distance. The environment itself is a trap, with broken glass waiting to be stepped on, or flocks of crows grazing on the ground that scatter loudly on your approach; there are so many ways that the game builds tension and it does it masterfully. This is all ramped massively when playing at night or during foggy matches, that can really get your heart pumping.
Equally as impressive is the selection of era-specific weapons. From shotguns and bolt-action snipers, to revolvers, crossbows and lever-action rifles, all of the firearms are faithful to the period and act as they should. Requiring a manual button press to reload, and often only being able to hold a single shot (maybe a few if you are lucky), the tools are simple, so the smith using them better be skilled.
Fog and darkness make matches potential pant-wetters
Once you find the boss you are in for one hell of a fight. At launch there are three contract monsters – The Butcher, Assassin and Spider. The Butcher is a bullet sponge that takes a huge amount of damage and wants nothing more than to get up close and personal, The Assassin is a shifty and quick shape shifter that melts into a puddle of bugs to avoid damage, and The Spider is a nightmarish collection of meat in the shape of an arachnid that has a hit and run approach to combat. Each of them are horrid to look at and inspire fear from the player, but more importantly they are all difficult to overcome, with each of them requiring a different method to best.
These encounters are stressful in the best way possible. If you and your partner don’t have a plan before heading into the boss area, they will eat you alive, literally. The boss areas themselves make the affair even more tense. Taking place in dark, dingy spots such as a rundown barn or an underground cellar, they are more often than not a labyrinth of hallways and doorways that disorient and confuse. This might sound awful on paper, but not knowing where you are, let alone where the boss is, is pure terror. But even if you kill one of these big bastards your job isn’t done.
You will also need to banish the boss and extract the contract token it drops after doing so. Banishment is simply a button activation at the boss’s corpse, followed by a 2 minute wait. But when you start the banishing, the boss location can be seen by all other players. Hunkering down and preparing for enemy hunters is nerve wracking, as they could potentially swoop in and claim the reward following your hard work. The structure of the boss areas is thankfully excellent, with multiple entry points and plenty of external cover, giving the defending hunters a chance to dig their heels in and defend their prize.
A pistol might not be quite enough for this big boy
Just as anxiety fuelling is extracting. Once you have the token you will need to head to the edge of the map where an extraction point is waiting to whisk you away to victory. Throughout the map there are a good variety of standard enemies that want you dead just as much as the bosses. From your standard zombie-like infected that shamble around in groups, right through to Meatheads (big beefy bullet sponges that rely on a pack of leeches to see), all of the enemies are visually terrifying and varied. The amount of enemies scattered across is map is spot on as well – enough to keep you on your toes constantly, but not too many to be unfair. So not only are other players trying for a last ditch effort to take your bounty, but you will have to weave through droves of other horrors as well.
PvP interactions are wonderful, as one well-placed shot can be enough to down a hunter, so tact and planning is again very useful. Do you sprint in guns blazing, or do you wait for the other team to make the first move? You will likely die a lot at first, as more seasoned players will have the upper hand, but this learning curve shouldn’t dissuade you – if you put the time into honing your skills, player versus player fights can be very rewarding. Full disclaimer – I played quite a few rounds with WellPlayed’s Zach Jackson for this review and wouldn’t have managed a win without him, so cheers old mate, good shooting.
With friends like Zach, who needs enemies
As I eluded to in the introduction, there is a penalty for death. If you perish during a Bounty Hunt, your hunter and their gear are gone for good. Abilities are tied to experience, meaning the best unlockables are only available once your hunter hits a certain level. Weapons are similar, needing to be purchased with currency you earn from matches, meaning in order to strengthen your hunter you need to risk their very existence. Luckily when starting out there is some leniency, as this perma-death only comes into effect after you hit level 11, with death only resulting in half experience up to that point. This system is harsh and will likely turn some players away, but it provides a consequence for your actions, meaning that proper thought should be put into every action as it could lead to disaster.
Though the PvP is solid in Bounty Hunt, it doesn’t translate as well into Quickplay. In Quickplay you are required to close three tears in reality (essentially the same as clues) before heading to the Wellspring to escape. The Wellspring is filled with experience and will drain slowly, meaning that it’s a race to get there and claim as much as you can.
These matches are 15 minutes in length maximum (before the Wellspring dries up) and are seemingly there for players who prefer to play alone, and to unlock cool weapons. You begin Quickmatch with a poorly kitted hunter and will need to pick up better armaments during the match. If you successfully win the game, you get to keep that hunter and all of the equipment you gathered. Even with that incentive, I quickly forgot about Quickplay, as it just isn’t anywhere near as interesting or unique as Bounty Hunt, leaning heavily into the very familiar battle royale trends that are becoming a little tired.
Even the water wants you dead
The bayou and all of the creepy building interiors all look fairly schmick, with only a few textures being a little drab. Going forward I do hope that load times and the general layout of menus is improved. Gearing up your hunter and launching a game can be a bit painful as the menus leave quite a bit to be desired, and once you are matched with a game it takes a long-arse time before you are actually dropped in. I can’t complain too much, matches can last up to an hour so down time isn’t so bad, but I would prefer to not spend that downtime twiddling my thumbs.
If you are someone who enjoys palpable atmosphere, Hunt: Showdown has it in spades. With an excellent setting, brilliant ambient audio and a gameplay loop that builds tension better than most games, it’s a multiplayer experience worth having. There are absolutely things that need improvement, as there’s an entire mode that misses the mark, but Bounty Hunt has its hooks in me, and if you and a like-minded friend give it a crack I’m sure it will ensnare you as well.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher