Asymmetric multiplayer is my dark chocolate. Something that is super familiar for a lot of people, but with a really polarising twist that can turn a lot of people off it. For many devs, it feels a little like activating a ‘game development hardmode’, creating hurdles that many other games need not worry about. And for this reason, I have a lot of sympathy – and perhaps extra patience – for these titles.
Predator: Hunting Grounds is the newest entry into the world of asymmetric multiplayer titles based on 80s film franchises that seems to have been drawn entirely from my fanboy subconscious, right alongside Friday the 13th: The Game (not so coincidentally these two title share a common developer – Illfonic). For those unaware of the Predator franchise, the premise is usually that military tough guys are having a bad day at work, when suddenly they realise a seven-foot-tall alien killing machine is hunting them for sport. Whacky hijinx ensue, people are skinned alive and usually one particularly badass military manchild escapes to tell their tale.
Herein is painted the picture of Hunting Grounds’ primary gameplay loop – four players are banded together as military hardarses on a routine mission to do <a thing>, while another player acting as the seven-foot-tall alien killing machine works to kill them. In essence, it works quite beautifully – in practice, it can be a little hit or miss. Let’s first look at how each team fits into the world of Hunting Grounds.
There is one word to describe people who are fascinated by skulls. That particular word is “craniomaniac”
As a mercenary, you step into the shoes of hard-boiled military agent DIRK HARDJAW. Or at least, that is how I imagined it. The game presents your human character as the very barest of avatars to enter this world. Square-jawed dudes and steel-eyed dudettes stare awkwardly at you from the loadout panel, where you can dress up in a limited number of items such as sunglasses, camo face paint and a bucket hat. I was thankful to see that there was no crazy premium store full of clown wigs and fake moustaches – but the stuff on offer did nothing to leave me feeling attached to my particular ROCK MEATSLAB or NANCY KNUCKLECRUNCH. I mean, it is a first-person game so maybe I can appreciate not feeling overly attached to my character when the Predator has its wicked way with me.
Where cosmetics may be lacking, the team at Illfonic have instead focused on making sure your gameplay experience is lovingly tailored to in terms of what you want to do. Weapon loadouts are broad and very flexible, with all manner of assault rifles, SMGs, shotgun and pistol options – however you want to do the shooting, you will likely find it here. Beyond the actual boomsticks, you can also delve into different sight options, extended magazines, weapon paint schemes and perks to shuffle how you go about your dirty jungle business. I was super impressed to find myself enjoying my starting rifle enough to want to keep using it, just slightly miffed that it was using iron sights. Sure enough, I could slap a holosight on that bad boy to feel much more tacticool.
At range, the minigun is quite ineffective. In the heat of the moment, I do not care
Perks surprised me – in the sense that they effectively served as a way to ‘build-a-class’ within the game. Originally I noticed that the game suggested some class-based gameplay by way of unlockable stat-shifts, such as bulking up your health pool at the cost of speed to represent a more bruiser-esque meatslab, but in reality the perks are where things start to shift in a big way. With three perk slots, you can go balls to the walls with passive effects that do all kinds of neato things, like:
- Increase the damage you do to the Pred, to become a true pred-hunting sexual tyrannosaurus
- Passively reduce how well the Pred can see you in heat vision, as well as quicker mud bathing to disguise your heat signature faster (with a perk called PIG IN SHIT)
- Move faster, be quieter – BECOME A JUNGLE NINJA
Aesthetically, the game gives me everything I could have dreamed
In a brilliant move, there were actually a lot of baseline perks to choose from when starting the game, allowing you to properly put some input into how you play. So while you may not feel any cosmetic attachment to your SGT. BEEF MCLARGEHUGE human, at least in practice you can feel like a finely-tailored jungle juggernaut.
Predators can activate PRED-VISION to better see anime fans and manga enthusiasts
Moving on to the star of the show, the massive dreadlocked beasty known simply as ‘The Predator’. For those of the nerdy variety, their alien species is actually known as the Yautja, but only nerdy nerds such as myself know that. Playing as the Pred sees a player navigating the jungle from a third-person view, leaping nimbly from tree limb to tree limb before moving in for a particularly gruesome kill. Track those dumbass humans by listening carefully, using special thermal nerd vision or even just turn invisible and lurk in some bushes – the choice is yours. Your only objective is to stop the human players from completing their objective – either via gruesome death or running out the game clock, where gruesome death is by far the more engaging option.
Much like the human options, perks and ‘class’ types are available to make your very own authentic masked man-masher, but the real interesting side of things for the Pred are the gear and weapon options. For melee lovers, you can rock a massive sword or an alien bo staff – and for ranged, why not use an actual bow? With arrows and everything? What about a remote control razor frisbee? The devs have done their homework, and provided a plethora of space-age killing implements. My only beef is that I did not see evidence of the space shuriken from the Alien Vs Predator film, though part of me hopes it is either an unlock, or perhaps some groovy post-release content.
Aw, someone spilled their glowstick!
Once a game begins and boots hit the mud (or clawed feet hit the tree branch), there is a genuine air of excitement for both sides of the equation. Human players enjoy that fragile sense of peace, counting the minutes until they encounter the real threat – and the Predator player starts gleefully considering how they will make their grand entrance. All of it has this gorgeous feeling of pre-foreplay tension, people blushing and letting their imagination run wild. What comes beyond this, however, can either be a mind-blowing romp of excitement – or an odd fumble that leaves a curious stain on your couch and a lingering memory you wish would go away.
See, Hunting Grounds suffers from that age-old issue with games that provide player control to what is essentially ‘the boss monster’, where if there is a particular high skill deficit between both parties, the actual gameplay experience will careen off the rails and basically crash. In my time playing so far, I have encountered both sides of the extreme – human players that behaved like Navy Seals and co-ordinated a sound thrashing to the space stranger danger, as well as Predators that ended up clowning every member of my team in a way that I am sure would have made a dead boring film. Rounds end suddenly, and with the sound of a deflating balloon rather than full-blown fanfare. And in these cases, where I won alongside teammates that effectively smacked the Predator’s bottom – I left feeling empty. Once the Predator is defeated, all existing objectives are cancelled and the game mostly just ends. You may have a short-timed period where you defend the corpse from AI – but you are back in the lobby screen soon enough, feeling just a little disappointed.
It’s hard to describe. In Friday the 13th, killing Jason Voorhees was the ultimate victory. It left you buzzing with a high for hours afterwards. You achieved it via coordinating with your allies and setting up all the required criteria. In Hunting Grounds, Predator kills usually just…happen. Sometimes all too suddenly – a flurry of action and intense stress suddenly gives way to an awkward moment of nothing, perhaps followed by YOU NEED TO RUN if the pred’s self destruct is happening. Though changes are being made to balance particular Predator types, I found myself longing for games where either team is enjoying their foreplay, and leaning further into the cat-and-mouse tension that the game fosters so well.
The same can be said for super Predators that just stomp on people – though their skill level is admirable, it can be a bit of a bummer to realise that most of your teammates are already dead or downed in barely a moment, though I feel this is something that might balance itself out as the community’s skill level equalises across its players.
Lot of build up, then two minutes of noise and fury – then, nothing. Bit like my first time
Leaving individual skill however, there is also the awkward nature at the other extreme – when everyone involved might be new or unskilled. I have played games where my team has never even seen the Predator, leaving us wondering if the space bloke was AFK or just unsure how to track us down. The size of the maps – while generous – are not colossal, but definitely big enough that the two teams could very well pass like ships in the night. I myself have had games where I feverishly wondered where the heck the humans were, and pretended that my plan all along was to make a last-minute appearance as they tried to exfiltrate the mission area.
The real gripe that I have with the game is the oddly rigid nature of its structure. The only controlled chaos to be had is when the Predator applies itself directly to your forehead – outside of these moments, the objective-based gameplay of the mercenary experience feels like a very watered-down shooter, where the AI opponents never really seem to be that much of a threat. Even a more generic set of rules regarding your alert level within the environment, seeing either more enemies or perhaps more (actually) dangerous ones could do a lot to better encourage more unique moment-to-moment gameplay. It actually feels like a wasted opportunity that the Predator doesn’t really have any influence on the human objectives beyond simply killing NPCs – I personally would have loved to come across the area of my objective and discover that the AI opponents are highly on edge and packing serious firepower thanks to the Predator amping them up ready for our arrival.
Aesthetically, the game gives me everything I could have dreamed. The jungle feels vast and realistic, with terrain varying in interesting and fun degrees – even the shanty towns and enemy camps are unique enough to make me care about learning their paths. Couple this with some punchy sound design for weapons and a gorgeous suite of noises for your Predator, you can’t help but feel immersed. Even the music feels grand and epic, with a hearty nostalgic dose of the original cues that permeated the original film soundtrack.
Wonder if this guy is aware that a glowing Predator is one that is about to self-destruct
Predator: Hunting Grounds manages to serve up exactly what it advertises – a CoD-lite shooter experience that is routinely interrupted by a seven-foot-tall alien murder machine. Playing as the murder machine is as fun as you would expect it to be – however playing as Sgt. BUCK STEELGIRDER can be a little dull when your murderous space playmate is absent. Thankfully, the game has enough passion and charm within it to convince me to stick around and see where the developers take it moving forward.
Reviewed on PC and PS4 // Review code supplied by publisher