This week my brother and I formed a party and embarked on an epic quest to purchase a brand new 250GB Xbox 360 Slim in preparation for his lengthy summer internship. We were eventually successful, and along with the console he also picked up a copy of FIFA 2011 (he’s always been a huge soccer fan and owns most iterations of the game) and a copy of CoD: Black Ops to play with me and his best friend Kyle. Guys, I promise you two I’ll be calling in entire flocks of blackbirds and baking cornbread like I’m Paula Deen.
As we were shopping though, I kept seeing advertisements everywhere for Hunted: the Demon’s Forge, and it was really hard for me to resist impulse-buying two copies on the spot—one to keep here in Baltimore, and one to send with him out to California. As you know by now, I’m a huge fan of epic quests, particularly those of the co-op variety.
Hunted is being hailed as Gears of War with a fantasy backdrop, and I really can’t imagine that—it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t want to, though. Apparently, there’s roadie running, an inexplicable amount of chest-high walls, a fairly thorough cover system to utilize but still not explain said walls (forever a mystery), executions for downed enemies who may as well be classified in the same scientific phylum as the Locust, and more than a few other solid comparisons. But with Caddoc, the male protagonist, focusing almost exclusively on melee combat, I’m left wondering how something like a cover system is even remotely relevant.
The answer lies in what makes Hunted seem so appealing: the co-op synergy. In addition to his weapon skills, Caddoc also learns a handful of magic spells, some of which are capable of making enemies more susceptible to E’lara’s ranged attacks. The main example I keep reading about is a tornado spell that lifts enemies into the air where they remain helplessly suspended until E’lara picks them off with precision. The idea of weaving magic into a game that plays like Gears of War expands the potential for synergistic co-op play well beyond simple flanking maneuvers and elevates it to levels closer to an RPG-like zenith, and I am all for this. I just hope that the reason previews and reviews keep citing this example is because it’s really cool when executed, and not because it’s one of the only instances of co-op interaction.
Another thing that makes Hunted so eccentric is the lack of a conventional RPG inventory system. From what I’ve been reading, it seems that your characters won’t be holding on to their weapons for very long, as they exhaust their magical properties fairly quickly, or break easily, or something. While developers InExile haven’t omitted an inventory system entirely (you can carry potions initially, and a backup weapon eventually through unlocks), they’ve put much more emphasis on utilizing the weapons of your fallen enemies than they have on hoarding an entire arsenal for yourself, which is something most RPG fans enjoy doing. I actually like the way this sounds though—being forced to switch swords on the fly would definitely add to the frenetic pacing of the game and further blur the line between action and RPG. I could see it getting old after a few hours though, if there isn’t any real way to hang on to at least one or two weapons that you find particularly appealing or effective. I’ve also read that there are lots of treasures and collectibles to find—maybe InExile accounted for this by littering the battlefields with all kinds of epic drops that you’ll want to use at least once.
After seeing multiple life-sized posters of Caddoc and E’lara during my journies, I’ve been left clamoring for a piece of this action myself. Before I do something drastic like spend $120 for my brother and I to be able to play Hunted together, I’d like to delve into this mash-up to see if it feels right. If Hunted actually plays like Gears of War, I’m stoked to wield a gutmunching lancer of the lambent brumak +2 or a blightful ink grenade of the wretch. Looks like I won’t be able to keep them forever though.
Like Army of Two, Kane and Lynch, and a bevy of other duo-centric action games, Hunted could pass as a fun single-player experience with the AI serving as my ally on the battlefield, but I’d much rather put my faith in a friend who knows and understands the values of resurrection via checkpoint and the subtlety of aggro. Plus, games like this are always just way more fun when you have someone to talk to, or in my case, scream at as you’re decimating hordes of berserk enemies. I think for now I’m going to wait and see if Hunted goes on sale anywhere—it does too many unique things to simply let it fade into obscurity without ever playing it. I love Gears of War and I love dungeon crawling—how could I not love this?