I wade through the stinking swamp, trying to keep low and not announce my presence. There is a splashing sound to my right, probably a Water Devil. The splashing is growing closer and I see the water surface rolling towards me. I run the last stretch and reach land as a host of tentacles snarl towards me. They miss, barely. Just as I consider what to do with the thing, I hear a series of loud gunshots close by; something is being banished over at the barn further down the road. The hunt is on.
Hunt: Showdown has spent a bit more than a year cooking in Steam Early Access and the final result, while still great, has had some of the zing boiled out of it. The extremely intense experience is retained and the new UI is a welcome change. However, some of the uniqueness of Hunt: Showdown’s combat has been severely sanded down.
When I first played Hunt: Showdown, I was struck by its great visuals and the thick atmosphere Crytek managed to squeeze into a multiplayer game. The shadows were dark and the whole game was full of foreboding. Everything from hellhounds to ducks could reveal your location and bring death and doom upon you. Luckily a lot of this atmosphere has been kept intact in the full release.
Hunt: Showdown remains a unique and interesting take on the whole battle royale genre. Instead of 100 players, Hunt is satisfied with 12. Instead of having a contracting circle, Hunt has objectives. The game also boasts a genuinely interesting setting, which is more than can be said for PUBG and Fortnite.
Indeed, Hunt: Showdown feels like it is a spin-off from another game which is due to a large amount of lore and backstory Crytek has packed into it. Frankly, it has me interested to see more of what this world has to offer and I would love to play a more story-focused title set in this world someday.
There isn’t much of a story here in the pure narrative sense, but Hunt: Showdown is jam-packed with snippets of lore and backstory. A lot of it stems from item descriptions, similar to a Dark Souls game. There is a tonne of quirky and unique armaments in the game, like the shotgun revolver, for instance. Each of them has a description that mentions why the hunters felt the need to invent this particular weapon. In the full release, you also unlock dossier pages as you kill monsters.
The dossier and a whole rework of the game’s UI and menus are new for the 1.0 release. The dossier pages are written like case studies and are full of historical accounts of encounters with the monsters and speculations as to how you best go about murdering them dead. The whole game, but especially the dossier, makes it clear that Weird Tales and pulpy horror stories channeled through Hunt: Showdown. The monsters and those who hunt them would fit in well in any Creepypasta you can find on the web.
You are part of a group of bounty hunters who have been sent to the swamplands to take out a mark. It is not any old bandit, however, but a full-blown extra-dimensional monster of some kind. So far there are three such contracts in the game, The Butcher, The Spider, and The Assassin. The objective for each player is to find these monsters and kill them, taking their bounty back for money.
These three are the main targets in any given round, but it is not the only way to play Hunt. When facing insurmountable odds, you can instead choose to kill the lesser monsters who roam the land. Naturally, these are not as valuable but come with less risk of death.
The most impressive aspect of Hunt is how it manages to make every system increase the intensity of the gameplay. By giving your characters an upgrade path, you start caring a whole lot more for them, but then the game makes you afraid of losing them by introducing permadeath. If a Hunter goes down in battle, that’s it. All the abilities and the gear you invested in that hunter are lost.
Likewise, the low player count serves to make things even more intense. This is in large part due to some clever obfuscation. You have no information about how many players have joined a game, nor do you know if they are alone or playing in a group. There are no kill confirmations, and there is no list of remaining players. This lends each round of Hunt a sense of fear of the unknown; you can never be quite sure about how many players there are around you. Even after an intense firefight, you are left with the uncertainty of victory. Did I kill that guy? Or is he just hiding somewhere waiting to pounce on me when I go and check?
It is all masterfully well balanced. The map is large enough to accommodate exploration, while not being impossible to get across in a single game. Everyone starts out being fairly spread out, and it usually takes a while before the first encounter. This gives you plenty of time to listen for any sign of human activity; combat, disturbing wildlife or just the noise of movement. You will spend a lot of time here jumping at bushes (and hellhounds).
This would all be for naught if the sound wasn’t as excellent as it is. Whether it is gurgling monsters, snapping tree branches or distant gunfire, they all fit in the world incredibly well. Moreover, they are an integral part of playing the game at all. Since you have little to no information about what is out there, listening for it becomes all the more important. In line with this, I would strongly recommend anyone who wants to play this to invest in a pair of surround headphones.
The biggest issues I have with the game are some of the changes made with the 1.0 release. The most egregious one is in the way guns have been altered since the Early Access. When it was first released, Hunt: Showdown’s weapons had terrible precision. Guns swayed a lot when fired and making headshots was far from easy. This made firefights rather drawn-out affairs, both sides often missed a lot and had to come up with other solutions to winning a fight. You had to think more about your surroundings and ways of flanking a player.
Since then, they have added scopes and made weapons more precise in general. While it doesn’t completely ruin the experience, it does make the combat a lot less unique than it was before. It plays more like any other shooter, which is a bit of a disappointment. Likewise, the wildlife and the monsters seem to have become tamer than before. There are fewer of them, and the ones that are there seem a bit more passive than they once were. Before, it was more or less a given that they would join in on a noisy firefight. Now, however, they tend to stick more to their designated routes around the level.
Less important, though still noticeable, is that the visuals seem to have become muddier since I first played it. While optimizations are to be expected in any game (Hunt did not run well at all, to begin with), I feel that they might have taken off a bit too much of the shine this time. It is mostly the vegetation and foliage which seems to have taken the brunt of the change and it is a real shame.
More severe are the texture and geometry pop-ins that I’ve noticed in the 1.0 release. I could be wrong, but I remember Hunt having a very long draw distance before. Look down your iron sights in a field now and you will almost certainly notice geometry popping in. It is far from a deal-breaker and the game still looks great, but it is something I noticed since the full release of the game for sure.
Hunt: Showdown is a unique experience that can be incredibly fun to play. That said, the intense and hard gameplay is likely to turn away many and it is a shame that some of the more unique aspects of the game ended up on the cutting room floor.
*A copy of Hunt: Showdown was purchased by the writer for the purposes of this review.
**Hunt: Showdown releases on Xbox One on September 13th and November 5th for PS4.
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Hunt: Showdown is an incredibly intense and sometimes nerve-racking game that will require a lot from you. In return, it delivers an experience and a world you will have a hard time finding anywhere else.