With the first gameplay trailer of Predator: Hunting Grounds, a new game centered on the extraterrestrial trophy hunter, shown off at Gamescom, it seems appropriate for me to talk about one of the creature’s only other notable solo games where they don’t have to share the playable character limelight with those pesky Aliens. I didn’t plan the timing, but I’ll take it. I have wanted to review Predator: Concrete Jungle for a while now. This was a title I was able to play a few minutes of in college when it came out, but just never made it back around to until now.
After several years, I kept hearing that I should lower my expectations for the game, but more than that everyone wanted to tell me about the story, as it’s a little crazy. I give some serious credit to this setup for trying something different, but everything after the start is wonky. This tale follows an odd Predator, who will later be known as Scarface, as he messes up on Earth and hits his self-destruct button on his ship to destroy all evidence of the Predators, though it is weird that the bomb was tied to his vehicle and not his wrist.
He survives, but the thought of a good explosion fixing everything doesn’t pan out and some of his technology falls into the wrong hands. A group of predators come to retrieve the failed hunter for a proper scolding and his punishment lands him on a planet full of aggressive giant bugs for several decades. The others don’t correct his blunders however, meaning many of the humans now have advanced technology and weapons. After a 100 year exile, Scarface is retrieved by his peers and sent back to Earth to try and fix his mistakes.
It’s a fun premise, let down by inconsistent writing, a laughable city name (Neonopolis), bad dialogue and potentially the most cartoonishly terrible villains from that console generation. I know it’s hard to write a protagonist who is mostly seen grunting, spitting and yelling, which puts more pressure on the bad guys to carry the story, but they make some odd decisions. I was especially thrown off when the villains, the Borgia family, sent a black ops team disguised as ex-porn star hookers to try and stop me.
I said it gets weird, but I was surprised to find out most of the story beats were credited to famed comic book writer Grant Morrison. The title itself is taken from the first arc of the Dark Horse Predator comic series, but the two do not share similarities past that. However, the game does try to tie itself into AVP through mentions of the Weyland Yutani Corporation.
The recently announced Predator game looks like it is going for an experience closer to the original movie, while Concrete Jungle is certainly closer to Predator 2, the best movie in the series (but 2010’s Predators is pretty underrated). This new adventure is mostly set in 2030 and the game tries to show a view of this future, but it rarely succeeded. Save for its opening parts in Neonopolis, everything else seems generic and lacking in creativity.
The presentation looks fine and some of the city architecture works well, but nothing is going to impress anyone visually in the game. Most of the effort seems to have been put into the main character model and the rest could have used a few more rounds of work. The sound effects, however, come across great with a mix of different animalistic growls, snarls, and grunts. The resonating impacts of footfalls and fuller combat noises do give the sound effects more weight.
Predator: Concrete Jungle had some potential and a bit of heart, but then it also possesses a bastardized control scheme. Moving my fingers across the buttons to perform any sort of complex series of actions feels rocky and scaling the city or navigating hallways in the more linear sections is quite cumbersome. The camera makes this worse, obscuring the scenery and causing an issue with discerning depth when it is time to jump. The point of view is sometimes jerky, like the angle switches on a whim.
Combat is not what I would call fun. The buttons don’t feel responsive and attacking is awkward, like there was meant to be a combo system that wasn’t quite finished. There’s a stealth and strategy element to the game that feels completely lost, with the fighting mechanics not backing it up at all. The player can go invisible, spy, and mimic voices, but it is so easy to make a mistake here or feel that it is time wasted versus the forward approach.
Cycling through the various types of vision enhancements the Predator has access to can be a bit tedious and the same is true for the gadgets. Not only do players have to locate ammo for these special weapons but they are easy to waste and have different degrees of effectiveness—like there is never a correct one for the job.
The development team at Eurocom should be given a point here for trying to include everything in the bounty hunter’s arsenal from the movies, but it overloaded the game, adding extra complexity at the cost of enjoyment. The controls and missions just never meet in the middle and Concrete Jungle possesses zero fluidity.
The game can be a little difficult given that the Predator has a large array of attacks but is often ganged up on. As the levels progress, the enemies improve and it feels like their hit points jump exponentially, not to mention their insanely improved accuracy with heavy weapons. In some levels, there are innocents about and too much stray fire hitting them will cause a mission failure as well. Worst of all, there are no checkpoints on these levels, causing a large amount of frustration when death comes. This is supposed to be a ten-hour adventure, but mistakes will draw that out so much longer.
One of my biggest issues is that the Predator never feels truly powerful. The lack of solid combat along with having to constantly refill the energy meter has me feeling like an Un-Blooded. Players needed the ability to feel like a seasoned hunter, someone who could take down a normal human in one or two hits.
For those who manage to stick with it, there are weapon and attribute upgrades as well as alternate costumes to unlock. I also can’t think of many games where all of the trophies for killing bosses can be viewed as a series of polished skulls. Diehard fans will want to play this for the references also, as the Xenomorphs make an appearance, there is a nod to the origins of MOTHER, and Charles Bishop Weyland’s disappearance is casually mentioned since the game came out in 2005, one year after Alien vs. Predator.
Sadly, the critics were not favorable to Concrete Jungle, and it has disappointed me as well. The game lacks focus and pulls the fun out of a room real quick. It will drain even the most stalwart player, leaving them looking worse for wear like one of the Predator’s flayed victims. My hope is that a new Predator game will help the creature from space feel truly powerful and terrifying, but there is no way it won’t be simpler and have better controls.
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