|System: PS3, PC, Xbox 360|
|Dev: inXile Entertainment|
|Pub: Bethesda Software|
|Release: May 31, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Violence|
by Josh Wirtanen
The dungeon crawler is among the oldest genres in gaming. As such, it's probably in need of a makeover to make it more appealing to a modern market. Developer inXile attempts to provide that very thing with its newest title, Hunted: The Demon's Forge.
Hunted features many recurring themes that long-time fans of dungeon crawlers will be familiar with. There are red health pots, blue mana pots, piles of gold, tons of creepy enemies, and, of course, lever puzzles. However, the top-down viewpoint of the more traditional dungeon crawler has been replaced with a behind-the-back viewpoint. Bows fire much in the same way guns do in third-person shooters: while firing, players can switch to an over-the-shoulder point-of-view. It's not really "down-the-barrel" view, but it's about the closest you'll come with a bow and arrow. Another feature that attempts to make the game feel more modern is the cover system. Hunted will have you ducking behind waist-high objects, where you can peek over to get a quick shot off before hiding again.
The game tells the story of Caddoc (the super buff human warrior) and E'lara (the half-naked elf chick). Caddoc has been having recurring dreams about a mysterious woman, and believes these are more than just the result of some "undigested boar meat" in his stomach. When he and E'lara meet this "dream woman" in real life, an adventure begins that pits them against swarms of evil creatures and sends them into the very bowels of the earth.
I spent a good deal of my time with Hunted playing as E'lara. It wasn't just the half-naked elf thing that drew me to her character—though that did help—it was that she used a bow and arrow as her primary weapon. Playing as E'lara is a lot like playing a third-person shooter. I did, however, spend some time with Caddoc, who uses a sword primarily and plays a lot more like a hack and slash character. Personally, I'm much more into third-person shooters than hack and slash games, so E'lara was a good fit. (However, it should be noted that Caddoc carries a crossbow and E'lara wields a sword, both as secondary weapons.) Hunted succeeds at delivering two fairly different gameplay styles in a way that makes perfect sense.
Unfortunatley, the first portion of the game is an absolute disaster. The environments funnel you down narrow walkways, the characters feel like two-dimensional fantasy clichés, and the story is completely uninteresting. But the worst offender of all is the control scheme.
When you first start playing Hunted, the controls are baffling. Sure, there's a tutorial to show you the nuts and bolts, but it doesn't tell you how to put up with the counter-intuitive control scheme or the inconsistent environmental interactions.
For example, the button you use to toss health pots to your partner is the same button you use to finish off an enemy with a quick-time event. A friend and I actually ended up failing a mission because I hit the circle button to toss him a heal pot and instead finished off a wounded goblin with an elaborate set of moves. All the while, on the screen was a message that told me to hit circle to heal my partner. On top of that, I've had instances in which I got stuck in an endless arrow-firing loop, which could only be ended by either running out of arrows or mashing a bunch of buttons until my character finally stopped shooting.
And the cover system is awful. In fact, even though this tries to present itself as a cover-based game, it's not. Not at all. You won't be able to cover behind any old flat surface, like in other cover-based games. You can only take cover behind certain waist-high walls and pillars. In a pinch, you'll often try to duck behind something only to find that you simply aren't allowed to. To make matters worse, the cover button (X on the PS3) is very inconsistent. You'll walk right up to something and try to duck behind it, only to stand there staring at it. You'll often have to press the button several times, searching for the "sweet spot" on a wall before you can use it as cover. At other times, you'll hit the cover button when you aren't even close to something, and you'll wind up roadie running for twenty feet to get behind a wall. You can never head toward something knowing whether or not you'll be able to duck behind it, and when under fire, this cover system is just not consistent enough that you can depend on it as an actual battle tactic.
The first chapter of the game is pretty frustrating as well. It's a poorly designed village that, even though it should be pretty wide open, funnels you into narrow and awkward walkways. And the very first place you'll ever get an enchanted weapon—the place that actually pops up a hint about using enchanted weapons—is incredibly difficult to reach. A friend and I spent a good twenty minutes trying to figure out how to get to them, only to come back later on and realize someone was supposed to shoot a barely-noticeable rope that will cause a sign to smash the wall open for you. This would be fine on any other set of enchanted items, but not on the very first ones in the entire game. In fact, most of the later ones are much easier to find than these.
But Hunted does get better. In fact, it gets much better. Once you step into your first dungeon, you'll feel that the world opens up a bit. Even though narrow walkways and linear progression would make perfect sense in a dungeon environment, the dungeons feel a lot more open than the village ever did. There are several offshoots and tunnels, many of which extend for miles and feature their own sets of hazards and puzzles. As you travel deeper and deeper into these dungeons, the action sequences get more and more interesting. There's even a scene in which you'll be chased by a spider the size of a four-story building.