I missed a lot of the run-and-gun shooters as a child. Alien Storm, Contra, ESWAT, all of the older ones, somehow passed me by. Not out of choice, I just wasn’t really aware of them. It was only when Metal Slug made more prominence over here that my interest was piqued.
There’s something so wonderfully entrancing about 2D shooters, the beauty in the simplicity of their styles. Considering you kill more people than Rambo and Robocop is an aside when ultraviolence looks so good.
We’re all such suckers for 80’s nostalgia, too. Any excuse to glorify The Terminator, Ghostbusters, Akira, electronic synth music and one-liners is a pleasure that no one should feel guilty about. I don’t, I’ll tell you why Blade Runner is amazing until your ears fall off.
So when Huntdown landed at Finger Guns HQ, and off the back of Sean’s hands-on recommendation at EGX Rezzed, I jumped on it. Is it a worthy tribute to everything we loved about the era, or are we now at the point where “new retro” games are getting old hat?
Dead or alive, you’re coming with me… as we take a ride on this blast from the future past.
Crime’s a Disease, and I’m the Cure
Huntdown comes to us from Easy Trigger, and is published by Coffee Stain, the Swedish publisher of Goat Simulator fame.
No goat’s this time – just a dystopian MegaCity where law and order has declined and gangs roam the streets, vying for control. Alright, it’s not going to win any prizes on originality, but it’s not trying to. The plot may be pure Robocop, Judge Dredd or any other number of clichéd stories from the 80’s… which is why I love it.
Society has fallen, giving way to what every 80’s film portrayed gangs to look like, and you’re the mercenaries that have been called in to clean the streets. You have no jurisdiction to adhere to, as you are above the realm of law, so you can shoot, explode and generally mess up anyone that stands in your way.
Your handler, Miss Rose, sends you to dispatch four of the biggest gangs, which comprise of a leader and several lieutenants. Thus, each of the four districts are broken into a handful of levels per gang. If you’ve ever played Roll7/Devolver’s Not A Hero, and you should have, you’ll immediately recognise the layout. Or on a more mainstream level, think Crackdown, if that helps.
Filling in this rogue’s gallery of mercenaries are three glorious stereotypes: Anna Conda, who wears a Snake Pliskin eye-patch and has the attitude to boot; John Sawyer, a cyborg who’s been a man ever since he was a boy (that’s a quote verbatim from the trailer) and Mow Man, a killer android that sounds like Kryten, of Red Dwarf fame.
These three are as every bit as corny as you would expect, which really shows Coffee Stain’s commitment to the bit. There are no customisation or upgrade options to any of them, but then… there doesn’t need to be. Why faff around with something that is great already?
Nice Night For a Walk, Eh?
You shouldn’t need me to tell you how Huntdown plays on its most basic level, that picture should be enough. It doesn’t rewrite the playbook, but instead adds a few liner notes on how to improve it.
For the uninitiated, the format is pretty simple: you start on the left-hand side of the screen, and you MDK* every bad dude that stands in your way to the right. As you get as far as you can go, you’re greeted by one of each gang’s varying boss battles before you’re done. Taking note from bosses in Contra and Streets of Rage, these fights can range from simple “shoot them with lead until they’re dead” affairs, to taking out security turrets in waves first or the boss being on a hover bike.
*yes, I know Demolition Man is a 90’s film, but it felt thematic here so shut up”.
You have a health bar, broken into five chunks, that once depleted will have you restarting a level or checkpoint again. Standard shots/melee attacks usually take one block off, whilst being caught with an explosion will take more off at once. Single chunks can be restored with Max Payne-esque painkillers, whilst your whole bar can be replenished with a medical kit. These are instant use pickups, in that you can’t store them for when you’re getting low. They’re not few and far between, yet the game doesn’t always dispense them based on your sucky performance. It creates a clever dichotomy: go nuts and make carnage, yet be conscious of your moves so as to not chow down on bullet sandwiches constantly.
On your side, though, you have an impressive arsenal of weapon pickups to toy with. You’re armed with a trusty handgun that has infinite ammo (because that’s how they used to do it) that does the job, but sometimes you want a bit more bang for your buck. Shotguns, assault rifles, big 50cal anti-tank guns, the M79 grenade launcher made famous by the T-800, it’s all there.
These do have limited ammunition, but there’s usually something readily available when one runs out. There’s no point in being frugal, either. Huntdown wants you to play frenetically, dodging and dashing around levels, occasionally ducking behind cover to do a quick recon of your next plan of assault.
These Are The Armies of the Night
Easy Trigger have even gone to great length to personalise and vary the gangs that you’re mowing down, too. Sure, they’re complete pastiches of The Warriors’ colourful factions, but again, that’s the whole point. Huntdown is going for worthy tribute, not ripoff.
Starting off the quest to clean the streets, you face the Hoodlum Dolls. Essentially, every image or representation of punk from the 80’s, mohawks and studded jackets included. Imagine you’re in the bad timeline from Back to the Future II, except you’re not heading to Biff’s place at the end. No, you’re after one Troy Lawman, an ex-cop gone rogue, who’s kitted out like Rob Halford and has a mech at his disposal.
After making your way through those punks, you’re set to face the Misconducts. These are the Baseball Furies hockey-loving equivalent, led by Subzero on a break from The Running Man. These stick-loving psychos ramp the challenge up somewhat, as they will rush you with melee attacks. It forces you to keep moving, changing levels and dashing away whilst fighting back, making the game really come alive.
Switching that up afterwards are the Heatseekers, Huntdown’s version of the Marauders from Mad Max 2… with a few Lord Humungus lookalikes in for good measure. As these rabble-rousers are on bikes, you’ll be vaulting over them as they sweep the screen. Again, you should be familiar with this after the Misconducts, but there are a few new enemy types to keep you on your toes too.
Finally, there’s the No. 1 Suspects. Fittingly, as if there’s a hierarchy in these lawless times, these guys are the top spot for a reason. By this point, you should be well accustomed to how to play Huntdown, and if not, you’ll find out the hard way. These Gramercy Riff-a-likes will resist arrest by any means necessary, so don’t take them lightly.
Of course, it’s not just a repetitive slog of fighting through goons to reach an end of level boss, though. There are occasionally some breaks in routine, just to mix it up a little. For example, a few trains putting out waves of enemies that won’t let you progress until they’re all taken care of. Or, a truck or hoverjet-type vehicle assault that acts as sub-bosses for the level. There’s no real tactic or forward planning needed for them, other than knuckling down for a bit of a challenge.
This Is What I Call a Target-Rich Environment
Speaking of challenge, there’s a fair bit of that in Huntdown, besides completing the missions. Each level has three: a specific amount of kills, not dying, and collecting three stashes. The kill count is easy enough, unless you’re hellbent on speedrunning a level. Not dying is harder than it looks, but that’s something that should be saved for later replays. It’s the stash collecting that gets tricky.
Some are hidden in plain sight, in that you have to work out the necessary platforming to reach them. Others are hidden, and not in a subtle way either. There’s been times when I’ve hit a wall that looks like any other, only to have it breakaway and reveal one of the illustrious suitcases (straight out of Pulp Fiction, for comparison). Then there’s the timed ones, in that you’ll see an enemy with one. If you don’t catch and corpse him quick enough, he’ll escape the level and it’ll be lost to you.
Thankfully, these challenges aren’t compulsory to game completion. You won’t find your progression hampered if you didn’t finish a level without dying once, for example. They’re optional, but adding to the overall enjoyment should you try and seek them out.
What does add to the enjoyment, however, is the absolutely amazing soundtrack. Alright, slight bias on that one, but if you loved all the heavy synth scores from the films I’d mentioned earlier (and many, many more), this will be right up your audio alleyway. The options give you an option to turn licensed music on or off, and whilst I haven’t discovered who these licensed artists are yet, there’s a bevy of tracks that’ll sound familiar to fans of either synthwave as a genre, or 80’s films. I can’t put it into words, so just watch the trailer instead:
I Don’t Deal With Psychos, I Put ’em Away
If I had to be a stickler and find fault in Huntdown, the one real drawback I’ve found is in the challenges. Not the difficulty in them, especially as you progress, but instead the lack of variety in them.
I made a comparison earlier to Not A Hero, as this game is very much the same in structure. Yet NAH had variety in its level challenges: saving hostages, finding hidden items, answering ringing phones before a timer ran out, getting kills of a certain kind or with a specific weapon. Huntdown has the same challenge template across all of its levels.
Whilst these are purely optional (unless trophy/achievement hunting), a bit of a mix up across levels would have been appreciated. It’s a bit annoying when there are trophies/achievements catered to specific in-game stunts or actions, yet the challenges themselves stay bland.
The only other grumble is the lack of online co-op: much like Cuphead, that would greatly improve the experience if you haven’t got anyone to couch co-op with. But again, that’s more of a personal grievance, not a generalisation.
I’d Buy That for a Dollar
Challenge and multiplayer issues aside, I absolutely love Huntdown. That’s not hyperbole, either. In an age of cutting edge graphics, ray-tracing and all that jazz, it’s nice to play something of a modern throwback.
Your enjoyment of it will be gauged by how much you value the tone, setting and tribute that it’s getting at. For me, the whole ensemble is perfect. From its encouraging and lively soundtrack, to the Metal Slug-inspired cartoon violence, right down to the spitting image movie poster replicas adorning the walls.
Like I said, some variety and incentive to play missions again with a different task set would have been appreciated, but it’s not a deal breaker. Getting through the game is challenging enough, yet it’s one I’m relishing in the hole left by Hotline Miami.
It’s a cyberpunk dystopia, filled with every kind of throwback to what the 80’s thought the future would be, and it’s fantastic. You won’t need to Voight-Kampff me on this one, the sheer grin on my face will prove I’m human when I play this.
It may not break ground on the neo-nostalgic front, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a wonderful homage to an era of games and movies that paved the way for this to happen.
Huntdown is available now on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac systems.
Developer: Easy Trigger
Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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