The Hunt: Showdown Review (PS4) – Mighty Weird Down South

In keeping with the Southern theme, imagine The Hunt: Showdown as a big ol’ jambalaya: chuck in some Evolve, a bit of The Witcher, and a dollop of Monster Hunter, season with some Constantine and garnish it with some True Blood.

Too snooty and cryptic a metaphor for you? Fine. The Hunt: Showdown is a first person shooter that has you hunting monsters either solo or in a trio in 19th century Louisiana. It sounds like it’s almost too niche a game to work, but it actually does, as far as concepts go.

Missions are broken down into “find the monster, go kill it, and then banish it” by investigating a series of clues, tooling up and bracing yourself before taking on the beasty. When it works, it’s great fun. But it’s slightly marred by being online-only, having two maps and a grand total of three monsters to hunt. But the added twist? The Bounty Hunt mode, that allows other players to come and potentially steal your reward token for killing a monster, has permadeath.

Adding a tense element to an already mildly-freaky game raises the stakes, is the enjoyment limited by the lack of level and monster variety? Let’s don our trenchcoats, grab our shotguns and go exploring further…

Exploring in The Hunt isn’t actually a bad idea, when you see it running. The bayou areas look incredible, and I’m running this on a PS4 Pro. Built using the famous Crytek engine, that of Crysis and FarCry fame as well as many others, the environments are really brought to life as you go hunting. Ambient light filters in through gaps in trees during the daytime hours whilst mist plays off of beds of water when the moonlight comes out. Much like when Red Dead Redemption 2 takes you into these areas, it brings life to an otherwise uninspiring area to wade through. I’m not going to start doing a graphical comparison between the two, but if you are one for taking in your surroundings, you’ll enjoy this.

Conversely, it’s the fodder enemies that let the team down. If anyone recalls the shibito from Forbidden Siren, the possessed townfolk, you’ll understand what I mean. They look… standard. There’s that indiscriminate, “generic zombie” feel about them which adds no character to them. They’re merely there to break up the monotony of just hunting one monster per round, so they’re hardly going to take the focus away from your main objective. It’s just they don’t do anything to raise the tension by being bland, horde-like shambling foes. But then, we’re not here to focus on them.

We’re here for the big game, the beasties that are plaguing these Southern locales and need banishing from this realm. At the moment, there are only three major monsters that you can hunt: the Butcher, a beast looks like something out of Witcher folklore, goat skull head and all. There’s the Assassin, that resembles one of the crow enemies from Bioshock Infinite, disappearing act and all. Substitute carrion birds for insects, though,and you get the idea. Rounding up the trio is the Spider… which doesn’t really need a wordy introduction. It’s a spider, a large one at that, that moves quickly, spits poison, leaps at you and generally scares the piss out of me.

Hunts are randomised, as is the location of the monster each round. Working out where it’s hiding is half the fun, working as a solo supernatural detective or in a pack. But far from sniffing a few trampled bits of grass and following scents, you have a better trick up your sleeve: your “sight” ability. The more open minded of you will see this an optional ability that allows to hone in on where your target has been, in turn narrowing down the potential hunting ground and making you and your team’s lives easier.

The cynical among you will see it as another Batman/Tomb Raider/Hitman: Absolution “see through walls” shortcut button that detracts from the real hunt. But as I say, it’s an optional usage. If you’re on a time limit or at threat from another team of hunters then I’m sure you’ll want to make haste before they get there. What I’m saying is, it doesn’t need to be relied on and to hold your hand right up until you reach your target.

One of the downsides to using the Dark Sight ability, though, is that it obscures everything else as it isolates the pulsing blue-ness of a clue. The more savvy of you will use it sparingly, but for those using it as a guide may well miss some of the other nasties that lurk around map. These include demonic-looking dogs, fittingly named Hellhounds. Or there’s the more enhanced version of the standard grunt, the Armored, that look like they’re covered in plates of beehive-like material and take more hits to go down. If that’s not enough for you, you maniac, you can take on one of the Meatheads. These grotesque, headless giants can slap you down quickly, so unless you’re playing as a team, they are well worth avoiding. The added nightmare with these is the giant leeches that swarm over its body, that can be dropped and act as sentries for the Meathead. As they themselves don’t have heads, the leeches double as a mobile sight unit, and will send the chunky nightmare in your direction.

Fortunately, you’re not completely powerless in The Hunt. Being the 19th century though, don’t expect much in the way of high tech firepower. Rifles, shotguns, pistols and good ol’ fashioned knives are the order of the day here, as well as a handful of other useful tools. Your basic loadouts are a bit weak to start off with, as the nature of the game is progression and unlocking new guns and upgrades. So unfortunately, it does mean you get lumped with the piss poor rifles that only hold one round and take forever to reload, or the revolvers that hold six shots… but take forever to reload.

You do have some peripheral items to use to your advantage, like Molotov cocktails and a melee weapon. The upshot is that you can pick up new weapons during a mission that are dotted around, so it’s always worth trying out a bit of new kit every now and then. For me, fire axes do a pretty good job of taking out most enemies, but the wind up before the swing needs a moment. What this usually means is you end up doing the kind of circle strafing you see in Mordhau than you’d expect in this, but it gets the job done. Lanterns can also be utilised in a couple of ways: primarily as their main function, to help you see. Or, in my panicked fight with the spider on the tutorial level, another Molotov to set fire to the bastard thing.

It makes for a tense and tactical experience when you play, especially if you’re alone, that you can’t just go charging in. As well as finding the intended target, you don’t want to go up against it unprepared. You remember that permadeath that I mentioned near the start? That is an integral part of character development, and the survival element doesn’t just come from the monsters.

The Hunt’s biggest draw is its Bounty Hunt mode. This is the bulk of the fun, as it were, and the main reason why The Hunt is an “always on” game. You may think you’re on a quest to hunt monsters, but so are other players, and they are a very real threat in your world. Conversely, so are you, if you know what you’re doing. Many a naive player is going to be caught out by assuming that a fellow hunter is going to help them slay the monster and share the reward, when in reality, it’s a race to see who can get there first. In the few instances I’ve managed to get online, I’ve been shot by another hunter before even getting close to the target. Now, modern shooters have desensitised us to the whole “die, respawn” concept, but The Hunt introduces the element of mortality to something that didn’t really need it.

Thus, it makes the game a whole lot harder. There’s a real sense of preservation to keeping your hunters alive, especially as you start to rank up and unlock more items for them. I’m only at level one (more on that shortly) so death holds no real consequence for me yet. But I’ve seen fleeting glances of higher levels, so imagine how annoyed they would be if they died. Of course, being an online shooter of sorts, there’s always going to be that fair share of griefers: the ones that’ll give you hell rather than hunt a monster just because they can.

However, this can be used to your advantage too, should you feel that way inclined. Say you don’t feel like charging in for the hunt (although be wary, there is a time limit), you could sit back and wait for the unsuspecting hunt party to start the banishing ritual on the felled beast. This takes about two minutes, as well as highlight the position of the hunters performing it. So, you could go all Kane & Lynch Fragile Alliance on them and take them out. Naturally, higher level hunters are going to be used to this tactic, most likely having done it themselves, so be wary. It’s not just the banishing that gives them away, though. Something as simple as someone using a torch in a dark or dimly lit mission/area will quite literally light you up. So it pays to consider your surroundings every time you play.

Death comes about in two ways in The Hunt: if a monster fells you, you can have a chance at being revived, but if another hunter caps you, that’s it. The former isn’t too bad, per se, but for every time you’re revived you lose one of your health bar chunks. You start with three, with wounds automatically healing to fill that block over time. You have medical syringes that will fill your health entirely, but if you’ve been downed twice, you’re going to left with a barely fighting chance when it comes to taking on the boss, as it were.

Whereas being shot by another hunter is just death, and a bloody frustrating one at that. Granted, the game doesn’t have access to high powered sniper rifles or location targeting devices, but hunters can still pick you off with fairly decent range shots if they’re feeling inclined. Being low level, I haven’t had much to lose from a death. Yet I imagine someone on a much higher lifespan of their hunter would be absolutely raging, which is understandable.

So, maybe you feel a bit overwhelmed about going it alone against an army of monsters and rival hunters. Maybe you want to get even, but you lack the stones to do it yourself. Maybe you think, “I’m going to rally my own team, and take this swampland back for us” and want to make it right. Well, here’s my experience with that:

Unless you are of a decent enough level, other players will shy away from you like a leper. In the ten attempts I tried in one night, I managed to start two games. One with another level one player, the other with a level five who promptly left as soon as the match started. It presents that old dichotomy: you need to get good, but if you have no one to play with, how will that happen?

Of course, this can be avoided if you have some friends to play with. If you’re all in it together, you know that you’re all facing the possibility of dying together. So while I’m not suggesting that the multiplayer element of The Hunt is broken or unfair, per se, it is a hell of a learning curve. You’re going to be burning through quite a few low level hunters and rejections before you find your footing. To which you’ll probably still die somewhere down the line.

So on the whole, The Hunt: Showdown is actually quite a fun game, when it gets going. The whole permadeath/attacked from all angles aspect may be daunting to some, but it adds some real fear to the game. This fear in turn can be used as an almost adrenaline-like spur to keep you on your toes, playing as a very real survival horror title, which is somewhat lacking in the PvP/PvE scene.

It’s not something I would recommend to anyone just looking for a new shooter, nor would I try and pitch it to the masochistic Soulsborne crowd. It’s more of a middle ground game: it’s a new shooter with a very real challenge, also please buy it so I have someone else to play with.

The difficulty may be daunting, but once it gets rolling, it’s a competent cooperative creature caper.

The Hunt: Showdown is available now on PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One and PC.

Developer: Crytek
Publisher: Koch Media

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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