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REVIEWS -- Hunted: The Demon's Forge -- PC

Hunted: The Demon

EDITOR AVERAGE

68

USER AVG

--

Clumsy but has potential

by Tim White


Fun factor: Average

Worth to: Rent

Hunted: The Demonís Forge is a decent all-night marathon choice for a pair of dungeon-crawl enthusiasts, but falls prey to its own demons far too often.

I thought Hunted would be much more of an RPG than it really is. Itís actually more of a cooperative action-adventure in a fantasy setting, which is fine; the problem is that it seems to think itís an RPG. It uses some very basic skill trees and level-gain mechanics, but executes them in ways that are generally sloppy, uninteresting or unnecessary. However, if youíre a fan of co-op games, Hunted is at least solid enough to keep you and a friend glued to the couch for a night or two. I suspect many people will find itís more the jostling and joking with your buddy than the game itself that generates much of the enjoyment, but nonetheless, Iíd recommend it for at least a rental.

Story

Huntedís not-really-heroes, Caddoc and Eílara, feel very much like a Lara Croft/Geralt of Rivia duo, and while their relationship is underdeveloped from a narrative point of view, it remains the driving force behind the story. Mercenaries with little on their minds other than the next pouch of gold, the duo finds itself on a job like any other, until ever-curious Eílara touches a super-dangerous artifact soon revealed as a Death Stone. Out pops a phantasmal woman in desperate need of some sun, who advises the pair that sheís a real person being held captive somewhere, and she needs the help of two brave heroes to free her. She apparently meant for Caddoc to touch the ancient stone, but since Eílara (an elf) did it, something got screwed up and now they pretty much have no choice but to accept the ghostís quest, or something vaguely bad will happen. As eye-rolling as this setup is, it does get better, particularly in the gameís final moments, just before it crashes right back into Mediocre-town.



It is soon revealed that the hilariously-named Wargar, a race of nasty monsters that used to be human at some point, are (shockingly) up to no good. Entire villages of people are disappearing, being enslaved and transported to a menacing citadel far off in the distance. Their endgame isnít immediately clear, but finally persuaded by the promise of riches, Caddoc and Eílara set off to get to the bottom of it, slaying a path through waves of alarmingly numerous bad guys. During the first boss battle, a mysterious substance known as Sleg makes its first appearance. Made of horrifically evil ingredients, Sleg is a silver liquid which, upon consumption, grants the imbiber near-invincibility, along with super-speed and strength. For a limited time, of course. Astute gamers will want to pay attention whenever the substance is mentioned; valuable clues can be garnered which will aid in understanding whatís going on.

Hunted features three possible endings Ė two ďbadĒ and one ďgoodĒ Ė but they all suck. Theyíre short, and while the good ending is less terrible, it still leaves you feeling ripped off. All three non-endings leave you muttering, ďI spent ten hours carving my way through hell for that?Ē You feel even worse when you realize that they actually pulled a pretty clever plot twist near the end, and then crushed it, tore it in half and threw it out the window, presumably while cackling maniacally at your obvious incredulity.

Gameplay

First of all, Hunted more or less has to be played with a real, live partner. Not only are most games more fun this way, but the partner AI in single player is so bad youíll begin to suspect youíve accidentally selected some sort of challenge mode where your partner is secretly a traitor. And by secretly, I mean not at all secretly. If you enjoy being overrun by demon-spiders while your ďfriendĒ watches with a blank stare, or getting shot in the back of the head, or ignored when you need healing, then single player is the mode for you.

Gamers who typically prefer ranged combat will want to pair up with the arrow-slinging Eílara, while those who like to be knee-deep in the entrails of their foes will find more in common with Caddocís sword and shield. While Eílara is the primary shooter, she also has a sword and shield, though she isnít as good in melee as Caddoc is Ė the reverse, of course, is also true. Nonetheless, this game is much easier if you practice and become comfortable with your characterís secondary combat mode, for there are situations where one tactic or the other just wonít cut it. Being skilled in both areas really helps to offset the sometimes insane shortage of supplies which occurs as a result of the sadistically inconsistent algorithm that governs potion drop rates. While some degree of cross-classing is possible, both characters do have a few unique abilities. Eílara can light her arrows on fire to provide a light source or ignite torches from afar, while steroid-abusing Caddoc can push certain walls or barriers to reveal hidden areas.

In addition to basic attacks, there are also six additional skills which can be unlocked and upgraded using crystals collected throughout each of six chapters. Three magic spells Ė one of which is of questionable utility even at high levels Ė are common to both characters. Elaraís battle abilities revolve around granting explosive, freezing or armor-piercing properties to her arrows, while Caddoc can dash, rage, or drop a whirlwind to suspend foes helplessly in the air. Only having six abilities makes your suite of options feel very small, particularly in light of how long the campaign is, but there is a silver lining. The skills are designed to be used cooperatively Ė any enemy suspended in Caddocís whirlwind takes triple damage from Eílaraís arrows, for example. You can also ďchargeĒ your partner with any of the three spells, granting them a short burst of insane extra power.



Certain types of enemies are nigh impossible to take down without well-timed cooperative tactics, leading to a strong sense of satisfaction upon felling a tough foe with good teamwork Ė at least initially. As praiseworthy as this concept is, the options available for implementing it are way too limited. By the midpoint of the game, youíll be stifling yawns even as never-before-seen enemies make their entrances, because there are only a handful of tactics in existence. Itís simply a matter of quickly cycling through your abilities to see which one does more damage than the others, then spamming that button for a bit. This lack of variety robs every encounter of suspense or urgency, not to mention the general aura of boredom spawned by already having access to every ability the game has to offer within two hours. As overdone as skill trees are, such a solution would have been a vastly superior option in terms of feeling like you actually have a choice regarding how to resolve a battle.

Hunted starts with a good idea when it comes to establishing different roles for the two characters, but in some cases the divide is too wide. Eílara is meant to take down enemies from a distance while Caddoc intercepts the ones that get too close Ė thatís just good tactical sense. However, while most of the everyday baddies can be dispatched with equal efficacy by either character, there are some archetypes designed to be handled by one player or the other. This sounds cool on paper, until you notice that ďweak vs. xĒ actually translates to ďinstantly killed by x.Ē There is a berserker-type enemy which, if he gets within melee range of Eílara, unleashes an un-blockable, un-dodgeable, unbreakable 782-hit combo which creates a good opportunity to go make popcorn while he wails on your corpse. On the same note, if Eílara fails to take down a minotaur before it gets close to Caddoc, it will take a while to scrape him off the wall. I like the idea of encouraging teamwork by balancing out your strengths and weaknesses, but itís taken way too far by assigning different flavors of Kryptonite to each player.

In terms of actual button-mashing, Caddoc is much less annoying to play than Eílara. One button blocks with your shield, another attacks, and a third to dodge and dive. Itís simple enough Ė just a matter of practice and timing. Shooting, however, is another bag of Wargars entirely. Eílara can find three types of bows: fast, medium and slow, which refer to shooting speed and damage. As you might infer, slower bows tend to be more powerful. Each type of bow has a different aiming cursor, which is a nifty way to remember what you have equipped; the squinting doesnít start until itís time to fire it. Shooting while the cursor is over an enemy, but yellow in color, means you may or may not hit it (usually dependent on range). Once the cursor turns red, itís supposed to mean a guaranteed hit, and it does. Sometimes.

Like many gamers, I love headshots. I shoot things in the head all the time; thereís even a section on my resumť for it. Indeed, I spent the entire first chapter of Hunted snapping off crazy long-range shots Steven Seagal would be proud of. As I progressed further, though, I began to come across sections where Hunted decided I was doing far too well, and it was time to knock me down a few pegs by refusing to acknowledge even point-blank, red cursor, center-mass flurries of arrows. My friend complained of the same phenomenon when shooting during the same sections, and the fact that it only occurs during certain parts of certain chapters led me to include it in this section of the review, rather than paint it as a technical issue. I donít know why this happens, but itís ludicrously irritating. When you notice it, just break out your sword and shield and block until Caddoc kills everything. Aside from the selective targeting issue, the controls are otherwise intuitive and responsive, except for an occasional tendency to accidentally enter or exit cover when you werenít intending to.

The one RPG element that Hunted actually does quite well is the passive stat-upgrading system. Completing certain tasks, like killing a certain number of enemies or healing your partner, increases a relevant stat or ability. Some of them are common to both characters, others are specialized, but all in all itís a fun, unobtrusive way to feel like youíre becoming more powerful, especially in light of how the active spells and skills fail to scratch that particular itch.

Hunted makes (poor) use of a mechanic which has a place in similar games, but not here: executions. Upon severely injuring an enemy, you can aim at them and tap a button to initiate a brutal finishing move. There are two problems with this: first, itís a royal pain trying to pull off at range, and two, it sets up several seconds of slow-mo, which you canít cancel or back out of. This means your partner may be screaming for your help while feverishly hacking away at the hellspawn pressing in all around him, to which you respond ďHang on, Iím being awesome.Ē Of course, you donít have to use the execution moves Ė the problem is, sometimes you end up doing it by accident. The button to trigger executions is also the same one that picks things up and heals your partner, so trying to do either one of these things may find you instead abandoning the task in favor of riddling a guy whoís already dead with sixteen metric tons of arrows. The icing on this particular fail cake is the fact that there is one button on the controller which, for Caddoc, has only one infrequently used function, and for Eílara, no function at all. Why not map executions to that?



Healing and reviving happen via potions, which initially seems just dandy Ė until you stop finding them. Health and mana potions do pretty much what you would think they do, but there are two problems: you can only carry one of each (upgradeable to three, which is still woefully inadequate on harder difficulties), and whatever complex formula dictates your odds of finding them is designed specifically to turn you into a pessimist. When your health is full and your supplies well stocked, every jar you smash and Wargar you kill drops a potion. Conversely, when youíre limping along, leaving an impossible trail of blood everywhere you go, the game nonchalantly gives you anything and everything you absolutely do not need. Because Iím petty, I actually kept track for a while. During one sequence when my health and mana were both under 20%, and I had no reserves of any kind, the random number generator spit out six bows, eleven quivers of arrows, twenty-two pouches of gold, and a whole boatload of empty chests and boxes. Oh, and zero potions. Only after I finally clawed my way back up to full health did it happily leave me chest-deep in a sea of healing items. The lesson here is ďdonít get hit.Ē

If your partner fails to apply that lesson and goes down, you can chuck a resurrection vial at them from up to a reasonable distance away. This is a good design choice; it encourages you to stay reasonably close to your partner, but if theyíre surrounded by enemies when they go down, you can still help them out without exposing yourself to additional danger. Even if you donít have any rez vials, if your downed friend does, you can take theirs and use them to get your buddy up and walking again. Stupidly, you canít trade health or mana potions. ďI feel great; I even have a few extra potions. What? Youíre blacking out? Here, have a decanter of go f*** yourself.Ē

Technical

In the technical department, Hunted doesnít fail spectacularly, but it doesnít merit any awards, either. I honestly donít remember the music at all, which at least means it wasnít bad, but it couldnít have been outstanding. Caddoc and Eílara trade good-natured jabs at one another, and while their banter is entertaining, the voices behind it are merely average. Bizarrely, Eílara speaks in a more or less modern tone and vernacular, while Caddoc drifts into a more ďthee and thouĒ manner. He doesnít actually say those things, but his manner of speech is jarringly out of place in contrast to Eílaraís. The various NPCís you rescue, however, are so annoying in their whiny, repetitive, C-list voices that I want to drop-kick them into the nearest minotaur nest. Battle sounds are okay for the most part, but the twang of Eílaraís bow can become grating. Not because itís a bad sound effect Ė itís actually pretty appropriate Ė but you just hear it so much. Itís just the nature of the game; there are so many enemies that you end up firing like a medieval Gatling gun. The only suggestion I could make would be to perhaps have made it quieter, so it can fade into the ambient noise a little better.

Graphically speaking, Hunted looks like it came out in 2006. Itís not awful, just dated. Who knows, maybe the relatively unheard of developers are working with older technology for budget reasons. Thatís entirely possible, but it doesnít change the fact that nothing in Hunted is very pleasing to look at. The worst ocular offender is the gamma. Much of the game takes place in dungeons so black you literally may not even realize your TV is on if you donít have a light source. Even if you do, the illumination provided by Eílaraís fire arrows or torches is weak and has a very small radius, leaving you squinting for hours at a time. The only viable solution is to crank the brightness way up, which leaves everything looking washed out and pallid. Emerging into daylight necessitates immediately pausing to tone the brightness down again, resulting in spending way too much time in the menu screwing around with the gamma.



There arenít a ton of bugs, but the ones that do surface are fairly bad. Potions often fall through the floor or onto ledges literally six inches high, but for some reason you canít cross that insurmountable height barrier to claim them. Invisible walls abound Ė not a glitch, but itís 2011; we certainly have more organic, less stupid ways of saying ďyou canít go there.Ē Checkpoints are also subject to mood swings; dying may put you five or ten minutes back, but this time, entering a room will trigger an auto-save that didnít happen last time. On a related note, there are areas you canít return to once youíve passed a certain point. This wouldnít necessarily be a big deal if it were a tall cliff you canít climb, but it isnít a cliff, itís a door. One I just opened two seconds ago, actually. Let me go back, if you have any empathy at all. Again, not a glitch, but itís not 1997 either.

Last on the list of controller-tossing irritations is something that really got my hackles up. Most gamers talk trash to one another or to the game itself, and Iím no exception to this rule. Itís usually in good fun and Iím not the type of person to scream at video games, but Hunted does one thing that made my blood boil. During most boss battles, the boss is accompanied by waves and waves of regular dudes. Most bosses are also fairly tough, so you burn through your reserves of potions pretty quickly. One person usually hammers away at the boss while the other handles crowd control, and this approach works well. The boss dies, and you get a cutscene. Caddoc and Eílara are both gravely injured, and the little doodads on their belts that hold potions now hold nothing at all. Oh, and all those dudes you killed Ė they all dropped an absolute avalanche of potions, money and equipment. Even during the cutscene, itís all glittering away back there. Our heroes exchange witty one-liners, frantically bandage their mortal wounds, and jump into the pit of doom. Are you kidding me, Hunted? Are you absolutely, completely out of your digital gourd? Iím so close to death I canít even blink. A violent sneeze will rend my insides asunder, and my head may just come off entirely. There is an ocean of life-saving panacea six feet away, and you are laughing in my battered, hemorrhaging face while cutscene-ing me to the next area. I hate you so, so much.

Summary

Hunted screws up a lot, but itís not a lost cause. If it gets its act together, goes to study group every day, and stops doing drugs, the sequel could finally fulfill all that wasted potential. On single-player, itís a nightmarish mess of confusion and archaic design. But if you have a friend who will play it with you, it can be partially redeemed. Games like this are difficult to review, because the two modes Ė awful AI or actual human partner- can vary so widely. Under the right circumstances, Hunted can really shine, as long as you know what to expect and how to deal with it. It can be frustrating, sometimes even a little boring, but with a good pal and some snacks, it can be charming enough to be worth it.

ESRB M Rating

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Developer: inXile Entertainment

Genre: Action RPG

Release Date: May 31, 2011

Review Date: 22-06-2011

Numbers of Players: 1-2

Players Online: 2

Co-op: Yes

Notes: Leaderboards, Downloadable Content

All Hunted: The Demon's Forge reviews

75

GRAPHICS

Some awkward movements and ugly environments seem more reminiscent of an Xbox 360 launch title than a game released in 2011.

70

GAMEPLAY

Hunted plays like a weird hybrid of Gears of War and Resident Evil 5, but tries too hard in blending different styles; the result is a mash-up that, while a little off-putting, gets the job done well enough. Further demerits for limited character development options and repetitive combat.

60

PRODUCTION

Glitches are present, checkpoints are inconsistent, and some aspects of design just make so little sense that you have to scratch your head in puzzlement. Radically unpredictable potion drop rates artificially increase the difficulty, but in a rage-quit inducing way as opposed to offering a real, creative challenge.

75

SOUND

Caddoc and Eílara are voiced competently, if not excellently. NPCís are thoroughly annoying and have limited dialog, and battle sound effects leave something to be desired. Music is at least enjoyable.

60

LASTING APPEAL

If you stick with it long enough to finish it once, youíll probably get some enjoyment out of playing again as the other character, but donít expect too much freshness. I doubt many people will play through three times.

68

OVERALL SCORE

GALLERY PREVIEW -- Hunted: The Demon's Forge -- PC

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