In my many years of playing video games, I have sailed through many first-person shooters. Some good, some bad, yet very few that seemed to take hold of me. Perhaps the greatest of those few is Hunt: Showdown. Even after hours of watching PC gameplay footage and absorbing all I could, this game still stole my breath. I dare not undermine the state of awe in which this game left me. 1400 hours later my heart still pounds free of my chest when I engage other players. If you have never heard of Hunt: Showdown, then allow me to introduce you to one of the greatest experiences of the PS4 generation.
Hell On Earth
Hunt takes place in Louisiana near the end of the 19th century. Swamps, farms, swamps, and farms. In these swamps, there are demons who have corrupted the population, leaving them twisted and indiscriminately violent. Your job is to hunt these demons and banish them to wherever it is they came from (at 45 minutes a match, you will have plenty of time to do so). The environment is dense and very lived in (until recently), home to thick tree canopies, abandoned homesteads, and many compounds of varying purposes. This will be your home for the foreseeable future.
Upon starting the game, you will be treated to a variety of options, one of which is the tutorial. This will give you a rundown of the game’s objectives and some of the mechanics. Play them if you wish, though I did not gain much from the experience. I do not believe the developers paid much attention to these; all the real knowledge is to be gained on the battlefield. Once you are ready to hunt, you will need to hire a hunter.
This can be done by either taking the one free hunter you get before each match or by buying one of the other choices. The hunter you pick will already be armed and will be lost permanently upon death. Please do not let this stop you. You will fail many times before you learn what you need to win. You also have options regarding weapons and skills that you will continue to unlock throughout your experience. All of these are well-designed and are only as potent as the player wielding them. Once you have bought a hunter, armed them, and made your peace, you are ready to suffer. And suffer you will; one of the biggest things I believe to be holding fresh players back is the outrageous learning curve. Hunt has recently garnered much more attention than after its launch and hopefully will become more saturated with new players, leaving a bit more room between beginners and seasoned hunters.
Once you have prepped your hunter (suffering the horrid PC-ported menu navigation) and waited for the outrageously long loading screen (if you are using a PS4), you are ready to lose. Unless you are incredibly unlucky, the first thing you encounter will be NPC enemies. There are quite a few minor enemies to dance with within this game, each with limitless ways to dispatch them. These serve to teach you how the combat mechanics can work in your favor. Minor enemies aside, the most dangerous beast of the bayou is man. Hiding in the bushes, peeking from behind a wall, or just sprinting at you like a madman. If you are like me, this will rattle you to the core. This game boasts some of the most immersive player engagements on the market. You will likely die a few times before you react to gunfire appropriately. So be it, for your first victory will leave you addicted. While slipping through the mud, firearms, ammunition, and some varying lootables are a few other things to find. Ammo can be found in easily identified boxes and crates and is the most abundant resource available (relative to everything else). Hunt’s combat is easily one of its strongest features and is unmatched by most AAA titles.
I referred to the game’s AI as minor, though in truth, they are anything but. There are basic zombies, sometimes wielding weapons, that are not much more than a nuisance. More menacing, though, is the wide variety of larger, more capable enemies, such as the packs of hellhounds or the meatheads.
These creations appear to me to have been meticulously crafted by their developers. Each has a unique strength, weakness, and/or ability that works from an existing mechanic. Most are dangerous regardless of your weapon choice or abilities, even if you know all there is to know about fighting them. They are avoidable with practice and can be used to any player’s advantage. They are meant to impede you, hold you up for other players to see, or otherwise kill you mercilessly. Their advantage over you is substantial and will require that you learn all you can while fighting or observing them. My only issue with the lesser enemies is how seldom new ones are added. They are varied enough, but it has been some time since a new original enemy has been introduced. A new addition would be welcome, and I personally would like to see a new variety of animal AI (a cat) to stalk unknowing players.
The boss fights are the main objective of the game. Once you enter a match, you will search for clues about where the boss resides. These clues glow when viewed in dark sight (an ability every player has), and only three are needed to locate the boss’s lair. Fighting them is pretty straightforward: shoot the boss, avoid its attacks, etc… Once defeated, you can begin its banishment, though be warned as this will create a vortex in the sky and a scar on the map that will reveal your location to every player in the match. Survive the banishment and make your way to one of three points of extraction at the edge of the map. I see the boss fights as one of the weakest points of hunts gameplay. They are intimidating at first but never change. The developers have continued to add bosses periodically, but as of now, there are only five. They make a wonderful point of interest to draw in players and gunfights, though they are not very engaging on their own. Each boss has a unique type of damage to inflict or ability to use against you, but even this does not spice the loop up enough to make me enjoy fighting them. I often gather clues and seek bosses out of sheer habit or a desire to find other players.
Of all the features this game has to offer, its sound design is by far the strongest. Everything that moves in the bayou makes noise, and often, noise will lead to your downfall. There are murders of crows to startle, maimed horses neighing fearfully, sticks littering the ground that sharply snap, and many more sound traps.
Even aiming down your sights causes your hunter to take a deep breath. One of my favorites is the whooshing of the axe swinging from my left hand and smacking into my right hand. Most of the sounds in the game are unique, with a few exceptions; some YouTubers even make a show of playing the game blindfolded. The sound design is truly awe-inspiring, with only a few noticeable flaws. The biggest, I would say, is when too many sounds occur at once and new sounds fail to play. I have not noticed a direct effect on gameplay; this seems to be a nonissue. I find Hunt’s sound design to be great and the biggest contribution towards the immersive combat this game provides. It is undeniably the fruit of careful thought and planning.
This is one mechanic that had not received much attention until recently. Whereas before, there was only night and day, now you can fight in pouring rain, fog, and even roaring wildfires (during events). The more extreme weather alters gameplay in a variety of ways: fog impairs vision drastically, rain impairs your hearing, and fire stops you in your tracks. I find rain to be the most interesting. As the match progresses, the rain will lighten and strengthen randomly. This can provide great opportunities in combat, covering you or your enemies tracks upon approach. I have never seen a multiplayer shooter use weather so effectively, and with a new map bearing a new biome, this mechanic will surely continue to flourish.
You should look elsewhere if you prefer receiving dense content in your DLC. Given the balanced nature of combat in Hunt, the DLC is strictly vanity. This means it is all for show and not for functionality. Nothing you can buy will give you an edge or otherwise alter gameplay. This aside, the skins are typically pretty cool and relevant to the event or storyline they pertain to. They are certainly plentiful, and some are even bundled with the game. Contests are often held to design new skins, and content creators have had special skins added in their honor. Yet, with so many weapon and character skins, they seem to bleed together and can be diluted. Choices are choices, though, and they are a mile better than most games seem to manage.
With all its flaws, this game is still very worth your time. In a market filled to the brim with tasteless multiplayer shooters, Hunt: Showdown stands alone. I have yet to find a game quite like it, and that is not due to a lack of searching. After nearly 1400 hours of punishing and extremely rewarding gameplay, I can honestly say that I value every second. It has been available to all for five years and sadly has not received nearly as much attention as deserved. I doubt it will be going away any time soon, and I know it to be one of the first masterpieces of the next era of multiplayer fps games. If you have read up to this point, surely this game piques your interest. If so, I implore you to buy and play Hunt: Showdown; it is often on sale for much less than retail. Embrace the change and get on the wagon.
- Fantastic Combat
- Very Immersive
- Attentive Developers
- Lackluster boss fights
- Nasty PC ported menu navigation