Imagine a world that’s equal parts Tolkien, Devil May Cry and Xena: Warrior Princess and you’ll have a pretty good handle on the look and feel of Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. This is a game of fantastical realms, big weapons and individuals with a thing for skimpy, bondage-inspired leather attire.
This is a hack ‘n’ slash ‘em up served with a side order of dungeon crawling; think looting for weapons and coin, magic system upgrading and plenty of optional side-quests. The two principal protagonists, Caddoc, a hulky Kratos-esque behemoth of a man and, E’lara, a slighter, nibbler lady-Elf, must work together to dispatch enemies, solve puzzles and (I’d suggest) hit the streets in search of clothing that leaves a little more to the imagination.
The game begins with a prologue/tutorial that sees Caddoc hunting down the source of a mysterious female voice calling out to him – imploring him to track down an important object for her. Soon afterwards (movement controls duly grasped) we learn it was all but a dream . Caddoc awakes in the woods, log fire burning happily away between himself and E’lara.
To cut a short story even shorter, our heroes travel through a wooded area – learning the combat control scheme as they go – until the woman of Caddoc’s dreams, Seraphin (voiced by Xena herself, Lucy Lawless) appears from out of nowhere to inform them that she’s serious about wanting Caddoc to help her.
When is a dream more than just a dream? When Xena makes an appearance in the real world, apparently.
Other than that small scrap of info I have no idea what the story is about because we were quickly whisked away to another level in which we were tasked with having to save a Mayor and, it later transpires, his daughter from a rather impolite Demon horde.
While the story (from what we’ve seen, at least) seems to be fairly by the numbers kind of stuff, the gameplay packs a bit more of a punch. This is not an easy game, on the regular difficult setting it’s pretty darn taxing. The two characters stick together throughout the game (a la Gears of War’s Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago) with Caddoc providing the brawn and E’lara the finesse. Both can wield ranged and melee attacks (as well as various forms of suitably flashy, powerful magic) but it’s clear where their respective strengths reside.
If you take too much damage you’ll be knocked down and begin ‘bleeding out’; eventually resulting in death if your partner doesn’t revive you by throwing a health vial your way in time – again, very Marcus and Dom style. During our hands-on we spent as much time bleeding out as we did on our feet due to the relentless aggression and hardiness of the enemies. Despite the hack ‘n’ slash nature of the gameplay, playing intelligently and making good use of your character’s strengths and weaknesses is vital to success.
The action takes place from a tight, over the shoulder, third-person perspective (yes, Marcus and Dom style – it also uses the Unreal 3 engine BTW) that shows off the detail in the character models and gives an intimate view of the carnage. Aiming your bow takes you into an almost-first-person viewpoint from which you can line up headshots and the like; it’s also possible to fire from the hip but (despite assurances from the game’s handlers) we failed to hit a thing when taking that approach.
As today’s gaming fashion dictates, two players can team up to undertake the campaign via online co-op. Due to the difficulty of the game it’s essential that both players know what they’re doing and remain in constant communication. Where you don’t want to find yourself is in a situation where by you’ve teamed up with a partner that clearly has no idea what is going on beyond ‘I use big sword to chop monster!?’
I don’t want to name names but the fellow journalist I teamed up with fell squarely into this category. On a number of occasions he/she ( by that I mean one OR the other) was utterly unaware that I was bleeding out and staring death in the face. This was despite our ‘fart-and-I’ll-smell-it’ proximity, despite the on-screen prompts, despite me recently saving him and despite my ever so polite requests for a little help. Some people…
Hunted is a game that, within reason, allows you to control both the challenge and the scale of the campaign. For example, the ‘rescue the Mayor’s daughter from the demons’ mission held an optional side quest of less-than-trivial length and complexity. This quest involved locating and collecting four hidden runes that act as the key to a room of treasures. Two attempts later and my co-op ‘partner’ and I had twice succumbed to the fury of the giant skeleton boss that pounced on us as soon as said room was opened.
Supposedly, defeating the beast rewards you with one of three orbs that are hidden throughout the game and can be traded in later in exchange for access to a special chamber holding various high-level weapons. This kind of deep level questing and looting is what’s going to be key if Hunted is going to be taken seriously by RPG/adventure fans because, as fun as hacking and slashing your way through swarms of meat is, basic combat can only hold ones attention for so long.
So it’s Gears of War minus guns plus Elves, skeletons and a Kratos lookalike then? Well, yes and no. Like Gears it s to be a strakg el , }e ard nht action game but there seems to be a certain amount of hidden depth behind the boisterous exterior. Unlike Gears, the optional quests and character development (powering up magic and weapons) present you with options to explore beyond a linear framework and put your skills to the test.
The game will also ship with a map generator, entitled ‘Crucible’, which we didn’t have a chance to tinker with but we presume will play into the idea of random questing; providing players with something to do after the campaign ends (got to find some way to prevent people trading it in, I suppose).
My advice to you though is, if you’re thinking about picking this one up come June, make sure you’ve got a decent partner lined up.