Official Review: Hunt: Showdown (Xbox One)

By Ben Sellwood, Feb 18, 2020 (updated Feb 18, 2020) 4 3

Feb 18, 2020
  • Release Date (NA): February 18, 2020
  • Release Date (EU): February 18, 2020
  • Publisher: Crytek
  • Developer: Crytek
  • Genres: FPS
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Also For: PlayStation 4
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Online multiplayer games are everywhere, so how does Hunt: Showdown attempt to stand out from the crowd?
Ben Sellwood

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Imagine hunting beastly monsters across a sprawling map with almost photo-realistic graphics and a level of immersion you have been longing for, for an extremely long time. Hunt: Showdown offers handcrafted sandbox environments set in the swamps of Louisiana with a unique combination of competitive, match-based PVP and PVE elements. There are enemies lurking around every corner, so you can either team up or play solo to experience the thrill and tension of the hunt.

Upon firing up this title I was initially baffled how to select anything on the screen, as the D-Pad seemingly didn't react to anything when pressed. The method of input appears to be a remnant of its obvious PC ancestry; an odd circular mouse cursor, controlled by the left analogue stick, that resides at the top left, offscreen, so you don't have much of a clue that this is what you need to manipulate to get started. This review was off to a strange start, but I pressed on and without much prompting I found myself enrolling in the tutorial section to get myself adjusted before getting destroyed online. Playing the tutorial is always the best way to get acquainted with controls and expectations of a game, and Hunt: Showdown's tutorial section is a spectacular entry-level method of learning the ropes. Once in-game, the control scheme is eternally familiar and you move and navigate as if you have been playing this game your entire lifetime. Everything is fluent and effortless, it's superb to sink into. Notably, the theme tune is a fantastic soul-warming ear-worm, with its hummed dulcet tones, really setting the scene throughout play.

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The main premise is this: you begin as a bounty hunter, whose soul is damned, that needs to locate clues that are spread randomly across the map. These clues will narrow down your search to a specific location on the map, which the boss monster will be inhabiting or where the wellspring will be located. It sounds incredibly simple, and it is; you just have to avoid and overcome a vast array of undead grunts, overpowered beasts, and demonically possessed foes before you can take on any trophy beasts. The characterisation of these NPCs is excellently captured thanks to an overall decay-riddled environmental theme of pestilence and annihilation. You find them chowing down on the muddied, sodden corpses of disembowelled horses, dragging their feet whilst patrolling fields of corn, flailing around flaming weapons. Larger mini boss-style swamp creatures stagger around aimlessly, with gangs of leeches, awaiting your next confrontation to be triggered. The enemies range from hellhounds to immolators that burst into flames and rotting cadaver "hives" that swarm you with venomous insects that decimate your vision and leave you disoriented. Sound and vision play a huge role here, as if you sneak up behind each one and use melee weapons such as a knife or an axe you can take them all out in a hugely satisfying, balletically stealthy bloodbath, but once your cover is blown you will have them screaming and lurching at you from all directions. There are no bespoke death animations here though. It's all up to you, and it's all physics-driven. It's infinitely varied and it is fantastic to impart cause and effect on your victims.

You use the RB button to use your "Darksense" that sends the environment into darkness and shows you areas of interest. Much like tracking the musk of a trophy buck, you see a fluttery glowing blue trail of wispy energy which gets stronger the closer you get to it, turning the wisps into full-on ball lightning which casts volumetric shadows and shafts of light through the structures it permeates. Once you have three of these clues cornered, your map effectively shrinks down, revealing the final lair of the trophy creature at hand. Once you have this creature found and out-manoeuvered, you can deal a deathblow, perform a banishing ritual and claim the bounty token for yourself. This is not the end of the epic, not yet. You then have to traverse the map to reach an extraction point and fend off any remaining enemies, for 20 nail-biting seconds, in order to complete the task in full. Every second is fraught with danger, jump scares, atmospheric tension and overwhelming fear that you're being stalked or watched the entire time. It's truly thrilling.

Initially, I opted for the gunslinger class of character, thinking that my comfort zone in any FPS is sat firmly behind a gun that's full of ammunition ready to headshot anything that comes my way. Having realised the finessed mechanics of this game through the tutorial mission, I chose to completely realign my skillset into a more stealthy role and chose the melee-heavy hunter class for the entirety of the rest of my playthrough. Do you remember the first time you stealthily crept up on a guard in Metal Gear Solid, or slit a throat from behind in Call of Duty? Those heart-stopping moments of utterly silent, undetectable violence, fuse themselves with your endorphins, you have fight or flight triggered, and you get a huge wave of excitement and elation. Hunt: Showdown caters for this method of play in a way that I wasn't expecting, and it was a truly eye-opening and joyous experience that I now cannot get enough of. Should you prefer to go guns blazing, you totally can, but never forget that there is no noise cancelling in the swamps, and sound travels exceptionally far. Though you can be armed to the teeth, you will attract competitors and enemies from every direction who will show you no mercy when they zero in on your location. The sound design is top-notch, with sound effects and spacial surround working incredibly well to fill your eardrums with atmosphere and believable, lifelike sound from every source possible. The ambient wildlife, horses, water, wind, fire, chains rattling, glass shattering, floorboards creaking, and footstep sounds on metal, wood, mud or wet areas of land is stupendous. Add into the audible mix some zombie moans, screaming, groaning and a clattering of ultra high-quality gun sounds from an expansive sound bank and I implore you to attempt to find a better example of sound in a game. I dug out my Turtle Beach XO Three surround sound headset for this one, and I was not disappointed one bit. Spatially, sounds permeate the entire environment, from jangling chains in the wind to creature's footsteps and moans, distant gunshots of competitor hunters in the map, and glass "sound traps" on floors crunching underfoot. I found myself gasping every so often, freaking out needlessly at any out-of-place sounds, while stealthily slinking around, only to then be jump scared by a rogue zombie I hadn't realised had closed in on me in the shadows.

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The LB button brings up your weapon wheel, and you can select from anything you can lay your grubby mitts on. The left side of the wheel caters for throwables, the top is your main two weapons, and the right sector deals with administering medical items. The wheel itself is customisable in that you can assign quick actions on the D-Pad to slots in the wheel so you can manage your healing kits and weapons switching quicker, providing you have a good memory for your loadout. The weapons range from basic stabbing weapons to heavy metal hammers, throwing knives, shotguns, silenced and unsilenced revolvers, scoped rifles and explosives. You can use environmental items too, such as oil lamps which can be used to light your path in the denser, darker, more oppressive areas, or you can throw them at your enemies causing fire to spread across wooden and flammable objects in the environment. One quickplay session saw me awaken with a cutlass, a long, thin curved blade that I initially scoffed at, but ultimately came to adore. It had a range to it that meant I could maintain a nice fighting circle when engaged, it had a swift action and a high impact when you charge the right trigger to really slam home a big hit and put your sword straight through a zombie's face. The only thing I felt was missing is something like bespoke fatalities if you were to sneak up or perform an environmental kill using explosive or poisonous barrels.

This game has a definite Red Dead Redemption 2 feel to it. From the horses to the mud, from the attire of the characters to the traditional period Americana of the environments, it feels like this game could have easily been an Undead Nightmare-style FPS spin-off. Don't get me wrong: that's a great thing. It's probably been close to a year since I put Red Dead 2 to bed, and Hunt: Showdown has completely reinvigorated my love for this genre and setting. Everything about it is well-observed and intricately styled. Thanks to dynamically driven random encounters, every turn leads to something interesting or something to find that's fresh and new, each and every game. Even the menus are styled sympathetically to the region and time period, deploying interesting mechanics such as tarot cards to give a visual readout of your play summary, similar to how Goldeneye 64 gave you feedback one-liners back in the day. It spells out if you had bad luck, how many monsters you killed, how many rifts you closed in quickplay and whether you succeeded or died on your mission. I enjoyed this debriefing along with the levelling up animations and quirky ranking system readout, it really enthused me to dive back in and get another session under my belt. I simply can't convey how hugely enjoyable it is.

There are a variety of game modes, that, in all honesty, I enjoyed far more than I ever did in Red Dead Online. You have Bounty Hunter, Quickplay, Contracts, Challenges, and Last Match modes available to you. The downsides to team-based PVE and PVP games are when the servers just don't quite support the ideology of the game yet. Hunt: Showdown requires internet to play, it requires Xbox Gold membership and it requires willing players, or, more preferably, an abundance of players to give you the full range of play modes it offers. For example, the main Bounty Hunter mode, which should be fantastic, allows you to buddy up and hunt out the demonic creatures in teams of up to three. However, I could not get a single team game up and running, regardless of switching server preferences from Europe to Oceania or the Americas. One reason was that apparently my 108mb line experienced "high ping issues" frequently in this game, which I can only assume is an issue with the game's servers as my speed tests came back perfect every time and I have no issue with any other games or streaming media. The second issue comes from the community or possible lack thereof yet. In matchmaking, the odd few times I got matched it was with the same handful of people who were massively higher-ranked (50+) than myself (4). Either these people simply didn't want to buddy up with a noob, or more likely, they had recognised my username and quaked in fear of my FPS prowess and an incredibly feared reputation. You decide. Either way, when matched with random opponents in quickplay modes, though it was possible to get on and join in, the overall time it took to get through matchmaking, load the level, wait for players and get started was, on average, two and a half to three minutes of waiting about. In future I have no doubt that more servers, with more players, will make matchmaking more effortless and provide more games for more players to quickly jump into, so for the purposes of review, I am happy to remain optimistic that Hunt: Showdown will flourish after release, and that post-release patching can be provided to slim downloading times somehow. At times it felt like the game was loading off of a tape deck, it was frustrating and felt so slow to get back into the thick of it. Quickplay, however, allowed for fast action 15-minute games of rift opening, wellspring draining, King of the Hill-style gameplay. It was faster, more frantic, and if you survive you get to keep your randomly spawned hunter as part of your roster to use as you see fit. This mode also lets you rapidly earn a vast array of new equipment and character upgrades such as "Packmule" to carry more items, "Mithridatist" to halve poison duration, or "Greyhound" to move quicker.

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Graphically, the Cry Engine deployment utilised here is absolutely incredible. That being said, ever since the first Far Cry back in 2004, I don't know why, they can't quite get water reflections rendered properly. Cry Engine V is the most advanced engine to date and has been in use on Hunt: Showdown since its inception in 2016, and in scanning around the environment, rivers, puddles and lakes look fantastic. Take a minute to soak up the environments and take a few screenshots and you will be in awe, but start turning around at speed and you notice something not quite right. The edges of trees intersecting areas of water have a black anomalous motion-blur type aura, and some reflections are borked beyond belief in certain scenarios. At one point I was reloading an old six-shooter on a jetty overlooking a river and the sub-5-inch barrel of my gun somehow got reflected across the entire expanse of water, casting a weird upsidedown reflection about 3-4 meters in scale in front of me. It's not the environment that gets messed up, it's the objects within that environment that seem to glitch out in this one effect. In another example, the wooden bridge I was standing on had a beam jutting out in front of me, and as I turned to look across a body of water, the beam reflection appeared on the lake under the perspective position of the beam and caused a strange megalithic sized reflection over an easily 10-meter wide river. Upon researching it appears to be that raytraced reflections, caused by in-game objects held near the in-game camera, obscures the screen space, so the object incorrectly joins the reflection space and produces weird results. Being that it's not very often this happens during play (I saw it perhaps once or twice every hour or so of typical play) maybe Crytek chose not to address this in their engine during this generation of consoles, opting to deal with it via more raytracing-capable hardware in the next-gen. We shall see.

Minor annoyances aside, Hunt: Showdown is a standout title in almost every aspect with an incredible eye for detail, thoroughly engaging and completely consuming. I highly recommend that you buddy up with some friends and get playing this title ASAP, as it captures the atmosphere of the environment and the tenseness of the hunt perfectly for some hugely satisfying and varied gameplay that I haven't enjoyed this much in a very long time. The mechanics of the play style are also interesting as, after a certain ranking, you move out of the "tutorial zone", and have to fend for yourself, fight for survival, keep an eye on your health and ammo levels, or risk losing your built-up character and kit forever in a permadeath scenario. Sure you can buy it all back from the in-game store if you want, and you can purchase new hunters, but it's far more suspenseful and compelling to hang on to your dear old character for as long as humanly possible. Hunt: Showdown is highly recommended in my humble opinion.

Verdict
What We Liked . . . Incredible graphics and audio create an amazing environment in which to get utterly absorbed A fantastic array of weaponry and gizmos to cause destruction with Variety of enemies and randomisation of locations adds longevity What We Didn't Like . . . Long load times paired with long matchmaking times slow down your overall experience to a frustrating halt
9 Presentation
Incredibly rich atmospheric environments, second to none sound design, truly immersive gameplay and a compelling ranking system make Hunt: Showdown a resounding hit from the second you load it up to the second your spent corpse hits the ground.
9 Gameplay
Ultrarealistic environments, elements, weapons and physics play strongly in this gothic-western action thriller. Hunting goliath monsters and surviving legions of infected ghouls has never been so utterly compelling and devilishly captivating.
8 Lasting Appeal
This game offers several modes, tonnes to unlock and a truly enthralling gravity to it that I haven't felt in a very long time. That said, during my review, I had major issues connecting to servers, but I am willing to bet that matchmaking will be hugely better after launch and post-release patches should definitely improve the waiting and loading times.
9
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
I love what this game strives for, and I love how it plays out. Crytek excels in immersion and they have done an incredible job with Hunt: Showdown. Highly recommended if you have friends to partner up with, as server issues seem to plague it in its early days.
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