Hunt Showdown is a horrible swamp-bastard of a video game, that much is for sure. A soaringly novel, deeply creepy take on the multiplayer shooter, Hunt Showdown encompasses a veritable cornucopia of influences to create not just one of the most nerve-shredding genre entries to date, but one of the finest multiplayer only shooters the PS4 has seen in years.
Hunt Showdown PS4 Review
In Hunt Showdown Crytek Provides The PS4 With The Most Inventive Multiplayer Shooter In An Age
From German developer Crytek, who are perhaps now more famous for their cutting-edge graphics engine technology than they are for their games, Hunt Showdown is something of a revelation. The premise is thus – as a bounty hunter in some batpoop alternate version of 1899 Louisianan swamplands, you are tasked with fulfilling contracts in which you must hunt down and kill some sort of unimaginably horrific beast, scoop up some bounty tags and leave the map before the local wildlife (such as it is), or other players, put you six feet under.
The catch however, and arguably it’s one that cements itself as the cornerstone of Hunt Showdown’s seemingly endless appeal, is that other players are trying to do the same and will stop at nothing to do so. Welcome then a true hybrid of PvP and PvE first-person shooter gameplay that we just haven’t had before on Sony’s current generation console.
If Hunt Showdown sounds cruel and mercenary that’s because it is, however, there are some novel wrinkles to the formula which keep things interesting and balanced. For starters, players can elect to embark on ‘contract collection’ either by themselves, or with a group of up to three fellow hunters. Likewise, when a monster is felled, it will drop not one but two bounty tags, however the kicker here is that players can only scoop up a single tag at one time, meaning that solo players could strike up an alliance of convenience to kill the creature, scoop up a tag each and then split.
Of course, the beauty of Hunt Showdown is that scenarios rarely ever work out quite so neatly as that, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.
Hunt Showdown Is Wonderfully Built Around Emergent Player Conflict
Long before you ever lock horns with the big bad you’ll need to discover three clues in order to ascertain an accurate reading on its final location – something of a necessity given that the game world in Hunt Showdown is absolutely huge. Tracking these clues is thankfully made simple by the virtue of a supernatural power called the Dark Sight, which all hunters are able to use. Once activated, the Dark Sight will display the location of the next clue as what would appear to be a rushing wind of blue embers, while the final location of the contracted kill is depicted as a thunderous blue pillar of energy smashing into the ground and sprawling into the sky.
Like moths to the proverbial flame then, Hunt Showdown is quite literally designed to throw players together in the most violent fashion possible and in this way, does a grand old job of cementing its PvP bonafides. Making conflict all the more likely is the fact that once the monster has been slain, a special summoning ritual must be cast by the victorious hunters at the end of which the bounty tokens will appear. The problem? The summoning ritual not only takes time to complete, but when you commence it, all the other hunters on the map can see exactly where you are, making the likelihood of combat extremely likely.
Certainly then, combat with your fellow hunter never seems far away despite the initially overwhelming size of the map and because of this, the tension generated from such emergent player conflict is horribly palpable. A turn around a corner soon changes into a 180 to make sure you aren’t be followed. The discovery of a clue, which should be a joyous moment, is instead steeped in a sickly, paranoid dread as you wonder who else might have sought to seize that very same pointer. While even apparent success can be reduced to soul-crushing failure, as you can very easily find yourself murdered, token in hand, before you even leave the map.
There are no friends in Hunt Showdown – just opportunists whose self-interest might occasionally align with your own.
Hunt Showdown Is Absolutely Stuffed To The Brim With Horrifically Realized Monsters
Opposing players represent just one of the hazards that Hunt Showdown will throw at you, not least because the grim Louisiana swampland that serves as the backdrop to the murderous shenanigans of Crytek’s latest, is absolutely rife with all manner of horrific abominations seeking to tear you limb from limb.
Though shambling zombies are hardly a fresh foe, the way that they’re depicted and animated here gives pause. With extremely high detail character models, every terrifying part of their visage can be seen – as a maw of rotting teeth finds itself surrounded by the patchwork of leathery, jaundiced skin trying to pass itself of a face, the zombies in Hunt Showdown (referred to as Grunts) represent the most common foe that you’ll encounter in the game, and yet despite their frequency, they never get any less scary.
Further afield, monstrous hell-hounds that leap and charge after you with deceptive dexterity are eminently capable of causing your heart to skip a beat, while other more challenging enemies, such as the slippery Water Devil and the grotesque Hive – a shambling mass of rotten meat whose body has become an unholy temple to insect driven pestilence, can all leap on you at a moment’s notice and send your pulse racing.
Making matters worse (or better, depending on your vantage) is the fact that combat with both players and CPU controlled creatures is made much more stressful by virtue of the weapons you have access to. As this is 1899, automatic weapons are few and far between and those that do exist are clunky, unwieldy things which take an age to reload. The same is true of lesser caliber firearms too, such as rifles and pistols, as reloading these takes a whole bunch of time that you don’t have, meaning that you really need to make each and every shot count so you don’t get caught out.
Honestly, reloading a six-shooter one bullet at a time has never been this stressful. Luckily, melee weapons, traps, fire bombs and other gadgets can be deployed to make your life a little easier, but ultimately, only the most efficient and careful killers will survive for any decent period of time in Hunt Showdown.
The monsters that serve as your contracts are also impressively horrible too. The spider, for example, will be heard long before you ever see it, with the frenzied skittering of its gargantuan hairy legs heralding your increasing proximity to the beast. Once seen, the spider truly is a thing of horror – a glistening, fast-moving obsidian murder-machine that can instantly rend flesh and poison its enemies with breathtaking ease, its defeat demands that players make frugal use of nearby oil lamps to create ample amounts of arachnid burning fire to help you get the job done.
That said, the spectacle of a shrieking, fast-moving spider whose terrible body is ablaze will not leave my mind for some time I suspect, nor will it leave yours either I’d wager.
Progression Is A Challenging Slog Of Cruelty And Perseverance That Feels Hugely Rewarding
Like everything else in the game, progressing in Hunt Showdown is hardly a cakewalk. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to scoop up all the clues, murder a bunch of lesser monsters, nab a bounty tag and make it back home in time for barbecue. However, as you can probably appreciate by this point, few people are lucky enough to ever have everything go their way.
Thankfully then, Hunt Showdown dutifully rewards players for doing all sorts of activities short of actually killing your contract and getting away with the spoils. Whether you’ve only killed a bunch of lesser monsters, or just nabbed a clue or two but never actually fought or killed a monster, you still get plenty of experience points for doing such activities. Even just escaping the map once the monsters have been killed rewards a sizable dollop of experience – though that too is easily said then done because once all bounty targets have been eliminated you have just five minutes to escape the map – a feat easier said than done if you happen to be in the middle of it.
When sufficient experience points have been amassed, players can not only level up and access new buffs and abilities, such as gaining a thick skin that prevents burning damage for instance, but a wealth of new weapons, gadgets and other gear will also be made available too – neatly encouraging the player to keep pressing on to optimize their performance.
Where things take a turn into gut-kick territory however, is that if you happen to die in Hunt Showdown, your deceased hunter is gone forever; taking all of their gear with them (though a handy tutorial lifts the item loss restriction for your first ten levels of progression). Harsh, eh? Well, it’s not all bad news. If you do happen to be ruined by player or beast, while your hunter might be gone, their experience points will persist in a bloodline that new hunters hired to that same bloodline can also enjoy.
This is a great bit of design because not only does it mean that you’re efforts are not completely wasted, but it also allows you to get right back in the saddle and continue playing without the furious, knuckle-chewing knowledge that you’ve just lost everything.
Hunt Showdown Is An Awesome Audiovisual Showcase
This being Crytek, a particular caliber of audiovisual presentation was always assured and in Hunt Showdown, we see the developer leveraging its substantial experience and impressive middleware tool-set to great effect. In addition to the previously mentioned high level of texture detail, Hunt Showdown also finds itself blessed with a range of great lighting and shadow graphical effects that all help to bring to life its grimly moody and macabre setting, as dilapidated and neglected farmlands give way to eerily beautiful, waist-high swamps where hanging trees look like peering, hungry predators.
Then there are the great environmental touches too. Crippled horses will unexpectedly lurch into action and disturbingly scream as you walk past them, while caged, emaciated dogs bay for your blood as you make your way through the mud and collected filth of the Louisiana swamp. Simply put, Hunt Showdown honors its morbid and gruesome setting with every pixel on screen and cements its claim on being one of the most unique looking shooters seen to date.
While the visuals in Hunt Showdown are of a lofty caliber, so too is the sound design of equal quality. Leveraging binarual sound technology, Hunt Showdown is arguably best played and experienced through a decent set of headphones, as the game creates a convincing 3D soundscape where the sounds of seemingly far off gunfire can be heard and used to pinpoint the location of the ruckus, while in more intimate encounters, the sounds of enemies and players walking on floors overhead is both palpably terrifying and brilliantly showcased.
Though Hunt Showdown is very much something of technical showcase then, there are a couple of areas where it doesn’t quite fare so well as we might hope. Very occasionally, textures can take a while to pop in (but they always do before a game begins), while the loading time to actually get into a game can be tortuously long – even on a PS4 Pro. Luckily both issues are relatively minor and should hopefully be addressed by a good old fashioned patching in due course.
Hunt Showdown Is Essential And A Real Tonic For The First-Person Shooter Genre
In the end, there really is nothing quite like Hunt Showdown. With an emphasis on player agency, tactics and stealth above and beyond the usual dunderheaded point and shoot gameplay, Hunt Showdown is easily one of the most intelligent multiplayer shooters money can buy.
Beyond that, its sublimely realized nightmarish setting, accomplished audiovisual design and sheer amounts of weaponized paranoia and stress that it inflicts on the player, all conspire to create one of the most essential PS4 games of the year. Hunt Showdown is a horrible swamp-bastard of a video game, but I absolutely love it.
Hunt: Showdown releases for PS4 and Xbox One on February 18, 2020.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.