Hunt: Showdown wants so desperately to be its own new thing that it didn't seem to consider that what it is... isn't particularly fun.
Welcome to the bayou: the light of dusk casts an eerie glow over its shores and fields. Ramshackle houses and sheds hold unknown horrors, but venturing inside offers your only chance for salvation. As the southern hymns approach a crescendo, you collect your bounty. But can you escape to collect it? In Hunt: Showdown, you must.
The latest game from Crytek (the studio behind Crysis), Hunt: Showdown is unique mixture of PvE and PvP gameplay, set in the battleground of the 19th century south. Unlike their former incredibly technically demanding title, Crytek's latest runs smoothly even with its impressive graphics. The lighting systems in particular shine bright here; the pale glimmer of the setting sun on the marshlands creates magical moments of brief peace before the storm of hordes.
But like Crysis, Hunt: Showdown's focus doesn't seem to necessarily be on story; instead, this world-building heavy title provides tools for players to pave their own way and discover how their playstyle best fits the game. Though it isn't a sandbox game, it features a quasi-open world environment were decisions of what "winning" means are left open to interpretation.
Hunt: Showdown features two modes, the primary one is Bounty Hunt. Here, a number of real players are thrown into a world where they must take out a bounty and escape alive. Players can work in teams of two or go in solo to complete the task. It's about risk and reward, of course; you'll get more money if you face the boss alone, but you run the risk of dying. And in the world of Hunt: Showdown, dying is permanent.
Players have a roster of Hunters that they can use in matches, with one given for free at the start. Later hunters can either be bought with in-game currency or actual money (turned premium currency). Hunters can have a range of weapons and abilities that can be upgraded and changed as they gain levels for victories. But once they die in a game, all progress that they've made: weapons, powers, etc... disappear. If it sounds cruel, it's because it is. Hunt: Showdown isn't easy, though it does give you until your Bloodline Rank (the player level) reaches 11 before killing your Hunters permanently. The world isn't without mercy, after all.
But collecting the bounty isn't the only way to win a match. In fact, survival is far more important. As other players rush to collect the bounties, one may find themselves simply killing lower level enemies to earn smaller sums of money. Sticking to the outskirts of the map, picking off grunts isn't as exciting, but it practically guarantees you won't be attacked from behind just as you are landing the final blow on a bounty. Of course, a player could always just stalk another player to their bounty, then take it from them when they are healing or looting up. All players in the map are alerted when players activate a bounty collection, so this "betrayal" of the Hunter code isn't uncommon.
If you're playing by the rules the game gives you, a player would need to find three different nests throughout the map, revealing the location of the bounty. Once there, they have to fight and kill this high-level creature and then prepare for other players to arrive, as the bounty takes time to appear. Then it's a race to an extraction point, where more human players are surely waiting to take your well-earned prize. It's a game of constantly looking over your shoulders and checking positioning, making decisions that minimize the chance that you'd never see your character again.
And it's this logic that keeps Hunt: Showdown from being anything more than a unique idea. Because in a game that plays out like Bounty Hunt, it's fun to experiment. To see the different ways the CPUs interact with the environment. How the grunts move in groups, and armored enemies stick to certain locations. Where to hit the underwater lurkers, and which enemies you should just plain avoid. Permadeath for characters does the exact opposite of encourage this type of play: it creates a world where you feel overly cautious. Less players will go for the bounty, and it's more of a mad scramble to punish the players that make the brave move. The game isn't without its moments, but on the whole, it feels directionless. Sure, each hunter has a goal of survival, but what is the player's goal past that, and why does it not seem to matter at all?
Hunt: Showdown also features a Quickplay mode, but at best, this could be considered tacked-on. Here, a bunch of players compete to be the last one alive (no respawning, just like the main mode) as they traverse a map and collect higher-level weapons and close portals to the realm of monsters. Sure, it's much quicker than Bounty Hunt, where games often last upwards of 40 minutes, but there's even less of a incentive to play it as you play with a random hunter and not one from your roster. Anything you collect is added to your player inventory, but that's not exactly paying dividends.
Hunt: Showdown's Louisiana is a tight, well-designed world, but traversing it feels nearly as old-timey as the time period. Sprinting, mounting, and climbing ladders are all key components of modern FPS's, so it's strange that it's cumbersome here. Every action feels a bit delayed and the feedback on everything from opening doors to firing guns is more Left 4 Dead than Call of Duty. Not that Hunt: Showdown is trying to be either. It wants so desperately to be its own new thing that it didn't seem to consider that what it is... isn't particularly fun.
Hunt: Showdown makes bold choices. The shared player progression that draws from numerous characters in a roster, each able to die in a single match (sometimes from a single blow) may have worked in a different game, but here it feels just a bit off. The fact that teams of two and solo players can get matched together is interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying for both parties; it never feels good to die or get a kill unfairly. Having to collect a series of clues to find a bounty (that other players may just find first) seems like busywork, but often creates interesting obstacles as you avoid enemies and get closer to your reward.
There's a lot that works in Hunt: Showdown, from its setting and creatures design to its strong blend of PvE and PvP action. Like the bayou, the game first appears sort of quaint, unique, and interesting to explore. But below the surface, once you get into the thick weeds of it, you end up feeling like there's plenty of places you'd wish to have traveled.
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Hunt: Showdown is out now for Xbox One and Steam for $39.99. Screen Rant was provided a digital Steam copy for the purpose of this review.