Impressions: Hunt: Showdown is a satisfying experience that needs options

Hunt: Showdown is Crytek’s newest title to hit Steam early access, and focuses on hardcore supernatural bounty hunting goodness with a PvP twist that takes the game up another notch in terms of tension, but that makes the experience both difficult and incredibly punishing in a way that’s sure to be hit and miss for most players.

Personally, I found Hunt: Showdown to be a lot of fun, but the game features systems that make the game feel like an odd three-eyed zombie in today’s gaming atmosphere. Some of the features feel satisfying and skill-based, while others feel distinctly unbalanced and frustrating because of the game’s choice of progression mixed with elements of permadeath and economy. There’s a steep learning curve involved, and a single misstep will consistently earn you a soggy place beside other rotting corpses in Crytek’s monster-infested swampland.

That said, Crytek has an interesting game on their hands, and we’re cautiously optimistic that it’ll continue to improve between now and its full release.

Going for the Kill

The core gameplay experience in Hunt: Showdown is all about the hunt. You can either load into Crytek’s monster-infested swamp solo or with a friend, but once you step into the shoes of your first bounty hunter it’s clear that you’ve in a dangerous and atmospheric world that’s ready and willing to eat you alive.

Creatures straight out of a horrifying nightmare are everywhere, and Hunt’s world feels gritty and tactile in a way that’s reminiscent of the best parts of games like Metro: 2033 and Outlast. Of course, neither of those games were set in the late 19th century, which is one of the things that makes Hunt: Showdown feel like it’s nailed down its own aesthetic niche in a crowded shooter market.

Your primary goal is to follow the trail of a dangerous monster with a bounty on its head, find its lair, banish it back to hell, and then make your way to an exit somewhere on the map. There’s no doubt this would be plenty of game by itself, but Crytek made sure that you weren’t going to be creeping through the dense foliage and murky water of a backwoods Louisiana swamp by your lonesome. Instead, you’ll also have to dodge around at least three other teams of players that would rather see you sucking blood and swamp water than breathing the air of their favorite haunt.

The Economy of Pain

To find your bounty you’ll need to follow a series of clues around the map which will eventually reveal the location of the big bad monster for banishing. Gathering these clues, killing and banishing your target, and otherwise extracting with the bounty you take off your target’s body will all net you cold hard cash to spend on buying new hunters and kitting them out with the best items you can afford for your level.

This is where things get a little dicey as far as game balance goes. Hunt: Showdown has perma-death for every one of your hunters, which means that whether you’re killed by a grenade, hound, headshot, or zombie if you go down you’re probably down for good. If you’re playing with a friend they can revive you, but it’ll cost you one of your health bars, and when you’re down to your last bar you’re gone for good. Every bit of gear, every level, every skill you bought for that hunter is off the table. You’ll still net experience for your account level, but if you die the character you brought to the party is off the table.

That isn’t much of an issue on its own, and it creates a high stakes risk and reward quality to hunting your bounty because literally anything can kill you. Combine that with an extremely punishing damage model that includes instant death for almost any headshot and every encounter with player or monster alike feels tense and exciting.

The issue is that it costs money to recruit new hunters, and once you run low on cash the game demotes you to a sub-level tier of hunters that are significantly worse than ones you can buy. Less health, terrible weapons, and often no extra equipment to give you options against well kitted players can force you into a corner where there’s little hope of getting back on your feet.

If you do manage to do well, you’re rewarded with levels on your hunter that let you increase your maximum health, purchase perks that make you an absolute dual-rifle-wielding monster, and once your overall player level is high enough you’ll be able to purchase weapons that can one shot even a well-equipped player with a single shot to the chest.

The result is a system that feels incredibly unbalanced for players new to the game or experienced players that have a run of bad luck. Experienced, high-level characters can often shoot you once with any of the high-tier weapons and knock you out of the game instantly, while beginners have to nail four to five body shots or one lucky headshot on a full health player to down them, and often that damage can be healed quickly using any of the health kits available on the market.

It might be different if there was a way to actually pick up loot off of players you kill, so that a sub-par hunter or a new player could take advantage of a lucky headshot to snag a decent rifle to use for the rest of the game, but instead a player kill just nets you a small bonus at the end of the round and all the loot your enemy brought in is lost as soon as they go down.

A Deadly Pattern

What’s more, the damage model and the nature of the hunt encourages the worst kind of camping.

Once you discover the location of the monster the best tactic is usually for you and your ally to kick back at a defensible position near the entrance to the lair so you can either waste other players as they approach the lair, or just wait for someone else to kill and banish the monster then sweep in while they’re low on health and ammo to kill them and snatch the bounty for yourself. The game will even mark enemy players with lightning for you once they pick up the bounty to make them easier to track.

As a result, rounds can quickly turn into a comparison of who’s the better camper. You can’t help but wonder where the other players decided to camp. Are they waiting just inside the lair in a safe spot from the monster? Are they waiting in a house overlooking the lair? Or are they waiting at the nearest extraction just in case you sprint that direction after snatching the bounty.

It’s a constant guessing game that when combined with weapons that can usually rip you apart in a single hit and dense foliage that can perfectly conceal a player can create an incredibly frustrating experience. It’s probably the only thing this game has in common with early versions of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, sometimes you just die to a single hit from some guy that’s been camping in a bush for the whole round.

This might change if the developers start implementing strategies that cut down the benefits of camping. Roaming monster hordes, multiple bounty monsters, or a tighter round time limit would all probably encourage people to push the objective quickly rather than camp, but at this stage of development it’s a genuine problem that affects gameplay.

Why isn’t There a PvE-Only Mode?

I think the oddest thing about Hunt: Showdown in its current state is just how much it feels like it could become a quality cooperative PvE experience with just a few tweaks.

We know that Hunt: Showdown was originally Hunt: Horrors of a Gilded Age, which was slated to be a cooperative monster hunting title that Crytek scrapped in favor of the Battle Royale-influenced PvPvE experience we have in Hunt: Showdown, but we can’t help but wonder why they tilted the game on its axis when they obviously had something really special on their hands.

Hunt: Showdown is ridiculously atmospheric, has solid gunplay, and features some of the best immersive audio we’ve ever had tickle our ears in a video game, but the PvP feels like it’s just kind of an extra threat in a world tacked on to an experience that’s already plenty threatening.

All it would take to tweak it back that direction would be slightly more aggressive enemy AI, a few changes to player progression, and some optional difficulty settings to let players push the limits on Hunt: Showdown’s permadeath options and the game could become a whole different beast.

A PvE mode would also allow new players to level up independently, grind resources, and get a feel for the game before they jumped into PvP, which might solve half of Hunt: Showdown’s balance issues in a single fell swoop.

Of course, we don’t know how complex implementing a PvE mode would be for Hunt: Showdown in its current state, but it could definitely be something that would help the title appeal to new players and an audience that wants more out of their 19th century monster hunting experience than just PvP.

As someone that likes both competitive multiplayer and just kicking back to snipe zombies and demons with my friends, it’s something that I would love to see come to Hunt: Showdown when the game fully launches.