Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hunted: The Demon's Forge Review

As cooperative-based action-RPGs go, Hunted: The Demon's Forge treads a careful path. So careful, mind you, that it barely tries to do anything imaginative to grab your undivided attention. Whether it be the story, combat, or core mechanics of the game, Hunted is a supercharged mothball of lost potential. From the mind of Brian Fargo, this is something rather hard to believe.

Hunted spins a tale straight from the cloth of the typical anti-hero. Its protagonists, E'lara and Caddoc, are hardened mercenaries bent on amassing a fortune in gold, regardless of who - or what - hires them. After accidentally stumbling upon an item called the Deathstone, which allows clairvoyance into the past of the dead, both mercs begin dealing with an albino, busty goth lady named Seraphine. Seraphine promises augmented power beyond mortal reckoning, if they do what they are told. Somehow, this leads to the discovery that an angry demon is ravaging the land by using his followers, all of whom are addicted to a substance known as 'sleg.' Caddoc and E'lara must find out what's going on before it's too late, yadda, yadda, yadda.

At least the view is nice. ...I didn't mean that.

If you couldn't tell, I'm terribly unimpressed by this game's narrative. It's one thing to be safe and standard, and something completely different when you're nothing but derivative. Surprisingly, that also just so happens to be the theme of Hunted; being unoriginal and boring. You see, with the founder of Interplay at the helm of the studio (whose work included such classics as Baldur's Gate), it's tough to accept the fact that there's no compelling story to follow. The game tries to think its plot is intelligent, but never ventures beyond its very limited imagination.

Since the story is rotten, the combat must be somewhat decent, right? You'd think so, especially for a self-proclaimed 'dungeon crawler', but it definitely isn't. The problem stems from the game being far too simplistic. With a single four-hit combo and a heavy attack button to throw in, the manoeuvres you pull off in the thick of combat are extremely underdeveloped, right from the very beginning. You do gain three unique abilities along with three magical spells, but even these special powers are hardly impressive. E'lara ends up being the more useful of the two characters since she can sit back and take out hundreds of encroaching enemies with her bow. Both characters have mêlée and ranged functionality, but I'll give you one guess as to who's better in mêlée combat and who's better at range. The predictability is just a testament to the lack of imagination in Hunted.

In case you couldn't tell, this game can often be pretty dark.

Depending on the game's mood at a particular moment, you may also have the occassional opportunity to execute an injured opponent. The first few times this happens are cool, but the animations never change and you can only watch someone take a slow-motion arrow to the face so many times. The spell effects from weapons and special abilities do sound excellent and are visually appealing, but that positive fact is sent to the depths by the mechanics behind the weapons. Remember how I said that Hunted was a 'dungeon crawler'? Well, there's zero inventory in this game. That's right; the only difference, besides certain increases in damage, is the speed at which a weapon attacks. Enchanted weapons deal a tonne more damage, but their special ammo is limited in quantity, usually making you toss your weapon away soon after you pick it up. What kind of dungeon-based game disallows an inventory and wide array of weapons to select?

Weapons aren't the only thing the game is stingy about, either; you can only switch your playable character at specific places throughout the game, called Obelisks. Why you can't dynamically switch on-the-fly, I'll never know, as it leaves much more to be desired when it comes to combos and other special attacks. You can play with a friend over the internet to lessen the pain, but even that won't save you from the dim-witted AI enemy.

Weapons that glow in the dark. Pretty cool right?

I've never played a game where I've felt bored wailing on a Minotaur. How does that happen? Even worse, the game is riddled with awful, overly-extended encounters with AI who, sometimes, will run in wild circles and perform other aneurism-inducing feats. I can't tell you how many times I was thwacking a skeletal soldier in the back without having him retaliate. There are about twenty other ludicrous encounters I could share, but I think, by this point, you get the idea.

Hunted's enemies are ankle-biter spiders, Wargar gremlin... things, skeletons, and Minotaur. That's the extent of the lavish selection of beasts you can slay. But, wait: once you travel to a new area, you can fight the same exact creatures, with a different skin! This is incredibly lazy game design, and it's only accentuated when there's a door every twelve feet that transfers you to the next area. Caddoc and E'lara even joke about the amount of doors in the game when they're opening them.


After you give up on the monotonous adventure mode, you can always jump into the Crucible mode. The Crucible is a map-maker of sorts, but one that doesn't allow you to create actual levels; instead, you can only select from presets. The gold you amass in the adventure mode unlocks these presets and, regardless of what you choose, it'll always be a wave-based, room-to-room map. In other words, it's a complete waste of time. The potential here was huge yet, because of lazy design, the Crucible turned into random used space on your hard-drive.

What. A. Tramp.

With all the bad, the only decent things I can compliment about Hunted are the new library of sounds InXile have freshly recorded, and the occasional scenic view. The banter, combat, enemies, and doors are all part of a considerably heinous package that you must steer clear from.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge is laughable at best. It isn't the worst game in the world, but it certainly isn't anywhere near above-average. Perhaps the mindless nature of the game could save you from untold hours of boredom, but by my experiences that's a stretch. Save your money and save your time, because The Demon's Forge will only make you cry.


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