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There are certain miserable truths we just have to accept in life. Cake makes us fat. Going to the beach curses us with life-long sandsock. And if we want to play a cover shooter, we’d better enjoy the company of chest-bumping knuckle-heads or grizzled sociopaths on all-steroid diets.
But while seaside cake-scoffing will always remain an obesity-baiting, granular mess, the latter problem is soon to be rectified thanks to a radical new direction from Bethesda. The Oblivion creator is all set to bring us fantasy actioner Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, a Gears of War-style co-op shooter developed by InXile Entertainment.
The game eschews tired old space marines for vibrant medieval fantasy and an interesting pair of freely switchable, asymmetrically-playing characters. But it’s not only shaking things up in terms of characters and setting. The slick-looking co-operative extravaganza looks dead set on freshening up the genre from every angle of attack it can find. And here’s how it’s going about it.
Let’s face it, if you’re going to be looking at a character’s rear for eight-to-twelve hours, it might as well be an interesting one. And it might as well be attached to a personality with more to say for itself than ‘Grrr’ and occasionally ‘F*ck’. Hunted’s two complimenting protagonists seem to have a genuinely fun and contrasting personality dynamic. Buxom female Elf E'lara plays against type by being the impulsive, gung-ho aggressive one, while hulking barbarian Caddoc follows her reluctantly with a face-palming air of ‘Why me?’
Above: Despite being an archer, E'lara can get stuck in with the best of them
The game proudly displays all of the genre tropes of the cover shooter – waist-high walls, skirmish arenas and branching flank routes are all present and correct – but it’s very much out with the armoured sulk-mongers and assault rifles and in with the Tolkienesque fantasy and arrows.
It’s amazing how radically this simple change of setting overhauls the whole feel of the increasingly stale genre. With fantastical excess replacing world-weary grit, there’s a lightness and charm to Hunted that sets it well apart from its genre siblings, despite the gratuitous carnage on show. Its world feels genuinely fresh on a whole bunch of levels. And speaking of that contrasting character dynamic…
There’s a certain irony to cover shooter heroes. Increasingly ripped, aggressive, planet-crushing death-bastards who spend most of their day hiding behind trees and boxes like bullied kids at lunchtime. Not so in Hunted. In protagonists E'lara and Caddoc you’ve got two radically different character classes who between them are more than capable of taking the fight right up to their enemies’ faces.
Above: Caddoc is hard to start with, but with magic buffs he's devastating
E'lara is all about ranged bow attacks. Caddoc is all about kicking in faces and slicing off important bits of anatomy. On a basic level, Caddoc can run out to engage the hellspawn gits face-to-face with a variety of brutal short-range melee combos, while E'lara covers him with a volley of pointy airborne death, but there looks to be a great deal of tactical depth to be had as the combat gets more complex. And don’t think this asymmetric pairing means that you’ll lose out on half of the gameplay in single-player mode. Smartly, Hunted allows you to switch characters at the touch of a button at every checkpoint you reach.
Fantasy setting + character progression = days spent killing chickens to level up beyond the state of absolute weakling, right? Not here. Hunted features character customisation and weapon upgrades, but you’re certainly not going to have to any lose sleep in order to progress. Hunted’s equivalent of levelling up happens as a result of tracking down and collecting special hidden crystals along your quest. Cash these in and you’ll be able to upgrade your magic abilities via a skill tree, tailoring your offensive, defensive and character augmentation spells as you see fit.
Despite the loose RPG trappings, weapons will accrue in the vein of a more traditional shooter rather than taking the Borderlands route of haemorrhaging loot piles. New death tools for each character will appear every couple of hours in order to make them feel significant, and presumably to compliment the game’s progressive set-pieces.
And speaking of those...
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