As time goes on, fads die out, games find a new concept to latch onto, and the MOBAs/survival sims/hero shooters/what-have-you of yesteryear are shut down or forgotten. But Canadian studio Behaviour Interactive is carving out a niche for itself by focusing on a type of game generally regarded as an interesting (but largely unsuccessful) experiment: the asymmetrical multiplayer game. Their newly-announced project for PC and consoles, Deathgarden, proves there's still potential.
Run for your life
You might recognize Behaviour as the developer behind Dead by Daylight, one of the more popular asymmetrical games currently on the market. In that game, you play as either a single, savage Killer or one of four Survivors. It's basically Slasher Movie: The Game, and even stars some of cinema's most infamous murderers, including Freddy Krueger (Nightmare on Elm St), Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Michael Myers (Halloween), and Amanda Young (Saw).
Hell, the only reason it doesn't also star hockey mask-wearing Jason is because he's off in his own 4v1 game, Friday the 13th: The Game.
Deathgarden will feel familiar to anyone who's played either of the above. As in Dead by Daylight, there is one player in control of an overpowered juggernaut of death that cannot be killed, while the remaining five (not a typo, Dead by Daylight was 4v1, Deathgarden is 5v1) are far more fragile and must rely on wits and teamwork to survive. Also as in Dead by Daylight, the one plays in first-person view, while the five play in third-person.
But where Dead by Daylight can be slow and creeping (to help sell the fantasy of living through a horror film), Deathgarden is fast-paced and frenetic. Both Hunters and Runners are far faster than anything in Dead by Daylight, and Runners in particular are adept at mantling, hurdling, tumbling, and just being squirrely little bastards in general.
Objectives play to each group's strengths and challenge them on their weaknesses; Runners must secure two capture points and then exit the map, while the Hunter needs to execute three of said Runners. Runners must stand within a small designated area to capture (thus losing their advantage in mobility) while Hunters must trek across great distances without the speed or agility possessed by their targets (thus losing their advantage in lethality).
At the game's booth during PAX East 2018, I could hear comparisons to The Hunger Games being tossed around, and yeah, I can see that - the arenas are procedurally-generated stretches of wilderness and there's a real sense of vulnerability when you're playing as a Runner - but I personally think it hems a little closer to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man. Just, you know, without the one-liners or garish costumes. (Which is too bad, because right now the game is a bit too grimdark serious-faced in my opinion.)
Evolve or die
Part of what makes Deathgarden work, Behaviour representatives insisted, was that the underlying foundation and planned updates are system-based. That means that rather than focusing on making a new Hunter or Survivor down the line and molding gameplay to fit the vision of said character, Behaviour will be giving Hunters and Survivors new tools and abilities to mix, match, and play with.
For example, right now a Hunter can choose one of two special abilities: they can either give themselves a boost to speed and jump height or deploy an automatic turret that will guard an area. At the same time, a Hunter can pick passive buffs such as increased magazine capacity or faster reload speed. There's nothing locking you into one set or the other though, so it's not like picking a specific Killer in Dead by Daylight and immediately needing to adjust your playstyle to fit their abilities. In Deathgarden, it's the other way around - your abilities adjust to you.
It's also damn satisfying once you find a combo that works for you. Since right now Deathgarden is all about capturing and controlling objectives, I figured a more defensive strategy would be the way to go. I opted for the turret ability. But those pesky Runners managed to divert my attention and avoid my defenses. So round 2, I went the opposite direction, focusing purely on catching Runners and moving around the map as quickly and efficiently as possible, even if that meant I would need to stop hunting for a moment or two as I scavenged for ammo.
This second loadout? Yeah, it worked for me. I can't remember the last time I had such a schaudenfreude-fueled fun time. I was unstoppable as I galloped from end to end of the arena, wasting any Runner who would dare try to capture an objective. I may have actually began cackling maniacally at one point.
Runners aren't left out though. Just like Hunters, they have abilities and buffs that players can choose before each round. But where a Hunter suite is focused on effectively taking out your targets, Runners are all about survival. One buff might help reduce damage taken while dodge-rolling, or increase the rate at which a Runner regains stamina. Meanwhile, a crossbow mounted to your wrist can be used to slow down or reveal a Hunter (though never to actually kill one).
It's interesting to see a balance of concepts and gameplay styles rather than raw numbers, but more importantly, this approach leads to more dynamic encounters. You can never quite be sure how any situation will play out because there's no way to know for sure what tools your enemy has at their disposal until they use them. It's fun to go into a challenge with no knowledge of what's waiting for you and have to adjust your strategy quickly, on the fly.
Now, I only played two matches, once from the perspective of a Runner and once as a Hunter *cough* and won both times *cough cough* but I'm impressed and pleased with the core concept. Asymmetrical games didn't fall out of favor because they were uninteresting and nobody wanted to play them, they fell out of favor because one of the biggest, Evolve, was embroiled in microtransaction controversy and, frankly, balancing these things seems really, really hard.
Dead by Daylight isn't a shining beacon of perfection, but it looks like Behaviour is applying the lessons learned from its horror-tinged cult favorite and making a fresh, exciting experience worth keeping an eye on.
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