There we are, me and two friends. We’ve explored the map using our Dark Sight, found the clues sprouting from the ground and we know where the Assassin’s lair is. The journey there is tentative; grunts shuffle towards us with the familiar zombie trudge, a Hive is spotted in the distance, and one of us aims a rifle to take her out before she spits a torrent of poisonous bugs in our direction.
Another quick look at the map, we’re so close to the final fight – the titular showdown – with the ghostly assassin. As we round a bend in the road, movement from a nearby hut catches our eye and gunfire rings across the plains. Three other hunters have found all the clues and are prepping for the same skirmish as us. It takes a second, and they’re upon us, revolvers draining rounds as we attempt to take cover. A firebomb is thrown, flames spreading across a patch of oil, and in the carnage the other team bests us while losing one of their own. We’re back in the lobby, sat on the edge of our seats, talking about what we could have done differently.
Every single match of Hunt: Showdown is built on tension. Some games go our way; we enter, find the clues, and take out the bounty before extraction. Others end as described; in a riotous fight for control of the area, followed by a merciless death at the hands of other hunters. Showdown has many minor flaws – the UI, built for PC, doesn’t translate well to console, the party system is unstable at times, kicking players randomly from the lobby. But the biggest problem? Hardly anyone is playing it, and that's a damn shame.
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Hunt: Showdown is one of the best co-op experiences in some time, but the game relies on people to populate the servers in its distinct blend of PvPvE, and if those people aren’t there, it makes for a very off-kilter game. Showdown puts people together as mystical bounty hunters during the fallout of the American Civil War. Its online matches can be played solo, in duos, or as part of a trio.
The bounty hunters enter a map, look for three clues which lead to the reveal of the lair of the bounty. Along the way zombies and special enemies get in the way but, more importantly, there are other hunters on the map looking for the same bounty. This is where the game swerves into PvP.
In one of our rounds, myself and a friend found the lair of the bounty. A team were already inside fighting the boss, we could hear gunfire and explosions coming from the basement of the old church. It was decision time – try to kill the team and grab the bounty, or extract from the map safely and bag our XP, which levels up hunters. We opted for the former and crept down the stairs - no guts, no glory.
The opposing team were spread out, I launched a liquid firebomb which took down one player before keeping the noise down from my movement and taking out a second with a well-aimed shotgun blast. This left one more, he was crouched in a corner, probably hearing the curses of his now dead team. He wasn’t expecting six shots from my revolver.
But these moments are few and far between, at least playing on PS4. A couple of nights ago I logged in to play on my own, but it took five minutes and twenty seconds to get into a game. I know because I timed it. It was taking longer and longer to find games. Hunt was opting more and more for East Coast US servers rather than my first choice of EU servers. It seems clear, even without official word from Crytek, that player numbers are low.
A full game requires twelve people, yet each time I ready up for another match, Hunt: Showdown struggles to find even that number of players. The wait is always worth it, though, because Hunt: Showdown is a stellar title, offering huge scope on how you can play. The game has reviewed well – it spent a long time in Early Access on Steam before fully launching to all round acclaim. So, why aren’t people playing?
There could be a few answers to this. Firstly, though Reddit is brimming with lots of lovely people in the community, they could all be playing on PC, which was the initial platform of choice. Secondly, while the gaming press have spoken favourably of the game, platforms themselves are doing little to advertise this new release in what has been a quiet period before the March Madness. This is an atmospheric game full of moments of fear and panic; it would translate wonderfully to an eerie trailer. Thirdly, and probably most crucially, hardly any streamers are playing it.
Survival of the fittest
Such is the way of the games industry currently, the fewer eyes on a game, the fewer players it will have. Looking at Twitch analytics shows that over the past week only 4,770 people have watched the game being streamed, with only 176 channels playing it altogether. Though, again, Twitch leans heavily into the PC gaming markets and they’ve had Hunt: Showdown for two years already, albeit in Early Access. Has the boat already sailed, leaving console players standing on the dock?
I hope not. Hunt: Showdown has entertained my group of friends to no end. We get together online every couple of nights to create moments together. They may not always be successful, we might not always vanquish our bounty and collect the tokens of victory, but every game guarantees laughs and shouts in equal measure, wrought by moments where winning balances on a knife edge.
Crytek is doing its utmost to maintain player retention while welcoming in newer hunters. The 2020 roadmap shows that new bounties are on the way, as well as a new map, a selection of weapons and crossplay between Xbox and PlayStation. This last feature is critical in boosting that player base. No doubt this game will find a small but very driven audience, potentially a cult following, but it would be great to see it find larger success. I want more hunters gunning me down, more fights over clues on the map, more unique encounters. Practically every standout moment for me has revolved around meeting other players within the map. Without those, this game will die an unfair death for the stragglers to pick over the carcass.
See what else is on the way this year with our guide to the best upcoming games of 2020.