Hunted: The Demon's Forge is bringing back dungeon crawlers

The developers at inXile know that Hunted: The Demon’s Forge has been called “fantasy Gears of War,” or, more cleverly, “Spears of Gore,” but they embrace it… kind of. It’s “back to the basics” for Lead Designer Brian Fargo, industry veteran and founder of Interplay (the publisher of Fallout back in the day), who says he’s “recapturing the dungeon crawl experience.” That experience includes fulfilling, Gears-style combat, but according to Fargo, the comparison ends there, because Hunted is also about losing yourself in a twisted maze of riddles, secrets, and traps. It’s “Spears of Gore” with a splash of The Bard’s Tale (Fargo’s 1985 dungeon crawler), and maybe a little Resident Evil 5, a comparison based mostly on the game’s heavy co-op slant.

Above: Hunted’s protagonists, and something very large and dead

Hunted heavily favors the two-player experience. Its characters, E’lara, a light-footed bow-wielding heroine, and Caddoc, a deep-voiced melee tank, spit commands, requests, and banter to each other as they solve puzzles and defeat hordes of undead. The teamwork looks to function very fluidly on-the-fly and, as was repeated many times during the demo, “at a distance.” Caddoc casts a fire spell on E’lara to charge her arrows with cinders, and she incinerates a uniquely-powerful skeleton who’s manning an automatic rock-launching death machine (or a “ballista,” whatever). E’lara then zips ice arrows past Caddoc, freezing a horde of skeletal warriors so he can crack them into icy splinters with his axe.

Above: E’lara arms the ballista to help Caddoc fight off waves of skeletal warriors

Hunted can be played alone, in which case an AI companion will wait for player cues (such as looking directly at a key object) to offer assistance, but it’s really meant for two, and every attempt has been made to ease players into co-op. You can bring your character to someone else’s game, or play with theirs, and either way you’ll be rewarded with Crystals (skill points), and, either way, your character’s progression will remain under your control. Plus, at each check point, you and your partner the option to switch characters, in case you’re tired of E’lara’s arrows or Caddoc’s swords.

Above: ZARP! Caddoc charges E’lara with lightening death power

The setting is of the well-recognized fantasy/dungeon fare, but as mentioned, it’s “back to the basics.” There’s no fluff, just twisting passageways full of monsters, riddles, secrets, and new weapons to discover. The puzzles aren’t anything out of the ordinary – find a switch, shoot objects in a certain order… that kind of thing. What makes Hunted extra-special is its environments (what’s a Dungeon Crawler without great dungeons?), and especially their lighting and effects. When a candle-lit cavern became momentarily over-saturated by a magic lightning explosion, the effect was stunning. Also notable were the heart-stopping “whoosh” sounds of arrows whipping past the character’s heads and embedding in walls.

Above: Pretty! And note that E’lara doesn’t always use her bow – likewise, Caddoc can be a ranged asset with his crossbow, though each is weaker with their secondary weapons

The cover-based combat is fast and often, but is offset by teamwork and story-driven puzzles, which are hinted at by corpses which communicate by way of your “Death Stone.” The concentration on exploration makes it something-not-Gears-of-War, though we won’t know exactly what until we’re able to play it – our inclination may be to run through the game like it’s a straight-up action shooter, or perhaps the exploration will be a super-fulfilling balance to the combat.

Above: Our demo ended with a surprise…

We still know little about who E’lara and Caddoc are, or what their quest entails… just that they’re mercenaries and opportunists, and that the locals aren’t too happy about all the undead beasties. Their banter was amusing enough to make us curious to know more. We were impressed by the environments we saw (particularly by a deserted battlefield littered with decaying corpses), and also caught a glimpse of a very large, very angry beasty who busted through the dungeon wall like the Kool-Aid Man at the end of the demo. We want to see more, because whatever the game is, be it Spears of Gore or otherwise, it has promise.

May 4, 2010

Associate Editor, Digital at PC Gamer