Hyenas is risky business for Creative Assembly. Appetite for live service experiences is clearly nearing its saturation point, and it seems as if there's no shortage of video games pivoting towards the extraction shooter model to circumvent the stranglehold Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Warzone 2 have over battle royale. Whether SEGA can succeed where so many others have failed remains to be seen, although there is a promise in Hyenas' zero-G heist action worth interrogating.
Having spent some time battling through the Earth Vintage Plundership, catapulting between raucous firefights with NPC security forces and four rival teams composed of three human players apiece, I'm drawn to its chaos like a moth to a flame. There are shades of some of my favorite first-person shooters here, the best online games of yesteryear like Brink, Payday, Lawbreakers, and Quake 3: Arena. I recognize that's an odd assortment of video games to draw a point of comparison towards, but there's something about Hyenas' collaborative structure, strong gunplay, and free-flowing movement that harkens back to a different era of multiplayer shooters.
Somebody at Creative Assembly deserves a raise for the Vault breach. Each Plundership contains a massive safe, inside a haul of valuable pop culture memorabilia is waiting. Access is granted by strapping SEGA's 16-bit home console to the door and feeding it one of the best Mega Drive games – Sonic the Hedgehog, as integral today as it was in 1991. It's a great flourish, one which speaks to the somewhat audacious framing the Alien: Isolation and Total War developer is shooting for here.
Getting to this stage necessitates navigating the vertical inclines of a Plundership while battling back hordes of NPCs. With three players to a squad, each Specialist is equipped with their own abilities and weaponry, and it's in their collaborative combination where the most engaging theatrics emerge. Pools of glue-like foam can be fired to form makeshift points of cover and platforms at breakneck speeds, combining well with knock-back stasis abilities and deployable turrets which draw suppressive interest from encroaching enemies.
Naturally, the real fun begins once memorabilia is stashed in your satchel. Leaving the Plundership with your haul is the end-game of any match, and it's where Hyenas shines. Multiple teams and waves of NPCs begin to converge in one extraction arena for a climactic showdown. Oftentimes you'll need to navigate impressive zero-gravity spaces to reach the endzone. Jet-boosting between floating points of cover as gunfighting Specialists twirl through the air, propelled by the ballistic force of snappy assault rifles and twin single-round shotguns. It's fast and chaotic, and a remarkable shift to the action on the ground – all slick slides and pinpoint turns.
I will say, as much fun as I had with Hyenas, there are areas that are in desperate need of refinement. The pacing between the three-act structure of rounds is a little lopsided, with the initial focus on acquiring health, armor, and advanced weapons a little sludgy. The user experience too is a challenge to navigate at first glance; Hyenas has a very distinct, love it or leave it visual identity and that can make understanding or locating mission-critical objectives more difficult than it needs to be. Still, it's early days yet, and this can all improve in time.
With Hunt: Showdown continuing to quietly impress, the launch of Payday 3 imminent, and Bungie's Marathon on a distant horizon, there's no question that Hyenas will be battling for territory in difficult terrain; the hastily collapse of Blizzard's Overwatch 2 is sure to give Creative Assembly pause too. A closed PC beta test is set to run between August 31 through September 11, which will give this upcoming extraction shooter some much-needed exposure, but whether it'll be enough to cut through the noise right now remains to be seen.
Creative Assembly is, however, prepared to play the long-game. "SEGA has been super supportive. They're all-in," says Alex Hunnisett, product director of Hyenas. "The truth is, you can never really predict the future, but we certainly have long ambitions and plans for this franchise. SEGA has bought into those plans, and they are super keen for us to go on that journey [...] whether it's a stratospheric launch or something that builds up over time, either way we're focused on building this new franchise. Every game takes a different path, and I'm just excited to see what Hyenas' will be."
Hyenas is set to release for PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One later this year, although SEGA is yet to confirm whether or not it will be free-to-play.