Hyenas marks Creative Assembly's first non-strategy-focused venture since Alien: Isolation in 2014. Much has changed in the landscape of gun-toting video games since then, not least the runaway success of the battle royale genre, but Hyenas is its own thing. It is not a battle royale game, says the developer, but it does share some of the genre's fast-paced, multiplayer FPS trappings, wrapped up in one big blood-splattering, wall-shattering PvEvP bow.
It's also the antithesis of Alien: Isolation. For large parts of Ripley's misadventure aboard the Sevastopol, we found ourselves camped and cowering in tight spaces, holding our breath and praying the Xenomorph wasn't alerted to our presence. Every decision counted, and every move that could be planned was done so with meticulous care. Hyenas, on the other hand, is fast, frantic, chaotic, and doesn't appear to take itself too seriously. "The sci-fi setting aside, this really couldn't be more different from Alien: Isolation, right?" says Alex Hunnisett, product director on Hyenas. "Actually, I think this is a departure from anything Creative Assembly has ever done, which is, you know, challenging, but incredibly exciting for us."
You can watch our video interview with Hunnisett above
With its flashes of zero gravity, space station setting and expanding foam-firing guns, there are whiffs of Prey about Hyenas. Its cast of smack-talking characters and knee-sliding maneuvering project strong Apex Legends vibes; while its loot, shoot and plunder mechanics – wherein 15 players are split into five teams of three, each tasked with pilfering the biggest haul of treasure during time-limited matches – aligns with the likes of Hunt: The Showdown. Diving in head-first and all-guns-blazing is a viable battle plan, but manipulating each level's defense structures to your advantage extends a degree of freedom to the strategists among us.
Creative Assembly is, of course, expert in this field against its long-serving work on the Total War series and Halo Wars 2, but it's Hyenas' minute-to-minute flashes of strategy that really grabbed my attention during my hands-off demo at Gamescom 2022. This is best illustrated by its foam grenades – explosives that produce a burst of expanding foam that can be used in attack and defense. Hunnisett adds: "Foam grenades really are great. They're versatile, which means they can act as a wall when you're effectively looking to set up shop and defend yourself from enemies. You can also use them to attack enemies directly. And, perhaps most interestingly, you can also use them for traversal. If your character also has a foam gun, you can use that to create platforms to reach otherwise inaccessible areas of the map. Foam is a great tool not just for shooting, but also for defending and getting away from the heat of the action"
Of the three characters I'm shown shooting and sliding around the battleground – and the three characters we've already seen so far – drag queen Galaxia looks particularly charismatic, slaying enemies at will with a style unique to her persona. In practice, this may see her shooting fire, exercising her hair trigger with an automatic shotgun, or throwing up a near-impenetrable shield as each gun-blazing situation dictates.
For Hunnisett, Galaxia is not only an easily likeable character, but one of his favourites in the field. "She's my favourite person," he explains. "Galaxia is an awesome, very tanky character in terms of the gameplay, she's all about pointing and drawing fire, and then she's got a heck of a shield. She's got a semi-automatic shotgun that again can deal a fair amount of damage. In terms of voice and character, she's my favourite by far. We've got a lot of soul in our game in terms of the quips and how players interact. And she's definitely the most fun to play when you're running around, just hearing her one liners when she downs enemies is brilliant. Honestly, Galaxia is great."
Hunnisett says he can't share too much just yet regarding what went into the research of Galaxia, but describes the process as a lot of fun. He adds: "What I will say is that we've definitely had a lot of fun working with a lot of folks to figure out what feels right for a drag queen character in a sci-fi shooter. It's been great fun – I can't talk too much about what's been happening behind the scenes right now, but I'm sure you'll hear more in the not too distant future."
Into the future
In Hunnisett's words, Hyenas is a distinct departure from anything Creative Assembly has worked on before, and while we'll undoubtedly see more in the coming weeks and months – both in gameplay and narrative terms – how it positions itself against other live service games is especially intriguing. With a slew of customization options, across the likes of weapons, appearance, and cosmetic items, Hyenas looks pretty similar to any of the best looter-shooters on the market right now, but the developer is confident in its scope to offer new ideas and stand itself apart from the competition.
Hyenas' vague 2023 launch date means Creative Assembly has plenty of time to realize its vision – but, with the desired longevity of live-service games in mind, I finish by asking Hunnisett where he sees Hyenas in a year's time, or in two years' time and beyond. "It's a great question," he says. "And I think right now, we're really focused on figuring that out. We've just gone into alpha, and at the moment, this is the first time we've had hands-on experience from a real-life audience, who can tell us what they're thinking."
Watch the Hyenas reveal trailer above.
"Again, I think that's really helping us shape what the future looks like, and that's what's in the front of our minds right now. It's a long, long journey for us, and we're really focused on player-informed development. This is really the first time that Creative Assembly has done this, so it's a bit new for us in that regard. It's exciting, but it also means it's a little hard to predict the future. It's more around making a game that players really enjoy, and that's really where we're focused on at the moment."
Hyenas is set to launch on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC in 2023.