Friday the 13th: The Video Game was an unexpected hit when it launched in 2017, with Illfonic's asymmetric survival horror gauntlet captivating millions of players often in spite of, and sometimes because of, its janky, bug-riddled design. The barriers to play, whether it was spending 20 minutes in a queue or falling through the game world itself, were often worth hurdling for those moments of inimitable interaction with a devious Jason or well organised team of camp counselors.
At the moment, I'm not sure I can say the same for Illfonic's follow-up, Predator: Hunting Grounds, whose alternative rhythms of PvP just aren't quite as fun or thrilling as surviving the night against Jason Voorhees. What it does share with Friday the 13th, however, are a litany of bugs and technical issues. But with an asking price close to that of a new AAA release, these problems are much harder to pass a blind eye to, especially compared to that of its scrappier, lower budgeted predecessor.
In better news, Illfonic's clear appreciation for the source material once again lends an authenticity that bleeds into every aspect of the experience, from the distinctly 80's soundtrack to the callbacks to almost every Predator movie in the wardrobe of unlockable cosmetics and weapons. Predator: Hunting Grounds looks genuinely fantastic in parts, too, with a sharp image quality that brings the map's rich array fauna into the foreground.
Unfortunately, the list of Hunting Grounds' technical achievements stops there. Right now, a choppy framerate, patchy enemy AI, and awkward, stilted controls are the least of the game's problems, with a number of glitches that have outright robbed me of the satisfaction of completing a match. Team objectives often fail to appear, for instance, halting progression entirely, and I even had to quit Hunting Grounds' optional tutorial mission – designed to help you get to grips with the Predator's unique play style – as my last remaining target unexplainably vanished from the map itself.
These might be forgivable if Hunting Grounds was endemically fun to play, and while there is certainly some entertainment to be had in playing as both the Predator and/or a member of the four man fire squad on either side of each match, that entertainment value is undercut by balance issues, clunky mechanics, and a sense of wasted potential. Even putting the technical quandaries aside, then, Hunting Grounds' flaws run deeper than those easily solved by few simple patches.
The power fantasy of playing as the titular predator, for example, is undermined by a control system that doesn't do justice to one of cinema's greatest foes. While Jason Voorhees' slow, ungainly movement made sense for a 300 pound psychopath, this extraterrestrial super soldier is meant to be the evolutionary nadir of agility, precision, and subterfuge, but Hunting Grounds uneven parkour controls and weapon handling saw my predator galavanting around the South American jungle like an oversized ape.
And unlike Friday the 13th, which forced counsellors to work together and follow a critical path to kill Jason, this beast is also fairly easy to take down through brute force alone, so long as you have a decent aim and enough ammunition under your belt. As a result, all of the matches I've played have seen the Fireteam either escape unharmed, or defeat the Predator entirely, suggesting that IIlfonic has some work to do in making this monster a more enjoyable, viable chess piece in their latest multiplayer battleground.
That's not to say the humans aren't without their own drawbacks, either. While the use of contextual mission objectives adds a welcome sense of direction to playing as a member of the four-man Fireteam, their cookie cutter mission archetypes (kill these enemies, interact with this waypoint marker etc.) have been ripped straight from the genre's record of worst crimes. The first-person gunplay itself leaves much to be desired, too, and with only a small handful of standard weapons to choose from, the space for experimentation and creativity is severely limited.
The thrill of the hunt
It's a shame, because there's some genuinely great ideas nesting in Predator: Hunting Grounds' core concept of man versus monster. After being killed, for instance, the Predator can activate a self-destruct sequence that could take down an entire squad if they aren't able to escape its radius or disarm the device itself.
On the other end, Fireteam players can use their stalker's green blood as a way to track the creature down, their vital cloaking ability now rendered near obsolete by very own injuries. It's these tug and pull moments, where one unique game mechanic turns the tables on another, that can make for Predator: Hunting Grounds' biggest laughs and loudest screams, but they simply occur too few and far between.
The good news is that Illfonic now has a proven track record when it comes to supporting its games even after a rocky launch, and Predator: Hunting Grounds certainly has enough potential to warrant that kind of commitment. That said, it's still a game that's hard to recommend right now, but rather one I'd encourage keeping an eye on as time progresses. For now, this 80's icon needs the space to lick its wounds, evolve, and come back baring teeth with real bite.
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