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Predator: Hunting Grounds developer Illfonic on the rewards and challenges of working with a beloved cinematic property

(Image credit: Illfonic)

When you think about it, all video games are premised on the sport of the hunt. You're not necessarily hunting people, of course, but there's always something to track down, target, or conquer, be it a rare bug in Animal Crossing: New Horizons or the next box to tick on Untitled Goose Game's to-do list. If Predators had video games to satiate their rapacious instincts, then, maybe all of that needless bloodshed with Arnold Schwarzenegger could have been avoided. 

At the very least, Predator: Hunting Grounds gives us mere mortals the chance to live out the power fantasy as one of cinema's nastiest monsters, with Illfonic's asymmetric multiplayer game pitting one Predator against a group of player-controlled soldiers. It's a natural evolution for Illfonic, the developers of 2017's Friday the 13th: The Game, but the studio's CEO Charles Brungardt tells GamesRadar+ that Hunting Grounds was born out of a genuine love for the Predator above all else. 

"We were sitting down during E3 and figuring out what title we wanted to work on next," explains Brungardt. "We were all tossing around ideas, and [Lead Designer Jordan Mathewson] threw out Predator. Almost instantly we were all in agreement and knew exactly what we wanted to make. From there, we created a pitch document and reached out to both Fox and Sony. And as they say, the rest is history."

Multiplayer evolved

(Image credit: Illfonic)

That said, the idea to use the IP as the basis for another asymmetric multiplayer game followed pretty quickly. The Predator is, unquestionably, even more powerful than one-man killing machine Jason Voorhees, after all. Hailing from an extraterrestrial breed of arthropodic super soldiers inculcated by a primordial desire to hunt other lifeforms, each of the movies usually involve just a single member of the species making mincemeat out of an entire squad of US grunts.

Likewise, Hunting Grounds tasks a fireteam of 4 "elite paramilitary soldiers" with completing a series of objectives and eventually exfiltrating out of South America, all while being stalked by one lucky player responsible for wiping the entire team out before they can, to quote a former Californian state official, "get to da choppa."

Maintaining a competitive balance, of course, is one of the most important goalposts for any asymmetric multiplayer experience, Brungardt assures me that Illfonic is once again being careful as it walks the fine line between providing the power fantasy of playing as The Predator, while making sure they're not sweeping the floor against their human prey each and every time. 

(Image credit: Illfonic)

"We playtest, even this close to launch, daily," he tells me. "This allows us to always be checking in on balance and adjust as needed. In addition, taking the game on the road early in development and watching the community play at events helped with balance as well. When we realized that the Predator to Fireteam win ratio was pretty consistently 50/50, we felt really good about where the balance was." 

While Hunting Grounds deliberately avoids expanding the universe of the ongoing Predator saga, placing its scuffles in "remote areas" of the South American jungle, Brungardt points to the 1987' original movie as Illfonic's biggest source of inspiration for defining the style and tone of its title. 

Describing Hunting Grounds as the studio's "love song" to director John McTiernan's genre-defining classic, he recalls childhood memories where "we would go outside with our friends and reenact scenes from the movie. It would linger in our minds when walking through the wooded parts of our parks alone, genuinely spooking us. We really wanted to capture that in Hunting Grounds."

(Image credit: Illfonic)

"When we realized that the Predator to Fireteam win ratio was pretty consistently 50/50, we felt really good about where the balance was."

Charles Brungardt, Illfonic

"I think we have pulled lessons from every game we have worked on," continues Brungardt. "We try to do everything smarter, not harder. I think we are at a point in IllFonic's existence and growth where that motto is more true than ever before."

That design philosophy has clearly impressed Sony, which has partnered with Ilfonic to publish the game as a console exclusive for PS4, alongside its simultaneous release on PC. The game even made its debut on last year's State of Play livestream, and Brundgardt tells me the response to the game so far has been "beyond awesome."

Right now, the team is getting ready for Predator: Hunting Grounds' upcoming Trial Weekend later this month, before its full release on April 24. Given the notoriously rocky launch of Friday the 13th: The Game, here's hoping that Illfonic is taking extra care for a smoother landing this time around. 

For more, check out the biggest new games of 2020 and beyond still on the way, or watch below for our latest episode of Dialogue Options.

I'm GamesRadar's Features Writer, which makes me responsible for gracing the internet with as many of my words as possible, including reviews, previews, interviews, and more. Lucky internet!