“What is it? Some sort of computer game?”
“In a sense, except it uses the most powerful processor known to man – the human mind.” (The IT Crowd Season 4, episode 1)
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge can be summed up easily by its genre: cooperative 3rd-person action RPG. But, unlike the above quote, the imagination and inspiration behind TDF does not propel it to new heights or flights of fancy, and instead TDF quickly becomes buried underneath a mound of missteps that keep it from being a truly great game.
A lengthy pre-rendered opening cinematic kicks off the show, highlighting what seems to be large-scale battles and a kingdom under siege, without offering much in the way of explanation. After a few minutes it ends and the tutorial begins; dumping you first in the body of Caddoc; a sword-swinging, crossbow-wielding human warrior. You wander down a dark corridor, see a monster – and view an in-game cutscene of Caddoc waking up. Then with no rhyme or reason you’re dumped into the second of TDF’s playable characters, the bow-wielding elf E’lara, and it’s suddenly daytime in the middle of a forest. It feels horrendously jarring and nonsensical, as the game proceeds to awkwardly explain some – but not all – of the controls. While it’s nothing that a brief look at the keyboard bindings won’t fix, we’d argue that if you’re going to include a tutorial you might as well make it helpful!
A wizard did it
The world’s most linear and bland ‘prologue’ level is next, and we have as much fun as your average garden snake would if it attempted to swallow a whole pool noodle; though there’s some interesting scenery to look at, there’s very little in the way of compelling gameplay to propel you onwards. It’s not until the end of this lengthy and forgettable prologue that we meet Seraphine, a bodyless soul encapsulated inside a magical skull called the ‘Deathstone’. She’s voiced by Lucy Lawless of Xena fame, and opens up the most interesting weapons in the game.
Both Caddoc and E’lara have three physical and three magical attack spells to cast that must be purchased through Seraphine. These are tiered, with further improvements in power and range coming at the cost of crystals left behind by felled enemies.. They’re tremendously powerful against large groups, but are balanced out by a lack of mana.
Although we’d prefer to play with a friend (see “It has co-op!”), we left the AI to take control of our counterpart. For the most part the AI is competent, rarely straying nor running far ahead and casting the occasional spell, though it did manage to get stuck against a wall every half an hour or so. The AI has quite a few annoying quirks when controlling Caddoc, like blocking targets or running ahead to make a beeline for weapon upgrade crates.
Doors, doors, doors, ‘til midnight only!
The game becomes infinitely more enjoyable once past the terrible prologue, with typically widely open areas connected by co-op checkpoints. Checkpoints consist of thin corridors, heavy doors or narrow beams, and can only be traversed if both characters are present. While we understand the need for ensuring that partners stick together (and providing a guaranteed pause for the Unreal 3 engine to load the next section’s data for consoles), the checkpoints are incredibly frequent – and made worse by dialogue that plays at every one. If you’re not already sick of the phrases “There sure are a lot of doors” and “I wonder how anyone gets around alone”, you will be after a few hours.
We gave Caddoc the ol’ college try, whose playstyle is vaguely reminiscent of 3rd-person Oblivion combat, involving holding up a shield and waiting for the enemy to finish attacking before we get our turn to hit them a few times until they fall over and disappear 30 seconds later.
We settled in more comfortably to E’lara’s playstyle, which predominantly involves a Gears of War-style cover mechanic and has a high focus on stop-and-pop shooting – unheard of in a fantasy game so far. It works surprisingly well, though aim assist is enabled by default and makes headshots harder than they should be, and left-clicking immediately fires the bow rather than enabling a more accurate drawing of the bowstring.
Again, from different angles
TDF had a rocky start, interspersed with interesting moments and mechanics, but is ultimately let down by a lack of variety and a missing sense of fantasy. For those interested in cooperative play it may be worthwhile, lasting some 12-odd hours, but it’s definitely one to avoid at full price.
It has co-op!
It just doesn’t work on PC.
Though TDF is thankfully not weighed down by any GFWL nonsense, we could not get co-operative working at all – an issue that others on the PC platform have faced. We attempted to create a manual Windows firewall exception and connect via Hamachi, and neither solution worked. While a patch may eventually be released for PC it’s yet another sign that developers aren’t paying enough attention to their so-called finished products.