Tuesday, 08 May 2018 09:00

Hunt Showdown Early Access Review

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Hunt: Showdown has got to be one of the most fun games to think about that I’ve come across in a long time. The concept is just gold: Players are dropped into a swampy locale based in the old American West where they gather clues in a race to find and kill the bounty. The bounty is going to be one of a few monsters, each with different combat mechanics and behaviors. Once the monster has been killed and players have completed a banishing period that announces their location to everyone on the map, they’ll collect the bounty and dash to one of the extraction points, where enemy bounty hunters are sure to be waiting for you.

Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds like the kind of game that I’d come up with when hanging out with my nerdy friends, except CryTek is making it happen. But does it deliver on the ambitious promises that a PvE/PvP hybrid makes? While Hunt: Showdown is not without its Early Access annoyances, this is an addictive experience that is going to just feel a little different than anything else you’ve played lately.

So much more than another BR game

Some interesting design choices were made in Hunt: Showdown that make it a worthwhile twist on the oh-so-trendy battle royale genre. These design choices aren’t just limited to the action, where players must choose carefully when to take their time and when to make a bold move, but also in the progression system that gets players invested in a hunt more than they typically do in an average round of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.

The first major content patch released May 4th. In addition to the new weapons, hunter traits, and the various cosmetic options, CryTek also included a sizable rework of the game’s map layouts. It was a common complaint amongst players that the map design encouraged players to simply wait outside of the boss areas, letting someone else to do all the dirty work, and then, as the other team tried to escape with the bounty, camp the exits and loot their bodies for the reward. It made endgame strategies repetitive and discouraged players from taking risks. With the redesigns now in place, it’s more difficult for players to simply camp the escape routes.

The patch also encourages players to get more involved with boss fights by giving considerable experience bonuses for collecting clues, banishing monsters, and extracting with the bounty, including a big bonus for achieving all three. This isn’t to say that the game is perfectly balanced, but this patch definitely made it seem like they were listening to what players were most annoyed by.

From a mechanics standpoint, I love the run-for-your-life-with-the-bounty phase of the game. It’s one of many features that make Hunt: Showdown stand out from most other battle royale options. It’s not so simply about being the last man standing — it’s about getting the goods and then getting out of there. This makes the journey to endgame conflicts a much more dynamic one. There are little goals to accomplish all throughout the course of a round, which is more satisfying than simply pacing your movement with an ever-closing circle that kills you.

There’s a learning curve that felt a bit overwhelming, but I slowly learned the details that make all the difference when you’re trying to outplay other hunters toward the end of a match. Where Fortnite excels for it’s flashy, wild gameplay, Hunt: Showdown is at its best in the quiet moments; the moments you’re crouched next to a wall with an unknowing, heavy-footed hunter on the other side. With so much of the game’s design depending on being aware of your surroundings, sound design is all the more important. For the most part, the sound design is solid, but I’ve got a feeling that this will be a real strength for the game going forward.

BR progression done right

Hunt: Showdown has one of the most interesting progression systems within the battle royale genre. Before entering a hunt, you must recruit a hunter. That hunter’s loadout is decided by what he brings with him and what you can afford to equip him with at the store. Money to spend in that store is earned through your accomplishments in hunts.

These hunters are vulnerable to permadeath. You can spend all kinds of money to load up your best hunter and they can be gone at the click of an enemy’s mouse. This makes progression interesting and in-game conflicts more intense. Other titles in the genre want you to shoot at stuff until you win or die, so you load up another round, but Hunt: Showdown wants you to plan, spend wisely, and learn how to utilize your loadout. Losing a high-level hunter is devastating, but that’s the kind of pain that adds weight to your decisions.

A pacing adjustment

Of all the battle royale games I’ve played, Hunt: Showdown has got to be one of the slowest in its pace. Running through the map, guns blazing, taking down every enemy you see with a few loud pops from your firearm is a sure way to draw the attention of other hunters. After a few matches I noticed that it often made more sense to crouch in enemy-infested areas and take down a strategic few of them on my way to and from the clue. Setting off a pack of crows is like putting a spotlight on your position.

Gun fights are fun, but do have a little ways to go, as the guns don’t feel properly weighted and precise. I hope there will be reworkings of shotgun spreads in the near future, as well as some bigger changes to the way a player sees their own movement. The animations just look clunky, even if the movement generally feels smooth.

Some technical shortcomings

Without a doubt, the most consistent frustration I encountered in my time with Hunt: Showdown was with optimization or the long queue times and load screens. After finishing up a match and tinkering with your hunter roster and their loadouts, you’ll have another five to eight minutes of sitting and waiting before you’re able to get into another match. That’s a huge turnoff. It’s not for lack of players, as there seems to be north of one thousand players online at all times. But that matchmaking wheel just keeps on spinning and spinning…

Once you get into a match and start moving around the map, you’ll likely be quick to notice that your frames are less than steady. Getting near a point of interest, where several buildings, monsters, and players are being rendered, my GTX 1080 was barely holding at 30 fps. Combine the performance issues with the fact that some player animations look a bit stiff or unnatural and an otherwise immersive experience can be broken rather quickly.

Server instability is a near-constant annoyance. Not only have I lost connection while shopping, which makes all on-screen options unresponsive, but I’ve also lost all progress on no less than three hunts due to a connection error after completing a round. Those are the kinds of errors that make you want to load up something else, even if the game’s core is nothing short of outstanding.

Of course, these are the kinds of bugs and inconveniences that are supposed to be ironed out throughout the Early Access process. Only time will tell if the team at CryTek fixes these issues.

Is Hunt: Showdown worth playing right now?

To me, the short answer to this question is a confident “yes.” There are certainly some technical flaws that will understandably push some people away from the game. But the players that stick with it, the ones that have the itch for a few odd layers of nuance in their battle royale games, will be hooked hard by Hunt: Showdown.


The Verdict: Great

This is exactly the kind of twist on the battle royale genre that I’ve been looking for. I love the Old West setting and that the PvE elements are meshed perfectly with the mechanics and overall aesthetic. I have no delusions that everyone is going to love this game in the same way that an approachable game like Fortnite is. The slow, deliberate pace isn’t for everyone, and the trademark Early Access issues will limit the audience for a bit. But, given a few smart decisions down the road by the development team at CryTek, and Hunt: Showdown could become one of the better games to come out of this battle royale craze.

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Adam Wheeler

Adam Wheeler loves his computer, his cat, and his work-from-home lifestyle. When he feels the motivation to put on pants, he tells jokes on stage. With no real distractions in his life (friends, relationships, a reason to go outdoors, etc.), he is able to provide in-depth analysis of games and the culture that surrounds them. Adam almost never has anything better to do.