I’ve been following Hunt: Showdown since it was first unveiled, but the odd title didn’t make complete sense until I’d played a few rounds of the closed alpha. The ‘Hunt’ bit can prove to be twofold. At a base level, you’re ultimately hunting an environmental boss, sniffing out three clues to find the boss location, then heading in for a tough shriek-filled fight. At a higher level, you might be hunting or being hunted by other players.
If you’re lucky, you might stumble on the boss before finding the three clues that pinpoints its location. Or maybe your map knowledge lets you glean locational clues from the hint-offering portal. Alternatively, you might just get lucky and stumble on the boss at one of what appears to be 16 fixed locations on the map. In the context of the alpha, this refers to one map, albeit with the choice of two bosses and two times of day.
Playing at night adds to the freakiness but isn’t the best way to learn the intricacies of the spacious map. You’ll be one of five teams: a two-person posse comprised of you and a friend or you and a random; or you can try your luck as a one-shooter fireteam. Despite being outnumbered from the outset in solo play, given the space between starting spawn locations, it’s possible to be a contender, especially as the other two-stacks start to thin out.
Back to my initial point, the ‘Showdown’ part of the title comes into play once the boss location has been discovered. Here you have tactical options. You can kill the boss, then banish it. But the banishing process takes time and immediately alerts the other players to the exact location of the boss, even if they don’t have the requisite three clues. Alternatively, you can linger near or around the boss and wait for other teams to arrive, ambushing them. This can be done before or after they’ve killed the boss, with the latter option helping to preserve precious ammunition. There are fixed ammo and health points, plus exploring can reward with the same as well as handy melee items, but Hunt isn’t the kind of game where you can lay down suppressing fire for a sustained period of time. You feel the need to make every shot count for something.
Once the beastie is finally banished, the fight is far from over, assuming there are other teams left standing. Cleverly, Crytek never tells you when you’re the only duo/player standing, which keeps tension high in the endgame. As soon as you collect tokens from the banished boss, other players can also use Dark Sight to track your movements. (Dark Sight is also used to spot the next clue and more easily identify the boss location.) This means other players can ambush you, either en route to your intended escape, or at the extraction zone. It keeps everyone in the game right until the end, particularly in matches when a team stumbles on the boss earlier than they should.
There are some key survival elements in Hunt: Showdown that keep engagements tense, even when they’re against environmental threats, which are everywhere and camp obvious paths and entry points. Gunshots travel quite a distance, so you’re better of avoiding or meleeing environmental enemies, but some of the bigger foes soak up the punishment. It doesn’t take many hits to drop you, and you can be poisoned, set on fire, or left bleeding by certain attacks. These three things continue to affect or damage you until you take the time to let their effects wear off, or until you tend to them.
Health packs are scattered around the map, or you can buy them before the round and put them to good use when playing. But here’s the real kicker. Hunt: Showdown has permadeath on your hunters. It doesn’t matter so much early on when you’re finding the ropes. You’ll soon learn that it’s easy to game the currency and XP system by hunting clues, finding the boss lair, and tackling the odd environmental threat. This will net you enough XP and cash to offset the likely death of your Tier 1 hunter while you’re learning the ropes.
But once you start surviving missions, you’ll start to feel attached to your hunters. They earn specific experience and also overall XP, but upgrade points can only be used on individual hunters, which is a smart move by Crytek. It stops players from hoarding unlock points on disposable low-tier characters and also makes it hurt more when you lose the ones that have survived missions.
If you run out of money, you can use Tier 0 characters that don’t cost any in-game cash. That said, you start out with $666, and I’ve got mine to over $1,000 by playing the objective. The biggest challenge is the closed alpha is currently only playable on US or EU servers, meaning latency becomes a noticeable factor when hunting hellish beasties from the land Down Under. Given it’s in closed alpha, there’s also a fair share of jankiness. Playing with friends is a dice roll for whether it’ll work or whether it’ll crash your game.
When you do get into a game, the latency means you have to lead your targets to account for the latency value that you can’t see. While this is relatively straightforward against the predictable movements of environmental threats, it presents challenges against human players. Head-to-head fights against humans, for instance, tend to descend into AD-AD dances. Given the lack of transparency about latency, it’s tricky to know where to aim to land hits in these moments, even if hit-markers do make it clear when a shot has damaged your target.
Depending on the weapon, range, and your accuracy, time to kill is quite low. You can survive most blows if you’re on full health, but an axe or sledgehammer to the head (these are found on the map) will instantly incapacitate you. Like PUBG, your teammates can be revived, so long as the downed player has at least one health bar left (you start with three). Getting downed permanently removes one of these health bars, though, so fights become even more intense, and reviving isn’t possible once no health bars remain.
If you want to scream even more than you will when the sun is out, play the night scenarios. There’s currently no in-game control over many graphical settings, including brightness, which means that night-time actually looks like night. It also means that shadows are scarier because there could be a human or environmental threat lurking in them. I played a night game where I snuck up on a duo fighting a mob and downed one of them with a hammer to the back of the head. I hunted the other guy, but because of laggy jankiness, ended up dead.
There are other issues like sticky corners and I once played a round where I got stuck so had to leave the server. Dying or quitting means you lose your hunter and all of their pre-purchased equipment, so this is the kind of bug that will have to be ironed out before release to ensure that people aren’t forced to sacrifice characters they’ve levelled-up.
Outside of (admittedly expected) alpha concerns like work-in-progress optimisation, Hunt: Showdown shows plenty of potential. I do have concerns over how camping and ambushing already seem to be more viable tactics than killing the boss, but I’m hoping that Crytek will tweak the system to reward players who try to play the core hunt objective. This way, with the chance to earn more money and XP for attacking and killing the boss, people will be less inclined to wait for others to do the hard work. That said, down the track when higher-level hunters are at stake, I’m hoping Crytek has ideas for how to ensure veterans are playing the core objective, too, and not just farming with their characters.
But, honestly, these concerns pale in comparison to the sheer amount of fun I’m having with Hunt: Showdown. I haven’t legitimately shrieked like this since playing Alien: Isolation, while the tension is always high and peaks when you’re battling a boss, fighting other players, or doing both at the same time. This is definitely one to watch in 2018, and I’m keen to play more as development progresses.