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Game Over Online ~ Hunted: The Demon`s Forge

GameOver Game Reviews - Hunted: The Demon`s Forge (c) Bethesda Softworks, Reviewed by - Thomas Wilde

Game & Publisher Hunted: The Demon`s Forge (c) Bethesda Softworks
System Requirements Xbox 360
Overall Rating 80%
Date Published Friday, June 10th, 2011 at 11:39 PM

Divider Left By: Thomas Wilde Divider Right

I'd like to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Hunted: The Demon's Forge as an entertainment product in a mature, forthright, and responsible way, helping you, the reader, decide whether or not to check out this product for yourselves in a calm, sober, and rational fashion.

There are two things keeping me from doing so and they're both sticking out of the heroine's chest.

What the surprisingly-ubiquitous ad campaign hints at but does not outright tell you is that Hunted is, in large part, co-starring E'lara's sweater kittens. They're barely constrained by the leather strap ensemble she's wearing, which is less a "tunic" or "shirt" and more some kind of randomly-assembled collection of thongs, and wobble like a Weeble every time you, while playing as her, turn too quickly. Another member of the main cast, Seraphine, looks like a table dancer at a biker bar, and every scene she's in seems carefully directed to maximize the player's exposure to her cleavage.

It is taking a great deal of willpower not to turn the rest of this review into a long series of increasingly-strained boob jokes.

Hunted, whatever else you may get out of it, is like an itemized list of why this kind of character design makes no sense whatsoever. The protagonists, Caddoc and E'lara, are a pair of hard-bitten adventurers and mercenaries in a dark fantasy world. It's the kind of place where it's always overcast, everything is brown or gray, the villages all reek of human misery even in areas that aren't under constant attack, you don't see any real stonework unless it's an ancient ruin, and you can't so much as walk down the street without having to kill your weight in some kind of malevolent subhuman.

Even Caddoc - the big burly human guy, a character type who can usually be relied upon to be covered from the neck down, lest he inspire impure thoughts - thought it would be a good idea to leave the house wearing two belts and a tank top, which may explain why neither one of them can take a hit worth a damn at the start of the game. If E'lara gets cornered or flanked by a rank-and-file enemy, just some random skeleton or not-orc, she's dead in three hits despite her supposed years of combat training and experience, and maybe that wouldn't be the case if she was wearing armor, goddammit.

That aside - while gameplay is obviously far more important than character design, I sometimes find it difficult to play a game if I don't enjoy looking at it - Hunted is an interesting sort of fusion, combining a dungeon crawler with the co-op action mechanics of Resident Evil 5 or Gears of War. It's an action-RPG only in the faintest possible sense, where your stats and capacities do gradually increase over the course of the game, but it's capable of switching very smoothly between a third-person shooter and a somewhat simplistic hack-and-slasher, with full co-op support throughout.

Hunted is surprisingly challenging. It subscribes to the Zelda-style difficulty curve, where the game is never more difficult than at the start of a fresh run, when you have minimal health, little magic, and can only carry one healing potion at a time. Enemies show up in waves, charge your position, and support one another with flanking and cover fire, which requires you to block, evade, and dive for cover appropriately.

You gradually power up by accomplishing goals - killing enemies, discovering secret areas, collecting items, solving puzzles, etc. - which strongly encourages exploration. The puzzles are all more or less the same, almost all of which revolve around shooting at things with a flaming arrow, but it helps turn what would otherwise be a corridor shooter into something that feels much bigger and grander. Good voice acting and a decent script help that along, although that's to be expected from inXile; they are, after all, the guys who made The Bard's Tale.

When you play alone, you play as either Caddoc the melee specialist or E'lara the archer, with the other character controlled by the AI. While that does come with certain weaknesses - an AI-controlled E'lara provides good support fire but can't actually cover you worth a damn - it's actually pretty decent overall, and you'll rarely be crippled by faulty AI. If and when I died, it was usually my fault, rather than my AI buddy doing something suicidal.

The biggest problem Hunted has is that it's not particularly polished. This is the kind of game where it's okay, but you can see where a sequel might be something genuinely great. More puzzle variety, a slightly better UI, and more interactivity with items (i.e. letting you know what that shiny thing on the ground is, and why the game isn't letting you pick it up) would go a long way towards improving the singleplayer game.

A broader color palette would be great as well, since almost the entirety of Hunted is set within a dull grey blur. This makes local co-op, if not impossible, extremely difficult, as it's already difficult to see some features of the landscape. Unless you have some kind of 72-inch super-TV, split-screen Hunted is effectively impossible.

E'lara's constant state of near-total undress bothers me, but it's nothing I'd dock points for. Hunted could really have used another couple of passes just to tighten things up, but what's here is perfectly playable. There are a lot of puzzles and secrets, multiple endings, a design-your-own-dungeon mode, and two different playable characters who fight in entirely different ways. This isn't a bad game, but it's one that could be vastly improved.

In conclusion: boobs.


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