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Predator: Hunting Grounds review – getting to the chopper

80s action classic Predator is turned into a multiplayer title for the modern day, by the same team behind the Friday The 13th game.

The 80s may have been the golden era for action films but the video game tie-ins of the era had a distinctly less lustrous shine to them. Even so, the likes of The Terminator, RoboCop, Alien, Die Hard, and Indiana Jones have all had at least one good game in their time, even if all the rest of them have been awful. The only good Predator games though have been the Aliens Vs. Predator crossovers and while there have been standalone titles, they’ve never done justice to the character’s full potential as a video game protagonist. But that’s not the problem with Hunting Grounds.

The issue with all these 80s franchise is that years of terrible sequels has made most of them increasingly unprofitable and irrelevant to modern audiences, which means for something like Predator this is probably its last chance at a big budget game. Which is a shame, because while Hunting Grounds has many fun ideas it’s a deeply flawed experience that is desperately lacking in content.

That will be no surprise to those who know of developer IllFonic’s work on asymmetric multiplayer game Friday The 13th: The Game, as this is essentially the same idea but with the predator instead of Jason. That means one person gets to play as the famous movie villain and the others as hapless cannon fodder; although not quite as hapless as the campers in Friday The 13th, as this time they’re Arnie-esque soldiers with the means to fight back.

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Hunting Grounds is clearly a bigger budget affair than Friday The 13th but there’s still no story campaign or ability to play on your own – although computer-controlled bots were added to the last game after launch, so hopefully that’s coming at some point. There is a loose plot that’s carried through the three separate maps, but storytelling was never the appeal of the Predator franchise and if there’s one thing this game gets right its the authenticity to the source material.

The way things work is that one person plays as the predator, and so is vastly more powerful than any of the ordinary human players – although still relatively vulnerable to weapons fire. At first you only get the gadgets from the first film (the shoulder cannon, wrist blades, cloaking device, and heat vision), with others being unlocked as you level up, but even they are much more useful than the simple M16 and pistol that the human soldiers start with.

The predator is controlled via a third person view and Illfonic really has done a fantastic job of getting him (or her, depending on how you customise them) working exactly like the original film. The invisibility cloak and heat vision look and work perfectly, while the shoulder cannon has a recharging energy supply but is still exactly as deadly as it is in the movie. Equally as importantly, the predator moves just as it should, able to take enormous leaps and parkouring through the tree branches in a way that is impossible for the human players.

Mechanically, the predator works extremely well but as a human, who is controlled from a first person view, everything is a lot less impressive. The flat, tactile-less gunplay is no fun in its own right, even if you do manage to unlock the minigun, and while fighting computer-controlled grunts is relatively amusing as the predator it’s nothing more than a mildly irritating distraction as a human.

Hunting Grounds is frustrating because, depending on the match and who you’re playing with, there are moments of excellence. For example, one mission has you waiting for a MacGuffin to download while you’re in a warehouse, with grunts occasionally appearing but offering no real resistance. But while we were dealing with a couple of them outside suddenly the predator uncloaked right in front of us and swung at us with its wrist blades.

It must’ve thought us dead as it then immediately turned on the rest of our team, while we quickly ran back round the other side of the warehouse, grabbed the MacGuffin and legged it to the extraction point (we, very literally, had to get to da choppa). The predator realised its mistake and with the rest of our team catching up we started a fighting retreat and finally missed death by milliseconds as the predator lunged forwards just as we attached ourselves to the ropes of the helicopter and were hoisted up.

There were lots of moments like that in the first few hours, and they were great, but the very obvious problem is that with only three maps – all of which are set in the jungle – those moments start to repeat almost immediately. There is a cosmetic customisation system, that uses loot boxes but no microtransactions, and unlockable weapons but knowing you’ve seen most of what the game has to offer in the first few sessions is a major issue.

Then there’s all the problems with the huge waiting times to get a match and the general jank and glitchiness that will also be familiar from Friday The 13th, with a frame rate that is relatively stable but still well below ideal levels. At £35, Hunting Grounds is not cheap and with only three maps, one game mode, and no solo play you are not getting value for money, even if the situation improves later with updates.

IllFonic obviously has a great enthusiasm for the Predator franchise and we love all the little touches, from covering yourself in mud to make yourself invisible to its heat vision, to the fact that the blood splatters are all much bigger and more showy than normal games – as if they’ve been made with proper practical effects rather than CGI blood. But none of that helps the longevity of the game or the fact that this just feels like the multiplayer mode from a bigger game.

With games like Ghost Recon Wildlands and Call Of Duty already having featured the predator in cameos a dedicated game had to be something special to be worth the money and effort, but despite all its authenticity Hunting Grounds justifies neither.

Predator: Hunting Grounds review summary

In Short: Easily the most authentic Predator game ever made but also a paper-thin multiplayer game that offers far too little content and variety for its asking price.

Pros: The predator is great and looks and controls exactly like the movies. The first few hours with the game are excellent fun.

Cons: Extremely repetitive, due to a lack of content and the inherent limitations of the concept. Weak gunplay for humans and no single-player modes of any kind. Dull progression system.

Score: 5/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PC
Price: £34.99
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: IllFonic
Release Date: 24th April 2020
Age Rating: 18

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