Predator: Hunting Grounds is fierce, frantic, asymmetrical combat

Asymmetrical co-op combat game Predator: Hunting Grounds is about teamwork versus individual ruthlessness. Still in alpha form, and due out on PlayStation 4 next year, it’s a battle between a dangerous monster, and a group of less powerful human soldiers. It’s a fast game in which circumstances change rapidly. No matter which of the available roles you take on, playing the game is an exercise in switching constantly between the state of hunter and hunted.

Developer Illfonic is best known for Friday the 13th, in which a crazed killer hunts a team of teenagers (and vice versa). Friday the 13th was generally well received, but ran into copyright problems, and is no longer supported. In Predator: Hunting Grounds, players either take on the role of a co-op team soldier with limited powers, or a single Predator who hunts them. In theory, a single monster will always kill a single team member. But multiple team members are more deadly, together, than the monster.

The map I recently played was set in an ancient forest, but I’m told to expect a variety of maps and modes in the final release. Various installations are manned by hostile AI warriors. In the demo mode I played (which is available at PAX West this week), the soldiers are tasked with various missions which generally involve infiltrating buildings and killing swarms of AI enemies. They must survive the Predator, or kill it. The Predator’s only concern is hunting the human players, though it is also viewed by the AI as an enemy.

When I play as the Predator, I am a powerful hunter who can leap through trees, make myself invisible, and see through solid objects. I wield vicious weapons, including deadly knives and a plasma rife.

However, I am alone, and I’m vulnerable when my human enemies work together. Their ability to tag me once I’m spotted is especially noisome. If I am incautious, or slow, I can easily find myself caught in a (figurative) net as my enemies close around me. I only have a limited amount of energy to spend on my invisibility cloak and my super-vision.

Also, it’s not enough for me to merely kill my enemies. I have to go through the rigmarole of ripping their skulls and spines out of their bodies, an action that leaves me exposed.

When I play as a soldier, I can choose between various classes which complement my three teammates. My guns and throwables cause significant damage to AI enemies. I have a few health syringes, when things get hairy. If I’m smart about teamwork, I can be revived and even reincarnated during a mission.

However, if I am separated from my squad, I am extremely vulnerable, most especially to the Predator. It is an opportunist which will rip me apart if it finds me alone or injured. The AIs are pretty easy to kill, but if I’m injured and require reviving, they will hang around to take out my teammates.

Playing the game, I felt the thrill of the hunt. I enjoyed working with teammates to avoid being slain by the Predator. We even managed to kill it on one occasion. When it was my turn to be the Predator, I enjoyed the thrill of pursuit. I felt like a cat, watching mice, gleefully waiting to pounce.

It’s worth noting that asymmetrical co-op monster-vs-squad games can sometimes struggle when they’re released into the wild. Turtle Rock’s doomed Evolve comes to mind, although Predator seems to have a heavier focus on environmental gameplay, and less complexity in terms of the monster’s abilities, which may work in its favor.

Predator: Hunting Grounds is due to be released on PlayStation 4 in 2020.

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