Review: Hunted: The Demon’s Forge (360/PS3/PC)

Posted: June 19, 2011 in PC, PS3, Reviews
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Hunted: The Demon's Forge Logo

Ah, Fresh Meat!

Sometimes, games come out of nowhere and surprise you. It’s rare these days, with as much coverage as the big games get. I first learned of Hunted: The Demon’s Forge a few months back when advertisements started to appear online. It definitely caught my interest: ex-Interplay founder Brian Fargo’s Inxile was developing the game (and, indeed, The Demon’s Forge was the first game Fargo ever published way back in the early ’80s) and co-op action in a fantasy setting? Color me interested.

First of all, let’s talk about what Hunted is and what it isn’t. It is a third-person action game set in a fantasy setting (I fail to see what’s so dark about it, but that is the buzz-word these days) and is published by Bethesda. I understand a lot of people have gone in expecting an RPG, and this is pretty silly. While it culls quite a bit from the aesthetics and plots of many a tabletop dungeon crawl, gameplay-wise I think it most resembles what a modern day Golden Axe might be.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge reviewI honestly didn’t know what to expect, so I was flying blind to some degree. The game offers a mix of melee and shooting combat, with gruff man-at-arms Caddoc specializing in up-close butchery and Elven huntress E’lara specializing in bows, although both can somewhat competently attempt the other’s specialty. In addition to physical attacks, you can develop magic attacks as you collect crystals in the game. These attacks can boost your attack and defense, raise enemies in the air, or destroy shields outright, among many other effects.

Looking more closely at each combat style, Caddoc’s perhaps requires more thought and planning. Of course coming right off of The Witcher 2, this was really easy for me. Your shield isn’t dead weight, and in fact blocking is pretty much the core mechanic of his fighting style. You’ll go through quite a few shields over the course of the game, as they wear down and break over time. Choice of weapon is also important: do you want to take big, painful swipes with a mace or go for quick, canceling hits with a sword? His spells are also melee oriented, allowing him to rush in, hulk out, or throw the crowd in the air. I’ve read a few complaints about Caddoc’s slower and more methodical fighting style and I can say this: he’s tanking. He’s supposed to mediate the damage while E’lara picks the enemies off. Understanding this and playing this way helps a lot.

E’lara’s shooting is perhaps more familiar to anyone who’s played Gears of War or Uncharted, as she can similarly take potshots from behind cover. Like Caddoc’s melee weapons, her bows come in three styles: fast, medium, and slow. The fast ones can throw arrows like a machine gun while the slow ones hit the hardest. Early on I found myself trying the fast bow, but later I liked the one-shot kills the slow ones provided. Her main spells are magic arrow types with varying effects, like freezing, exploding, or impacting with massive force.

It Is Dangerous to Go Alone

Demon's Forge Review (PS3)While the game is perfectly playable in singleplayer, the meaty part of the game is the co-op. Without it, you’re kind of missing the point. (Kind of like Resident Evil 5, but without fifteen years of silly plot lines and tons of quicktime events holding it back.) There are two modes: ‘Adventure’, which takes you through the game’s story,and ‘Crucible’, which allows you to generate your own challenge maps with tons of rooms and enemies and run through it. Though they played well overall, there are a few minor gripes. If you’re going to play split-screen, you’re going to need a very big screen. In addition, the inventory (which only really involves your health potions and mana potions) is so small as to be barely visible. As you hack your way through the game, you’ll come across a lot of gold, and probably wonder what it does. You cannot, alas, spend it; rather, your total counts toward things you can unlock in the Crucible mode (like arena settings and enemy types).  The game was intended to be played co-op, and if you’ve got a buddy to work together with, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

The environments aren’t bad either. They reflect the kingdom-at-war setting well, and the dungeons look like proper dungeons, dingy and crumbling. My main complaint about the dungeon and town areas early on is that they’re too dark. I had to crank the gamma settings way up to see where I was going. However, the later chapters provide a much more well-lit and vibrant experience, which includes sunny outdoor ruins, a city with some vibrantly burning buildings, and a demonic city deep underground, which, contrary to typical games, is bathed in bluish green light, and the final boss is almost blindingly bright.

The game isn’t entirely linear. While there is a definite straight-line path from point A to point B, there are also plenty of opportunities to explore side areas, which reward you with items, weapons, and gold. After playing games with zero extra exploration like Uncharted, it’s a nice change.

The general aesthetic was to my liking, with a very Frank Frazetta-esque flair. The graphics unfortunately don’t always look great, but they look decent enough that they don’t distract you while playing. The game does have an early current-gen look, and the Unreal 3 engine carries all of its flaws with it (including that one I always run into, with textures still loading as I start a level). The enemies are pretty standard fantasy mooks, with skeletons, minotaurs, orcs (called Wargar here, but seriously, call them Wargar, Darkspawn, whatever: they’re orcs), dragons, and demons. What they lack in originality they make up for with some clever flourishes. The demons in particular look pretty cool.

Hunted for PS3 reviewThe story is typical of its genre, but well executed: two mercenaries in search of a big pile of filthy lucre get in over their heads, and much hacking ensues. The voiceovers are well done, and the vitriolic war-buddies banter that Caddoc and E’lara have is amusing and keeps the game from getting too grimdark. I like the fact that they’re cronies and business partners instead of romantic interests. The music also fits the game well; the pounding drums and searing brass fit the fantasy theme well.

Glittering Prizes and Endless Compromises

My main complaint with the game is its general lack of polish. You get the feeling that Inxile was finishing the game by the seat of its pants. There are definitely some places where corners were cut, and a lot of times they’re noticeable. Graphics aren’t as sharp as they should be and are at times incompletely optimized, and the highest setting is 720p. The combat could use some refinement, as could the animation, graphics, and lighting. In spite of all this, I really liked the game. But the lack of polish is over a solid core, and if you’ve got a buddy to play with, this is the first game I’ve played in a while with co-op at the forefront. So if you’re the type that played Golden Axe growing up, I’d recommend giving Hunted a shot. It’s a solid, if flawed, experience, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to it.

I had fun. That’s the bottom line. You probably will do, too.

BNBGAMING Recommended Award

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