Hunt: Showdown (Xbox One Review)
Competitive multiplayer games that incorporate a mixture of PVP and PVE elements are typically quite hard to balance. It’s integral that the feel and pace of both combating an environmental threat and a physical player is fair but challenging. While Hunt: Showdown affiliates itself as a survival horror through its large, foreboding PVE world, Hunt’s competitive aspect brings its own brand of horror through imbalanced matchmaking, strongly scaring away an eager, burgeoning playerbase.
Hunt: Showdown situates itself in an alternate reality Louisiana, most specifically its swampy bayou. An interdimensional evil has creeped its way into our world, turning the locals into walking abominations. You play as a Bounty Hunter on the hunt for your next paycheck by stalking and slaying your target. Hunting is a three step process: locate said target’s nest by uncovering clues, killing the target and finally getting to an extraction point with your trophy. The larger variables at play here aren’t the menacing swamp monsters that cordon your every turn but rather the 11 other players scrambling for the same mark. Bounties can be contested by skilled players or even ransacked in mere minutes by veterans. And while the larger part of exploring and combating the locals is engaging, dealing with other opposing players is downright awkward — thanks to the controls — and, at times, unfair.
Control schemes can vary to one’s own preference but rarely does a player’s choice in button configuration determine how their character functions. In Hunt: Showdown players can choose between button layouts of either “Hunter” or “Gunslinger” playstyle; The former offers benefits to melee combat and the latter firearms. The Hunter control scheme prioritises melee attacks by opting to forgo the use of hipfiriring your gun, requiring you to aim down sights would you ever wish to fire your weapon, and offering quick melee beatdowns with the butt of your weapon instead: it’s a playstyle more suited to Hunts PVE aspects. The Gunslinger control scheme, on the other hand, paints a traditional crosshair on the screen at all times; letting players fire off shots from the hip whenever the dire need approaches. The main flaw here is that Gunslinger has zero downsides as battering enemies with your firearm is just as easy as clicking the thumbstick or quick switching to your knife ( which is more ideal anyway) giving them an upper hand no matter the scenario, be it PVE or PVP. I never fully understood how I was constantly being outperformed by player’s instantaneously firing their weapons — as the control schemes aren’t properly explained — resulting in hours at a disadvantage. It turns out your control scheme really matters and that the Hunter control scheme is a more dated means of experiencing Hunt: Showdown that falls in line with how it originally released; a slow methodical approach to gameplay. I’m sure many can attest to its allure but as a newcomer the Hunter control scheme being the default playstyle really stuck me in the mud since the gravity of every encounter is apparent, permadeath looms over your characters head every match and my inability to properly defend myself left me in arms reach of my Xbox’s power button.
And yes you heard right, Hunt: Showdown has a pseudo permadeath system in place to check a players patience and perseverance. Upon creating a profile every player must select a beginning Hunter that will stay with them for the duration of 10, short, in-game player levels. During this period any hunter the player hires and takes out into the field will never succumb to the sweet embrace of death but instead lives to fight another day. After this trial period is up any Hunters perforated in the line of duty stay down for the count, leading players to constantly hire new able Hunters to take their place. The greater the experience you gain with a Hunter the larger the skills attributed to them. Base Hunters have no traits to begin with, but over time they can gain resistances to poison, bleeding or faster stamina recovery, to name a few. If you, like myself, have a penchant for eating lead then nary a Hunter will make it through the night. Instead, you’ll have to depend on a steady income of cash to hire new ones with the coin you earn. Hunters are relatively cheap but increase in price the more experienced and outfitted they are. However, if your back is against the wall with no coin then there’s always a Hunter free of charge with bargain bin equipment for hire.
It may seem an eerily dreadful prospect to throw a wad of cash at a Hunter, fully kitting them out with bells and whistles, only to have them trip and stumble in the following match, and you’d be right. There is a severe lack of any substantial reward loop for investing time and effort into a hunter unless you are fully captivated by Hunt: Showdown’s minute to minute survivalism. Your only real reward is the further incentive of new gear unlocks through levelling up your Bloodline — your overall player level. Experience points are earned by doing literally anything in the game, so you’d be hard pressed to not net any by the end of a match. The problem though is that you’ll only net half of the experience you earn if you die, walking away with half of what you are owed makes the grind for better equipment an elongated affair. With all that said, the real kick in the teeth isn’t with Hunt: Showdown’s slow progression but with the online matchmaking. It’s broken.
Never have I felt so helpless in an online multiplayer game before. Hunt: Showdown’s matchmaking does its presumed best to fit me with other players more my skill rating but rarely does that ever happen. Players can range from the early ranks of 50 all the way to prestige level 5 (level 500), which is still fairly early in the grand scheme of things since prestige ranks all the way to 100 (level 10000). But the grind is so long that these players are far more durable and ready than I’ll ever be. Since weapon and equipment unlocks are locked behind progression, they too also have a greater stock of arsenal to whoop my butt. From the menu you have the choice of enabling what team formations are allowed in a match, such as solo play or coordinated teams. The thing is, finding a partner of my own is tough since the majority of the players I connect to are high level, they instantly see my pathetic statistics and back out, leaving me on my lonesome. Ultimately resulting in many matches where I had to fly solo and contend with several teams of three or two opponents, amongst a group of twelve. There is a slight benefit of potential bonus XP for beating them as a solo player but chances are slim. Overall this doesn’t create a very welcoming environment to new players and leaves me feeling unwelcome by Hunt: Shdowdown.
It pains me too, as this is in contrast to how I really want to feel. The online environment may be too “hardcore” for me to penetrate but the in-world environments of Hunt: Showdown are meticulously crafted that, despite the transgressions of the matchmaking system, I’m adamant to play more. Hunt: Showdown’s Louisiana’s swamps are a dire, dreary place that expertly capture the essence of southern gothic horror, albeit exaggerated. The corrupted inhabitants range from the basic meandering zombie to large Kronenberg monstrosities. Hellhounds with flaking flesh and exposed bone stalk the waterlogged crossroads, while silent Water Devils lay in wait for eager Hunters taking shortcuts across riverbeds, dragging them down with their tentacles. The larger bounties are more notable like the Butcher, a hulking brute with barbed metal protruding from its body, a flaming hook for a weapon. Those that suffer arachnophobia may come to redefine the term when approached by the larger than life Spider. The rustling in its nest to the skittering of its eight legs as it scales walls and new heights to scare the living daylights out of you. Everything about Hunt: Showdown oozes atmosphere, accentuated more prominently thanks to superb sound design.
Every creek of a floorboard and clattering of hanging cutlery has a purpose, that being either to aid you in the position of other players or to give away yours. Broken glass, when stepped on, cracks under your footsteps alerting surrounding enemies in your vicinity while flocks of crows fluttering away in the distance betray the whereabouts of a potential threat. The cocking of a gun barrel to the expulsion of its shell let you know the readiness of other players. Dying horses act as proximity sensors and far off gunfire can be a prelude to disaster or a reward for the taking if you risk the venture. Precise care was obviously taken when crafting each and every soundbite as Hunt: Showdown is a fairly dark game at times with environments being barely lit, your eyes may often deceive you but your ears can be your greatest ally.
Hunt: Showdown has me strangled in its concertina wire struggling to break free. Every brief movement cuts me deep, letting me know its matchmaking is faulty to the core, its controls are clunky and outdated and its progression system is aggressively grindy. But there is often a faint moment where the wire loosens its grip letting me spread my legs in the distressingly vivid Louisiana countryside, taking in the sights, the horrors and the mystique at my leisure. Unless Hunt: Showdown takes drastic strides to survive the influx of newcomers then I’ll need to let the wire take its stranglehold and leave Hunt: Showdown to its hardcore fanbase.