Hunted: The Demon’s Forge PC Review

Hunted: The Demon’s Forge was released only moments before E3 2011. The LA Convention Center was already cleared out and ready to accept the world’s palest and most nimble-fingered, from the average Joe to the perpetually mucus dribbling nerd who knows far too much excessive information  about video games and hardware. A perfectly right time for publishers to release a game by dumping it right into E3’s lap to help it sell. This strategy is used for many large titles as publishers can use the publicity from either the big three’s conferences or from interviews to grab the attention of gamers whose fingers have loosened on their wallets as a result of the constant nerdgasms that they’ve had during the convention.

Sometimes, a shitty game will slip through because it’ll receive an equal amount of hype. The publishers will have already made off with millions before reviewers can war everyone that the game was pure ass. So Hunted falls between the two to either live up to the hype of being an amazing game or a terrible one. Not the worst odds, which is probably why I decided to pick it up and play it.

Hunted’s previews made it out to be a fantasy nerd’s wet dream. It’s set in a dark fantasy world, which vaguely suggests that every corridor is dimly lit and filled with monsters armed with weaponry strange enough to put to shame medieval blacksmiths (and those guys designed iron maidens) and like every genre that only until recently was ninety percent testosterone, filled with many, many scantily-clad women wearing armored lingerie. Essentially, Hunted looks like a re-hashed version of Diablo II with modern graphics, but that might be overexcessively praising the game.

This game is literally... dark and dimly lit.

The story follows the mercenaries Caddoc, a brutish, tough-talking hulk of a man who has a fear of spiders, and E’lara, an elf (the last of her kind, and she fully insists upon everyone knowing it) who is full of what she thinks is sarcastic wit. The game offers both single player and online/offline co-op and the player can play as either character (for the record, I played this game on single player). Both Caddoc and E’lara can fight both melee and ranged, but as sexual stereotypes ought to be fulfilled, Caddoc’s masculinity causes him to be better in close-up fights, and E’lara’s dainty femininity causes her to be a better range fighter.

The game tries the entire time to tote the idea that all games and consoles lately have been trying to get at, which is now no longer:  “Who wants to play outside in the sun and get skin cancer? Play video games!”, but: “Drag your friends into the shade with you.” This idea works well in casual gaming because Will Bowling by yourself makes you look like a sad loner, but when forced upon games such as Hunted, is absolutely bloody painful… or maybe it’s just because Hunted executed it so badly that I’ve been turned off from co-op gaming for possibly an eternity.

Co-op games, for me, bring to mind two or more players that can work together to make a boss fight a less of a grind or make quest pieces easier and faster to grab—not just opening doors together, which inXile apparently thinks co-op games are all about. Caddoc and E’lara can’t move anywhere without each other. The good thing is that you don’t have to wait for your partner or derp-AI to run to the door to follow you since E’lara and Caddoc both seemed to have mastered the art of teleportation. Your partner AI can be three rooms back and they’ll still appear the instant you decide to move on to the area and you need your busty elf wench or your steroid-abusing friend to help you open a door.

This looks familiar. Oh right... another...fucking...door...

Yes, E’lara and Caddoc  go wherever the other goes… even into the afterlife. If your partner goes down and you don’t heal him or her in time, then your screen floods red and it’s game over, which can be particularly frustrating since you can be in the middle of an intense battle trying to not get yourself killed when your partner goes down. It’s difficult to break out of the swing of battle to hit the button combo to toss a potion at your downed friend. Thankfully, your AI partner doesn’t usually throw himself or herself to his or her (and your) untimely end.

The cooperative “door opening” aspect of Hunted really limits it to a very linear style of gameplay. The game consists entirely of being sequestered into one area at a time, clearing out enemies, picking the room clean of loot, and then opening a door or crossing a ravine to move onto the next area… for the same exact thing over again. inXile takes “linear gameplay” to the tee. Once E’lara and Caddoc move onto the next area, they can never return… and considering that most of the game involves grabbing magical loot that is visible in plain sight but just out of reach, until you find the secret entrance to the item, this system of never being able to return can be just a wee bit frustrating. The game only saves when you enter the next room, so you either find your magical whatever now or continue running around in circles until you do. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that certain levels have tombs which require you to solve a riddle with a level of complexity so retarded that Forrest Gump would probably point and laugh at you if you couldn’t solve it. Essentially, the riddle consists of you picking up pieces to return to the original quest-giving area, or lighting a torch so you can find the loot at the end of the dungeon.

The dungeons sound pretty easy until you find out that there is apparently no way to find the last piece of the “puzzle” to solve the first tomb. I ran around the tomb for half an hour, grinding Caddoc along every rock wall in search of a secret wall to push in until I’m sure his freaking pixelated knees were bloodied. I left the place in disgust, to which E’lara taunted me with: “You sure you don’t want to take a second look?” Why no, you poorly written, two-dimensional elf bitch, I don’t want to take a second look. Grawghrga. I thought that perhaps I was overlooking something obvious, but even after scouring the Google I found nothing. Other players had just as much trouble as I did. To top it all off, I managed to solve the other two tombs, only to discover that the last tomb, which is the tomb of the father of the three other tombs (yes, apparently there was a family that sat around planning elaborate crypts in which they stored magical weapons and loot with them. What morbid family dinners they must have had), could not be solved unless all three other tombs had been finished. GRAWGHRGA. I’m fairly convinced that inXile just wanted to screw with gamers.

Oh wow. That looks SO mind-blowingly hard.

Not all is negative on the gameplay side of Hunted. inXile implemented a new feature that I thought was pretty nifty (but may make the game frustrating to RPG-lovers) was the lack of an inventory system. One good thing about Hunted is that its gameplay and combat is never stagnant, unlike most RPGs, which require you to pause, equip new weaponry and spells and heal. inXile does away with this problem by eliminating the inventory altogether. The player’s character is only allowed to carry one melee weapon, one ranged weapon, one piece of armor, one health potion, one mana potion, and one revival potion at a time, although the number of potions you can carry can be increased by hitting certain achievements, such as slaying 500 enemies. In most RPGs, being a class five hoarder is smiled upon, but Hunted will have none of your video-game induced mental problems. The player is forced to find a weapon and shield that works for them and leave the rest behind, although staying with one weapon and shield is rare as weapons continue to dramatically increase in effectiveness, as all shields in Hunted have the durability of cardboard and there are a ridiculous number of weapon drops in the game. A shield is only strong enough to sustain a few blows from enemies before falling apart, and the player has to pick up a new one, which are either dropped by enemies or randomly mounted upon walls. New weapons can be attained by bashing a part weapons racks that are randomly placed through each level. These are so numerous that the player is never going to ever get too comfortable with one weapon, not to mention the weapons get so ridiculously powerful from one chapter to the next that the player won’t want to keep their old weaponry.

There’s a very simplified skill tree set for magic and special abilities. Instead of unlocking a new ability at every level up, which is a thing that doesn’t exist in Hunted, Caddoc and E’lara are able to unlock new moves with crystals and crystal shards that are conveniently placed through the world for the two to pick up. Unfortunately, there are only three spells and three special moves to really choose from for both. The rest just overpower the spells to the point that I could just cast one spell on repeat until all enemies are downed.

Not the greatest spells... and not the most clever of names for spells.

A funny thing that I’ve noticed about many good games are that usually the ones with weak gameplay tend to have strong stories, and the ones with strong gameplay are just the opposite. I’m supposed that developers are so crunched for time that they can only make one aspect of the game really glowing, but either way—Hunted doesn’t fall into either category because it’s just not a good game. Visually, the game looks only fairly decent, even on max settings. It’s certainly not the next Elder Scrolls. The character animations are awkward and liken to games pre-2008, that is to say every person moves like they’re suffering from a stroke.

Hunted’s story is absolutely uninspired. I thought that most games would need to have a premise of some sort before being developed, but it seemed like inXile was already halfway through development before they realized that most games require a story or at least a plot of some sort  and in their frantic haste to find a writer on time, grabbed the first idiot off the street that claimed he or she was a writer, very much like how I could randomly claim that I’m a doctor in a restaurant with a man choking on a piece of his steak, and nobody would be the wiser until it was too late—the man’s either died of asphyxiation or I’ve broken a few of his ribs attempting to perform the Heimlich. Yes, I’m saying Hunted’s story can be described either as dead or broken. I mean come on: Caddoc and E’lara both have are two cold-blooded mercenaries with deep dark pasts that are only motivated by the sight of gold but become bleeding hearts as soon as they see injustice being done to poor, innocent villagers. Caddoc has a wet dream about an albino woman named Seraphine with a nice pair of tits and the voice of Lucy Lawless, and when she appears to both of them, they decide to follow Caddoc’s hard-on and do everything Seraphine bids, and eventually uncover a deep dark story about em… some guy, dragons, and wars… and… stuff…

That about sums Seraphine up right. Also... tits.

On top of the absolutely dismal writing is that the writer(s) chose to have Caddoc and E’lara be absolutely unlikeable. Caddoc spends half his time bitching about spiders, and E’lara makes up the other half by talking about how much she loves explosions just about every time you make something explode or have the opportunity to do so. There’s absolutely no change in this until the last few chapters, where Caddoc and E’lara begin having internal conflicts about whether or not they should back out of what they’re doing along with other character development and exposition that ought to have happened back in the first chapter.

Perhaps the only redeeming thing about Hunted is its soundtrack, which actually does a decent job of capturing the eerie atmosphere that the game attempts to come across with its dark dungeon and “ominous story” that both really miss the mark. No, really, just take a listen to Hunted’s main theme off of its soundtrack. It’s absolutely beautiful, giving off the slow dramatic percussion/string section vibe mixed in with a bit of Lord of the Rings-esque chants. It’s really a shame that Kevin Riepl had to compose such a beautiful score that’s a bit wasted on the subpar quality of Hunted. Listen for yourself:

Hunted is one of those games that demoed very well and looked to have a lot of potential, but inXile never delivered. One of the most integral parts of a game is its plot, and Hunted really falls on its face in this aspect. It’s actually fun if you enjoy simplified RPGs, put the game on mute, and overlook the shitty story, but it’s not something I would pay $50 to play.

It's okay. That was my reaction to the corny lines too.

GGC Score: 5 out of 10
Music Credits: Hunted: The Demon’s Forge Soundtrack “Main Menu Theme” by Kevin Riepl

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