There’s an inherent scale at play already when you’re crafting an asymmetrical multiplayer title. That’s how these games are played, though: two sides with different experiences that have equal paths to victory despite major differences in play and power; the balance is the key and, in the end, the balance between the sides is what makes the game fun. In its current state, though fun at times, Predator: Hunting Grounds has tipped the scales to its own detriment.
There are great ideas at the heart of Hunting Grounds that separate it from other asyms, like giving the team of victims, er- players, an actual objective to accomplish beyond simply “Survive.” Each game sees the Fireteam of four players assemble together and be tasked with a mission, while a lone Predator is also dropped in the same map and given the objective “Kill the Fireteam.” That’s a core tenant of your job as one of the soldiers in the game anyway, but being tasked with things to do to keep your mind off the 800-pound alien chasing you gives this an extra layer of gameplay and keeps you on your toes at all times. This isn’t a linear FPS style of play, as you’ll be constantly in motion and looking for enemies, even the unseen clicking one.
Unfortunately, this is where one of the biggest faults in Hunting Grounds’ foundation quickly becomes visible. The Fireteam missions all have a pretty similar formula: go here, hold “square” a few times, then go somewhere else and hold “square” a few times, and follow it up by going somewhere else and holding “square.” Furthermore you’ll be taking on some of the absolute dumbest AI you’ll ever encounter, who are only there to act as a bullet sponge while you hold “square” all those times. All of the missions are essentially the same, just in different parts of its maps and with different voiceovers, and it’s entirely possible to just completely ignore the “mission” part of the match, as the fight with the Predator will take precedence over it anyway. Players may find themselves in the middle of the mission only for the Predator to attack, and if they’re lucky enough to defeat him, it’s like their initial mission was never on their to-do list.
Therein lies one of the strengths of Hunting Grounds: it has an extensive web of possibilities and outcomes. No two games will be the same, with even the end of match closing videos varying. Perhaps the Predator attacks early and kills the entire team in the first three minutes before they can even start the mission (annoying!), maybe the Predator attacks early and the Fireteam kills him but are consumed by his self-destruction (tough but fair!), or maybe the Predator attacks early and the Fireteam defuses his self-destruct bomb (thrilling!). There’s also the chance that the Predator doesn’t find the Fireteam at all, which offers a built-in layer of paranoia that emulates the original movie effectively.
The kits players can use offer a variety of customizations on both the Fireteam side and for the Predator, which further broadens the potential for different types of games in every match, but this is also where the issues of balance come into play. Want to run and gun? Snipe from a distance? Get up close and personal? You can do all of that as both the Fireteam and the Predator, and with hundreds of cosmetics, no one will look the same.
Not all equipment kits are made equally, though. Nothing that you’re given as the Predator in the beginning of the game allows for an equal playing ground between you and the Fireteam. You’ll need to play the game for upwards of 12 hours to unlock the necessary equipment and Predator class to even stand a chance as the big guy, but the Fireteam can successfully eliminate the Predator fresh out of the box. It’s no more clear that the game has severe balance problems than moments when the Fireteam is clearly not afraid of the Predator at all and, in fact, chases it down in order to kill it, which is quite literally the opposite of the game’s design function.
The good news is that after you’ve played the game for hours on end, you’ll finally be given the Berserker Predator, a linebacker that can bowl through an entire team, and the combistick, which allows you to hit multiple targets that are standing close by with just a few swings. Once you’ve got this pairing, almost nothing can stop you, which is the inverse of the balance problem. Six games in a row as the Berserker Predator with this weapon, I wiped the floor with the enemy team, even when they called in reinforcements and were able to re-spawn their downed mates. To make things even more unfair as the stronger, more durable version of the Predator, he has deep pockets and can still use any of the other weapons that are available to other classes. He is almost completely unbeatable with minimal downsides and, to the contrary of Jesse Ventura, has plenty of time to bleed.
That’s where the game is currently; when you’re first starting there’s almost no way to win as the Predator and after you’ve been playing for a few days there’s almost no way to lose (provided you can even get into a match). Luckily, for anyone that is having fun with the game — and I’ll stress that I am, for the most part — developer Illfonic is clearly listening and willing to make changes (as some adjustments were made between the beta and the released version). To their credit, they’ve already released a major hotfix for matchmaking times and some bug fixes, but in the end, there are still major balance issues and some game-breaking bugs that can make you lose instantly, like getting trapped inside rocks that prevent you from moving.
There is a glimmer of a diamond in Predator: Hunting Grounds, but it is surrounded by a lot of rough. The game is a lot of fun when you’re playing with friends or even a well-coordinated group as the Fireteam, but balance issues with how the Predator can actually hunt the team or how the Fireteam can respond to an ill-equipped Predator truly keep it in a rough place as an asymmetrical multiplayer title. It has great ideas at its core but the execution at this stage isn’t working, and with fine-tuning, it could be top tier.0comments
Rating: 3 out of 5
Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.