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Hunted: The Demon's Forge

Score: 60%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: InXile Entertainment
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local and Online)
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Hunted: The Demon's Forge seeks to deliver a fantasy world steeped in grime and filth. It's not exactly a novel approach to setting; in fact, this style has seen a spike in popularity over the years with BioWare's Dragon Age series, CD Projekt's The Witcher series, and HBO's remarkably faithful television adaptation of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga. Unlike the aforementioned staples, the world of Hunted struggles to establish an identity for itself. The visuals are partly to blame. This game's art style takes the notion of dark fantasy and runs with it for far too long, resulting in an overabundance of boggy marshes and craggy dungeons. Perhaps this is developer inXile's attempt at creating a more believable and down-to-earth world, but ultimately, the game suffers for it. This is compounded by the game's many technical problems. None of the animation work is consistent; nearly every living thing in Hunted encounters an immersion-dissolving kinetic hiccup at least once over the course of a playthrough. The characters look okay, if bland and unoriginal. Caddoc is your stock burly hero, while the heavily-tattooed E'lara is your everyday sexy elven huntress. More interesting is the spectral form of the mysterious Seraphine, whose ghostly appearance looks like the subject of a photo negative.

Hunted sounds better than it looks, but that's not enough to save it from the mediocrity the rest of the game settles for. The voice acting is most notable primarily because Lucy Lawless (yes, Xena herself) voices Seraphine. Seraphine isn't a playable character, but Lawless' delivery perfectly fits the character of an otherworldly temptress. Caddoc and E'lara are well-acted, as well, though they aren't given the best material to work with. For example, E'lara nitpicks when someone fails to recognize that she's an elf, but upon hearing the roar of a monster, she quips "That doesn't sound human." Things aren't always great in Caddoc's side of the camp, either; his fear of arachnids is easily as pronounced (though not as comical) as Ron Weasley's. Most of the time, however, you get to hear the two play the "tally your kills, brag about it" game made immortal by The Lord of the Rings. Though there's hardly any spark to the dialogue, the characters aren't painful to listen to. The high point is the soundtrack, which is rich with menace and foreboding.


Gameplay:

Mercenary companions Caddoc and E'lara are charged with a rescue mission. The target of said rescue mission? The corporeal form of the quest-giver herself. Yes, Hunted's story features an interesting setup, but it never fully pays off, in most part because the characters are mostly uninteresting and therefore difficult to invest in. They are modestly-tuned engines of violence, and not much more than that. The prologue chapter of Hunted: The Demon's Forge is presented well enough to fool even the most jaded fantasy fan into believing that the game's story will explode later on. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

Given the gameplay genre Hunted belongs to, it's easy to think that all the pieces are in the right place. And to be sure, they are for the most part. This is a third-person action shooter/hack-and-slash/role-playing game that supports cooperative play -- locally or over Xbox Live. Bows, arrows, swords, sorcery, and co-op? What could go wrong? The answer: more than you think.

Ideally, a game's greatest strengths and weaknesses don't define the measure of a game. Realistically, however, it's difficult to look at Hunted from a different perspective. No one aspect of this game is completely broken. However, the scenarios presented often clash with the poorly-implemented gameplay mechanics, leaving the final product somewhat crippled.


Difficulty:

I found the single player component far more forgiving than the online cooperative play. I won't slap the blame on my co-op buddy; it's got to be because the game is designed to be more challenging for two human minds than it is for one human mind and one bot. I will credit the artificial intelligence, however; nearly every time I did something stupid or found myself in dire need of a health vial, it was there for me in a flash.

On the default setting, Hunted: The Demon's Forge isn't too bad in single player. Online, enemies seem to hit with much more ferocity. What appears to be a minor flesh wound might halve your health bar, and restorative vials are often hard to come by.


Game Mechanics:

Hunted: The Demon's Forge suffers here. The mechanics themselves aren't broken or anything like that, but in their presented states, they don't mix well with the play style and level design.

Let's start with what works. Hunted's combat lacks precision and edge, but it delivers a steady helping of violent thrills. Slicing up Undead monsters and bursting Wargar heads is what you'll spend most of the game doing, but it works in moderation. Hidden crystals are used as currency for an ability upgrade system that has a noticeable impact on your combat effectiveness. Though not all the abilities are great fun to use, they often work well with the powers of your co-op buddy.

Hunted's problems begin with movement. Sprinting is basic for most action games, but the turning radius of our mercenary heroes is amazingly pathetic. I get that it's supposed to control somewhat like a race car. However, I don't think it's realistic to have someone run in a circle and end up putting a whole mile between the starting point and the finishing point. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. But it's not too much of a stretch.

Hunted's co-op is good fun when it works. However, some glaring hit box problems detract from the otherwise fun shooting and slashing action. Arrow shots tend to phase right through extremities and non-critical areas, and that's when the coast is clear. What's worse is that the close-quarters-prone Caddoc often erases the box completely, even if he doesn't appear close enough to do so. The worst part of the combat is easily the poorly-conceived finishing move mechanic. By putting a monster on its knees, you're given the ability to execute a slow-motion kill shot/slice on the downed beast. Not only is this unhelpful, it's actually counterproductive. Why waste ten valuable seconds of time chasing the flight path of an arrow when you could instead fire off twenty more into immediate threats?

Hunted: The Demon's Forge has the makings of a great game. The ideas are solid, if not fantastic. However, too many problems bring the entire production down like a house of cards. And to think what this game could have been with a generous amount of polish...


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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