Hunted: The Demon's Forge Hands-On
Hunted: The Demon's Forge Hands-On
Bethesda seem to have two types of IPs in their stable. There's the ones that everyone's talking about like RAGE, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and anything with Fallout in the title, and then there's the ones that sneak up on you like a ninja with chloroform and knock you out before you have a chance to blink. Titles like Brink, Prey 2 and inXile Entertainment's dungeon crawler Hunted: The Demon's Forge. I've been fortunate enough to have several hands-on sessions with preview code and every incarnation I play gets slicker and slicker, but the recent build I saw in Los Angeles was the best version yet.
The developers at inXile Entertainment are quick to point out that Hunted: The Demon's Forge is harking back to the dungeon crawlers of olde (all things really old have an "e" on the end). It's not quite an RPG and not quite an action fest - it's a Frankenstein mash up of the two that is not your regular action RPG, if that makes any sense. You can play through sticking to the main plot line and burn your way through it, but a little venturing off the beaten track reaps rewards and is well worth the effort - but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge (which will be known as Hunted for the rest of the piece) is a gorgeous looking co-operative adventure following the sword and sorcery exploits of an unlikely duo, Caddoc and E'lara. Caddoc resembles a small tank and is all that is man, favouring any weapon that can hack your face off while sporting a protective shield. E'lara is an Elven wet dream, with pixels to die for - curves in all the right places and a sashay which will leave you quivering in a corner in delight, blessing whichever deity you favour for creating such magnificent proportions. She also has a tendency to give enemies the shaft thanks to her expertise with the bow.
Both characters handle incredibly differently with Caddoc liking enemies within arm's reach and E'lara keeping them at bay from a distance. Hunted borrows heavily from franchises such as Gears of War as far as the basic mechanics are concerned - there's a slip into and vault over cover system and shaky cam sprint, but that's where the similarities end. Caddoc uses his brawn to power through the competition, building up his Fury meter with light attacks and delivering a punishing strike once full. E'lara, on the other hand, nocks and fires arrows quickly thanks to Call of Duty style snap-to aiming and can even perform an execution if the timing is right, with the camera following the arrow's flight until it embeds itself deep in its unfortunate prey. For the most part attacks are significantly more measured and deliberate, with timing the key and a heavy emphasis on weapon infusing spell casting known as Battle Charging.
Battle Charging involves a magical infusion of your own or partner's weaponry with an elemental twist - like ice or lightning to increase damage. As both Caddoc and E'lara also carry each others' weapon sets (though with less impact than their preferred implements of death) - with Caddoc using a crossbow and E'lara brandishing a sword and shield combo - you can Battle Charge these to give them more of a kick so either weapon set becomes a viable option.
It should be obvious there's a strong focus on co-operative play - the name of the game is to work through the levels together utilising each skill-set in tandem to kick mucho arse, but without having to babysit each other. One of the game's catchcries is "co-op at a distance" - meaning you're not tethered at the waist with your partner. As I found in the fully co-op play-test, an example mission featured a puzzle requiring a lantern to be lit with a certain colour flame - so while my partner in crime kept skeletons and other such undead nightmares at bay vigilantly, I scampered off as E'lara (when I managed to pull my eyes away from her wonderfully rendered caboose) to light said arrow, ignite the lantern in question and solving the puzzle at hand. Even reviving was easy as pie - instead of hacking and slashing to a downed buddy, you can pitch a revive vial across a map and move on with your assault. It's an incredibly simple concept but makes complete sense.
The puzzle component is surprisingly strong as well, with many quests relying on audio cues and rhyme to deliver clues keeping you constantly on your toes with both your eyes and ears peeled for the next juicy nugget of information. It's a nice change of pace and manages to neatly walk the line between the all too common puzzles that your three year old nephew can solve and hair pulling noodle scratchers that have you snapping controllers in frustration.
In the broadest of strokes, the plot revolves around a mysterious artifact known as the Deathstone which allows our team to communicate with the deceased. This happens to be the catalyst that introduces another big dose of sexy to the mix, namely the portal hopping testament to all things Gothic, Seraphine. Seraphine acts as your guide of sorts, a hub for upgrading abilities and generally points you in the right direction. She's also easy on the eyes, has a thing for Caddoc, doesn't particularly like E'lara and - according to developer Maxx Kaufman - is the first videogame character to sport a metallic thong. If that wasn't enough, she's voiced by the bastion of bi-curious battle-hardened beauties, otherwise known as Lucy Lawless.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is really shaping up beautifully. It doesn't look or feel like any other title I've played, has fantastic visuals, glorious sound and an extremely solid co-operative emphasis. With so many titles focusing on single or multiplayer alone, it's a refreshing change of pace to see a title that remembers the co-op gamer and works towards a genuinely different experience for each character ensuring multiple playthroughs. Keep your eyes on this one.
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