There have been many efforts to create a satisfying asymmetrical multiplayer game over the past few years and while some notably large efforts failed quickly, others have managed to gather quite the fan base that regularly return to test their mettle against a nearly unstoppable threat or prey upon a group of weaker survivors. One such game happened to be Friday the 13th from developer Illfonic where plenty of the series’ classic elements were captured and now that developer has had another shot at a classic movie franchise in the form of Predator: Hunting Grounds. With players now being able to take control of the powerful Yautja themselves, has Illfonic managed to pull from the franchises strengths once again to deliver some satisfying multiplayer combat?
Now it is worth noting that Predator: Hunting Grounds does not offer any form of offline play against bots of any kind outside of a brief tutorial that gives players a small sampling of how the Predator controls and navigates through the environment using “Predkour.” These online matches can be done through quick matches and private matches with friends with only one game mode currently on offer by the name of Hunt. While playing solo players have the option to queue up to play as either a fireteam member (human) or as the Predator though the waiting time for the latter is generally estimated to be roughly five to ten minutes to find a match while fireteam regularly picks up matches within a couple of minutes.
Playing as a fireteam member players get a little bit of choice with their team as to where they will be dropping into the map (of which there is basically no variety) but it is worth noting that these drop zones have little effect on the way matches turn out thanks to the mind-numbing goal that the fireteam is assigned randomly each time. These goals generally involve things such as finding lost artifacts, destroying a cartel’s set-up, hacking servers, and other various things that encourage teamwork but unfortunately these simply boil down to traveling to a randomly placed waypoint, fighting against easily defeated NPC guards that pose zero challenge even when a team charges a position recklessly, and pressing square on the object of choice before having to move onto the next location. Completing all these tasks and calling in the helicopter for extraction must be completed within a fifteen minute timer or the team will fail. Well, either that or they will all end up dying from the Predator that is also placed in the jungle at the start of every match.
FIreteam members are given a solid array of weaponry to deal with the NPC guards easily and also can deal quite a bit of damage to the Predator itself. Players also can spend time covering themselves with mud, a great nod to the original series and also a method of blocking one of the Predator’s ways of tracking the fireteam. Even if a member of the team is downed, they can be revived if not finished off completely though even during these moments players on the fireteam will be given the option of reaching a radio to call for reinforcements, respawning their slain allies at the cost of having to sidetrack away from completing the main goals.
As for the Predator side of things, that single player has a number of deadly tools at their disposal and only one goal in mind, the complete annihilation of the fireteam. The Predator is capable of traveling across tree limbs in the dense jungle, making great leaps with ease, cloaking to avoid being seen quite as easily (though the cloak effect still stands out quite a bit), and of course using thermal vision to track down any living target, be it a pig that can be killed and eaten at a later time for a health boost or a human being that can be anything from the aforementioned generic NPCs that will target the Predator as well to the fireteam they are hunting. The Predator player’s weaponry also feels rather diverse and pulls from some of the best parts of the series’ history, though a few signature weapons do appear to be missing even after unlocking them at a higher level, and taking down any member of the fireteam and finishing them off comes with a nice execution animation coupled with a skull attached to the Predator’s belt.
That being said, matches in Predator: Hunting Grounds can only end in a few different ways, and unfortunately most of these rely on the fireteam succeeding in one way or another. Success as the Predator comes from simply killing every member of the fireteam before they can escape while the fireteam has three options for winning: complete all goals and escape with at least one survivor on the helicopter, kill the Predator and defend its body against NPC guards that want to destroy it for some reason so it can be collected and studied, or kill the Predator and either run away from its mini-nuclear explosion if the Predator player managed to trigger it in time before death or solve a mini-game puzzle to try and disarm it. Anything involving the Predator dying immediately brings the game to a conclusion regardless of how far the fireteam may have made it in their mission and, should the player be the Predator that dyed, they will need to stick around until the end should they hope to receive any rewards from a completed match that come in the form of experience points that level up both the fireteam and Predator at the same time that also rewards little loot boxes that provide skin customizations for both the fireteam, the fireteam’s weapons, and the Predator, as well as in-game currency that can be used to unlock cosmetics.
This type of unbalance in endings also comes to play with Predator: Hunting Grounds’ lack of proper balance with the game’s sides as well. While the Predator has a number of tools at their disposal, many are difficult to access quickly in the heat of the moment and most require the use of energy that takes a while to recharge and while dead boars can provide a solid health boost, the only other way to restore health requires using an item that takes a long time to activate, leaving the Predator open to a hunting fireteam. This often results in the Predator often feeling like a far weaker combatant than it has any right to be as the fireteam is often more than capable of repelling most attacks, with even melee blows giving human opponents a chance to parry, even when the Predator manages to catch them by surprise thanks to some surprisingly low damage output from such vicious weaponry. This lack of balance can partially be attributed to some rather oddly placed weapon unlocks for both the Predator and fireteam but still remains an issue throughout higher ranks.
While there is always a certain gap between those familiar with the game as well as a team that is communicating well and those who are inexperienced and may be playing with randoms, rarely is this type of gap felt more prominently than in Predator: Hunting Grounds. Catching a team while they are spaced out too far can allow for some savage brutality from the Predator as they pick apart a team but should that group never seperate, it is up to the Predator to hope their hit and run tactics can whittle down the enemy without taking too much damage and becoming the hunted instead. This often leads to more than a few instances where playing as the fireteam can result in a match feeling like a one-sided stomp as the Predator quickly falls to standard gunfire or a fireteam is picked apart simply because they choose not to group up. Only rarely do moments that truly capture the intense feeling moments of being hunted by a powerful threat like the original Predator movies or give players the chance to feel that excitement after an chaotic exchange that led to a few more skulls being added to the Predator’s belt come about and even then they often end up being far too short to be enjoyed.
Visuals & Audio
Upon first glance Predator: Hunting Grounds will surprise with how lush it makes the jungle look and the way it reacts to the action that takes place below the canopy and it is true that it is a sight to behold, as long as the player doesn’t look too close and see some rather rough textures, the sameness of most locations, and a lot of clipping into pieces of the environment. The design of the Predator variations as well as the customization options available are quite a sight to see and while not everyone’s favorite designs may have made it in so far, there are numerous ones to unlock and nearly every one is great looking. The same cannot be said about the generic looking members of the fireteam who are both generic in presentation but also feature bland customization as well.
The voice work for the humans is suitable enough though often lacks the emotion one would feel being hunted by an alien creature and the sound effects and noises made by the Yautja are perfect recreations that will certainly delight longtime fans, especially since they can be used as taunts in-game. Along these same lines the sound track features a number of great pieces of background music that fit in with the rest of the series’ soundtrack quite well.
Predator: Hunting Grounds may take a great number of gameplay cues from the adored franchise it is set in but it unfortunately fails to capitalize on most of these elements. Between repetitive objectives, unlockable gear that offers far too little variety, and some shockingly poor balancing Predator: Hunting Grounds rarely feels like it is taking advantage of what it has to offer. There is some solid groundwork here and while there are some thrilling moments to be had when everything comes together, but these moments often feel like luck more than a result of the gameplay being rewarding for either team.