The duo are brash, goofy and amusing, personifying the theme of the game they are featured in. Hunted: The Demon's Forge is not a well devised title — the combat is scrappy, the visuals are hokey, and the voice acting is utterly reprehensible — but for all its faults there's a hint of an enjoyable title poking through its many flaws.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is Bethesda and inXile's attempt at marrying the mainstream popularity of cover-based third-person shooters with a fantasy world. Our review copy came neatly packaged with a press kit entitled "Spears Of Gore". It doesn't take a genius to figure out what Hunted's gunning for.
But the more we played Hunted: The Demon's Forge, the more we realised the game's concept statement was a little misleading. Yes, you'll spend an ample number of hours leaning against walls and putting arrows into the heads of minotaurs and skeletons, but Hunted is equally about its team dynamic.
You'll play as either E'lara or Caddoc. E'lara is a boisterous Elven huntress with top-notch bow-skills, while Caddoc is a laid-back bald-headed warrior with exceptional hand-to-hand combat abilities. The dynamic is important because it underpins Hunted's entire co-operative set-up. While both characters have sword-and-shield and bow-and-arrow combat options, they each excel in opposite areas. E'lara is best when played cautiously, lingering in cover and using her bow-and-arrow abilities to command the action from afar. Meanwhile Caddoc is more of tank, allowing him to get up close to opponents and cut then down with his devastating melee abilities. This dynamic is enhanced by the duo's unique set of magical unlocks. For example, E'lara can unlock a magical attack that freezes enemies on the battlefield, allowing Caddoc to come in and easily smash them to pieces. Similarly Caddoc can levitate enemies into the air, giving E'lara an easy opportunity to pick them off.
In practice the set-up works great, but the concept is essentially eroded offline. Hunted's AI is not terrible, it's just too basic to make use of the mechanics inXile has crafted. While your offline partner will do their fair share of killing and healing, the game feels bland without the dynamism of a real-life partner. As such, it's hard to recommend Hunted: The Demon's Forge unless you intend to play it in multiplayer.
Outside of the game's ten-hour campaign, Hunted: The Demon's Forge boasts a fairly comprehensive level generator. You can choose arena and enemy types, allowing you to essentially purpose your own wave-based co-operative mode. Creating levels is slick and simple, but it doesn't have anywhere near the options of a LittleBigPlanet or ModNation Racers. The pre-sets available are rich and plentiful, but you'll be never be able to craft anything particularly original.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge will take you about eight hours to complete alone or in co-0p. Various unlocks and the aforementioned level creation tool are including to extend the gameplay, though your enjoyment of the core mechanics will determine your play time beyond the main campaign.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is a much better game when played with a real-life partner in co-op. Much of the gameplay boils down to arena based conflicts against hordes of enemies. But inXile transforms this predictable design philosophy into something enjoyable using clever implementation of co-operative gameplay. As previously mentioned, both E'lara and Caddoc have magical abilities that compliment each other. Similarly, each character can enable a set of elemental upgrades that can be used to either attack enemies or alternatively power-up your partner. The combat excels when you're making use of these dynamics, communicating and planning moves with your partner. Unfortunately, much of this is lost when you're playing offline with the game's AI.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is one of those rare games that actually gets better the more you play it. The first couple of chapters are bland, opting for boring enemy types and dingey environments. But once you reach Chapter 3, the game really begins to open out. The dark corridors of the game's first couple of hours are left behind for expansive woodlands and burning cities, with the battles feeling much more open and varied. The enemy encounters get more interesting too, with minotaurs and teleporting hoodlums forcing you to make use of the entire environment and adapt your strategies.
At points during Hunted: The Demon's Forge you'll be given the option to drink a barrel of what's referred to as "Sleg". The mystical silver liquid is a key component of Hunted's narrative, turning its adopters into invincible war machines. Occasionally the game will lock you into an arena, and force your character to down some of the unusual liquid. These are amongst the most exciting moments in the game, as you cut through hundreds of enemies with enhanced damage and athleticism. You'll spend much of Hunted: The Demon's Forge feeling underpowered, so these periods of unconstrained action are a welcome relief.
One of the biggest problems with Hunted: The Demon's Forge is that you never feel particularly powerful. Even when you're using each of the game's baked-in co-operative strategies, enemies seem to soak up damage far too easily. By contrast, if you make one mistake you'll find your life-bar draining quicker than is reasonable. As such, the game leaves you feeling ridiculously underpowered. It's an awkward trait considering the arsenal of powers and weapons you have access to.
There are a few spots in Hunted: The Demon's Forge where the game looks absolutely sensational. On one occasion you emerge out of a tropical cave only to happen upon a gigantic vista overlooking an enormous castle-like structure. As gorgeous as the spectacle is, it makes you wonder why the rest of Hunted looks so bland. We are well known for our criticism of the Unreal engine, but Hunted looks significantly worse than other titles using Epic's technology. Shoddy textures and flat lighting compound the game's visual woes. It's a shame because there's some reasonable art direction behind Hunted, but the execution is just not there.
While the banter between Hunted's protagonists is enjoyable, the voice acting throughout is woeful. The awkward, fake British accents add to the goofiness of the action but quickly begin to grate. There's a self-awareness to the game's dialogue — at one point E'lara complains about the number of doors in the level design — but none of it necessarily jives with the game's tone and setting.
When will developers learn that the DualShock 3's L2 and R2 should not be used for shooting? We understand that some developers use the XBOX 360 as their lead platform and that's fine — but how hard can it be to give PlayStation 3 owners the option to set shoot to the L1 and R1 triggers? We're not game developers, but we're guessing it's not hard at all.
Like so many other games of its ilk, Hunted: The Demon's Forge is a flawed experience played alone that improves dramatically when played online in co-op. There are some neat ideas baked int0 Bethesda's fantasy adventure title, but you'll need to look past the game's grubby, unpolished exterior before you happen upon them.