A truly monstrous take on multiplayer shooters, Hunt: Showdown finally makes its way to the PlayStation 4 having already set hairs on edge elsewhere. Despite being in need of some more combat, the game is an unsettling experience that melds player-versus-player and player-versus-environment content to offer something unlike anything else on PS4.
Aside from a tutorial with multiple difficulty levels, Hunt: Showdown is an entirely online experience. Players step into the well-worn boots of bounty hunters in an approximation of 19th century Louisiana. You'll navigate a sizeable chunk of bayou-inspired swampland, populated by all kinds of nasties. Rank and file zombies can be downed with a headshot, while armoured beasts and devil dogs can dish out plenty of damage and often need a well-timed shotgun blast to even knock down, let alone kill.
Once you do track down the main monster, the aim of the game is dispatching it quickly. There are only three monsters at present, but each requires a different approach. The fast-moving 'Assassin' can turn itself into a swarm of insects, while 'The Butcher' wears an animal skull as a helmet as it lumbers towards players. Worst of all is 'The Spider', the kind of arachnid that would give even Skyrim’s finest nightmares as it walks on walls and attempts to tie hunters down with webs and poison.
Once you’ve slain the target beast, a two-minute ritual must take place to banish the creature to the afterlife. Unfortunately, the magic involved in the ritual identifies the location of the monster, and by extension your team, leading to some tense firefights over the resulting token – an item which itself must be extracted.
If all of that sounds stressful, you’d be right, and death in this Bounty Hunt mode is permanent – meaning you can lose your hunter and all of their earned skills and equipment. Seeing your perfect run ended by an ambush from the opposition feels painful the first time, but playing the same trick on an unsuspecting opponent feels like passing on life lessons.
No two matches of Hunt Showdown ever feel the same, thanks to the sheer number of moving parts and strategies. Is it best to employ stealth to secure the clues on the map, while setting distraction items like blank-firing turrets around the map to lead your enemies in the wrong direction? If you're playing at night, can you spot enemies by the telltale light from the lanterns they carry? If you know where the boss monster is, do you detour via another route to stock up on weapons and healing items, or simply to try and ambush another squad?
While the maps are sizeable, there are only two to be found in the game. Spawn points, boss locations, and extraction points are randomised, with four different times of day. The bayou’s sun can pierce through leafy trees, or the night can bathe the river in moonlight. Even worse, fog obscures anything lurking in the underbrush, and as you’d expect from Crysis creators Crytek, it all looks great.
Despite some minor texture pop-in on PS4 Pro, Hunt: Showdown is a looker – every zombie looks as grotesque as it should, every hair on the Spider’s legs bristles with poisonous intent, and the region’s air is thick with tension. In truth, it’s not for the faint of heart, the hum of mosquitoes and the oppressive humidity of the region bringing to life the sweaty climes of the first season of True Detective. What we’re saying is that this game is downright scary. It takes the fear of the unknown so prominent in the Battle Royale genre and seasons it with Louisiana horror stories.
Making you feel just a little bit safer are the game’s weapons. Gunplay is weighty, with armaments lacking the automatic reload that is so prevalent in other shooters. That sounds like an inconsequential decision at first, but once you’re frantically cramming your last two shells into your shotgun while staring down the Butcher as he lumbers towards you, you realise that it’s yet another way that Crytek has amped up the tension.
Unfortunately, the main issue Hunt: Showdown faces is one of content. Although all three monsters are terrifying, there are still only three of them. And other than the tutorial, there are only two modes. While the game’s two maps are lush, detailed, and sizeable, more variety certainly wouldn't hurt. The foundation here is solid, but it does feel as though the best is yet to come.
Hunt: Showdown is a terrifying experience that is unlike anything else you’ll find on PlayStation 4. Horror fans will find a lot to love, as will fans of unique shooters, and the game has already established quite an audience on other platforms. More content will inevitably trickle out in the coming months, but for now this is the kind of scare-fest that’s easy to recommend – an addictive, nerve-shredding title, but one that feels like a wonderful (and somehow horrible) first step in a long road.