Republished on Wednesday 30th March 2022: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of April 2022's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
What if a classic Assassin’s Creed quest was the basis for a competitive multiplayer game? Hood: Outlaws & Legends emphatically answers that question, delivering an unquestionably entertaining twist on the stealth genre. While this 4v4 sneak-‘em-up certainly has its shortcomings, there’s a lot to like about what developer Sumo Newcastle has concocted.
You play as either Robin Hood or one of three of his Merry Men, with your team’s objective being to steal a vault key and extract the treasure. Divided into two teams of four – Loxley and Huntingdon – you’ll be working against each other in environments populated by computer-controlled guards in order to achieve your objective unnoticed.
If you’re spotted by the AI, then the region will go into lockdown, restricting your infiltration opportunities. More problematic is that your position will be marked on your opponent’s map, revealing where you are and what you’re up to. The goal, then, is to begin extracting the treasure without ever being spotted, meaning your adversaries won’t know what you’re doing.
The concept is complicated, but it comes together really well, and it doesn’t take long to learn your role and how you can complement your teammates. Different classes have unique skills and abilities: Robin can fire devastating arrows over long distances, while John is more of a melee damage dealer who can lift portcullises should you get detected and go into lockdown.
Tooke is more of a mystic character class armed with a ball-and-chain, and he has a special ability which both allows you to heal and temporarily mark the position of enemy players. Meanwhile, Marianne is an assassin, who can use smoke bombs to conceal her identity and assassinate her enemies from all angles rather than just behind.
There are some balance issues here: we enjoyed playing as Marianne a lot, for example, and found her to be devastating against the AI – but against real-world opponents, who can swivel the camera and track your position more effectively, it’s difficult to get the jump and trigger an assassination animation. As she’s so weak in hand-to-hand combat, she feels like a poor option.
But there’s a lot of fun to be had operating in teams in order to fulfil your objectives unnoticed. A heavily armoured sheriff is your key to the, er, vault key – and you can snatch it from his belt. From there you’ll be given a clue as to the treasure’s location and, if you went unnoticed, your opponents will only know that you have the key.
It’s so satisfying when you know you’re operating completely undercover, and that the enemy team is panicking trying to trace your position. Voice communication can be important, but the game has a very good “pinging” system that lets you mark foes and locations of interest, and we actually found we were able to operate fairly effectively with competent players without needing to speak.
Finding the treasure will draw AI adversaries to your position, but if you can successfully escort your carrier without being spotted, you’ll get the jump on extracting the treasure. You’ll need to winch the riches out of the map, and this is where territory control becomes important, as you’ll want to spawn as close as possible to the extraction point should you get killed.
Using vantage points as Robin to pick off invading enemies or rushing into battle as the hammer-wielding John is a lot of fun, and while the animations feel floaty and weak, there’s some great DualSense controller feedback that communicates the tension of your bowstring or the weight of your weapons. We also like how the haptic feedback is used to reflect the sheriff’s thumping footsteps.
As you extract treasure and assassinate AI enemies, you’ll earn money which you can then distribute between yourself and your hideout: the purse or the people – as it’s framed in the game. Upgrading your hideout means you’ll discover new cosmetics, perks, and weapons – but you’ll need cash in order to purchase them. It’s a neat dynamic that plays into the Robin Hood lore.
Our biggest criticism, then, is that there just aren’t enough people playing the game – a death knell for any multiplayer title. Content is light at launch, but the game is priced accordingly and there’s a huge roadmap of updates planned, so that’s not the end of the world. More concerning is the fact that, even with crossplay enabled, you can be waiting up to ten minutes for a full lobby.
It’s a shame because, once we were actually playing, we really enjoyed our time with this – it’s one of the more unique and interesting multiplayer titles we’ve experienced in a while. But even our enthusiasm was sapped when we found ourselves sitting, twiddling our fingers following every game, wishing we could hop straight back in. We’re not sure what the solution is here.
Our only other gripe is that, while the maps actually look very nice, the gothic environmental art of the five launch locations tends to blend together, meaning that it can all feel a bit samey. A bit more variety to the backdrops would have gone a long way, as currently it can be hard to tell the difference between them.
Hood: Outlaws & Legends should be applauded for doing something different. In a just world, this release would steal players from larger brands and establish itself as a unique online alternative – but right now, its community is small. Assuming you can find a match, the stealth-based competitive gameplay is refreshing, and while it’s not without its drawbacks, it can be seriously satisfying when you work as a team to achieve your objectives unnoticed. There’s huge potential here, Sumo Newcastle just needs to find a way to keep its playerbase engaged.