Hunted: The Demon's Forge

Posted by Phill Cameron (October 12, 2010)

I’d forgive you if you saw Hunted: The Demon’s Forge and laughed. A guffaw, even, might be understandable. You see, the premise is kind of a stereotype. A cliche, if you will. You’ve got the big, burly chap with the sword and shield and the lack of armour on his upper half. And you’ve got the slim, agile elven girl with a lack of armour in her upper and lower halves. A lack of armour everywhere, really. And they’re in a dungeon.

However, like the comedical masterpiece that is Demolition Man, while the characters are entirely straight, it’s the world around them that creates the humour, and that’s something that Max Kaufman, the Game Director of Hunted, says that InXile are very aware of.

“It’s a combination of tongue-in-cheek and dark humour. What we did was take these characters and take typical settings and then do things to make it unique. We take something that people are familiar with and then break the genre. So one of the breaking elements of those two characters are just their personalities. She’s the blood thirsty one, she’s the one who’s jumping in and getting in trouble, and he’s the one who’s more laid back, more reserved.”

It’s a simple twist on established genre tropes, but that’s indicative of Hunted as a whole. They’re taking established genres and mechanics, and then applying them in a series of new and interesting ways. This isn’t an RPG, but at the same time, it’s not /not/ an RPG either. You’ve got your weapons, your magic. It’s just you’re not sitting there trying to maximise stats. You’re cracking zombie skulls and turning skeletons to mush. It’s gritty fantasy, don’tcha know?

“We wanted to do something that kind of bridged the two genres. I want to say ‘shooter action’, because ‘action’ is a deceiving thing. Everything’s called action. It’s almost like the shooter action genre. If you think of something like Gears of War or Call of Duty. And then you think about fantasy. So we’re bridging those two areas, those two segments, and putting them together into something that we think is perfect timing, because there are so many games that are just about shooting guns, and we really think that the fantasy elements of swords, and magic, and bows, are appealing in different ways.”

It’s because of this that Hunted has become affectionately known as ‘Gears of Warcraft’, and the fact that it’s using the recognisable Unreal Engine 3 probably doesn’t help a great deal in trying to distance itself from such comparisons. Luckily for InXile, they seem to be all but welcoming it, and when you look at the phenomenal success of that franchise, why wouldn’t they want people to see it that way?

While the game does have a good deal of cover and ruined buildings, though, it would be unfair to mark it off as purely Gears of War in a fantasy space. It’s extremely melee oriented, and even with that single difference, it handles very differently from the Epic behemoth. The two characters, Caddoc and E’lara, both handle similarly but in interestingly different ways. Caddoc is a melee specialist, whereas E’lara is better with a bow. That means you’re going to want to keep a good handle on where your partner is, and what their situation is like. If E’lara is getting swamped, Caddoc is going to need to wade in. Of course, that’s all about finding the right partner to play with. Otherwise, things are going to get frustrating.

Luckily, InXile have got you covered. Well, hopefully they’re going to find someone to cover you. Maxx Kaufman explains.

“With the matchmaking we wanted to do something unique and different. And our multiplayer engineer came up with a great idea. I guess he was lonely or something, looking online for dating sites. We always make fun of him about that. So we have a way to match you successfully with your mate online, if you want to say it that way. Deathmatching. And there are characteristics on how people play the game, and they’re set up on the list, and you can see that ‘Oh, this person likes to explore, they like to play Caddoc, and they’re at this point in the game.’ So, I think I’m going to want to match with this person. So you can find strangers who you could match with and hopefully form a good partnership for going through the world.”

This sort of thing is important. Not only are you going to not want someone who gets themselves killed all the time, but you’re going to need someone who you’re going to be able to work cooperatively with. We don’t all have best buddies, and something like this, where you can make your own matches, is bound to make working with a stranger that little bit easier.

You’re going to need to work with them, too. The game features cooperative puzzles, requiring each player to play to their characters strengths. In the segment I got to play, E’lara needed to shoot the ropes holding up a ramp, before Caddoc went and manned a huge ballista to stop the skeletons from spawning. This was all while they were under attack, and it certainly added an element of tension to the proceedings.

“Each player has their own unique things that they can do as far as puzzles go. So Caddoc can push things, and open things, and E’lara shoots things, she can light things on fire. So with those two elements we’ve got a lot of ways to challenge the players.”

Not all the puzzles are going to be necessary to progress, however. Much like the recent (and excellent) Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light, Hunted allows you to divert yourself from the main path and investigate the dungeon a little more, to be rewarded by a more unique and challenging flair. And loot. I forgot to ask whether it was phat or not.

“It is a linear game with these mini dungeon branches, basically. One of the cool things about Hunted is that we have the opportunity to really challenge the player. You put them in these really tricky situations if they choose to go down these mini dungeons paths. And in doing that there’s some very challenging puzzles and secrets.”

So you’ve got yourself a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, with a touch of exploration and some interesting cooperative mechanics. The only thing you need to tick off all the boxes for any RPG ever is some player choices. Hunted’s got you covered.

“The story is really deep, and it touches on some pretty powerful subjects. There’s addiction in the world. So it’s a story about addiction and human sacrifice. Both of these ideas are elements in the game. There are creatures in the world that are addicted to this liquid called Sleg, and it’s changing them. And the characters have moral decisions to make, like are you going to drink it to help you through certain areas of the game? Or are you going to just go through and not drink it and find out what the consequences are. There’s other moral decisions; you can save prisoners along the way, if you decide to save them, all kinds of possibly good things can happen because you saved them and rescued them. And sometimes not saving them can have negative consequences.”

There’s a worry in all of this that the experience is going to be too linear, too scripted and directed, and the entire feel that you’re delving into the unknown is going to slip away. When I personally think of dungeon crawlers I think of the great Nethacks like ZangbandTK. And what I played of Hunted didn’t really have that element of the random and dangerous. Granted I only got to play in one combat arena before moving a little ways onward, but it all felt very... safe.

There’s always hope though. There’s a glimmer that you cling to, and cradle, desperate that this is the one thing that’s going to be indicative of the rest of the game. As the demo came to a close, our two heroes were running down a corridor. Suddenly, the floor gave away, and they were dropped ten, twenty feet, into the blackness.

Caddoc lights a torch, and they’re in some sort of room, with things glittering at the edge of the light. What lay beyond that little circle of light was anyone’s guess, but my imagination was doing backflips. Right now, I’m feeling a little like Caddoc. What I can see, while perfectly fun and entertaining, isn’t hugely inspiring.

But what I can imagine just beyond the horizon? That’s the stuff.


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