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April 24, 2020
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Initially, Predator: Hunting Grounds got me excited to jump into the heavy boots of a Predator once again. The Alien vs Predator games and surprise Ghost Recon: Wildlands DLC proves that being or being hunted by a Predator is usually a fun time. With IllFonic behind this asymmetrical multiplayer title, the developers of Friday the 13th: The Game and arena shooter Nexuiz, I was hesitant to say the least. After booting up the game on PlayStation 4 and playing for a long time, all I can say is, “you’re one ugly…”
Predator: Hunting Grounds sets a Fireteam of four players against one Predator within a desolate and lavish jungle. The squad of mercenaries needs to complete certain objectives like destroying militia equipment, collecting contaminated samples, and finally “get to the chopper!” to escape the zone. Thrown into the mix is the trophy hunter itself, trying to track down its game and collect their skulls for decoration. Between all this ruckus are three groups of AI enemies; Stargazer, the PMC, and drug lords. It’s kill or be killed, a very similar premise and tone to the 1987 movie.
On paper, this gameplay sounds perfect to any fan of the series. The reality is it grows stale quickly and hurts the lifespan of the game. Within the first few hours, objectives and the setting become repetitive. Go here, activate this, shoot this, run to the chopper. Rinse and repeat. On top of a jungle that looks almost identical wherever you go, despite a boating area and a ruin, it’s difficult to be intrigued by the environment.
The Predator may have trouble understanding where they are on the map and potentially have issues finding prey if they’re smart about their movements. Fireteams are likely to just complete their goals as fast as possible to escape the area without looking around so much more than to pick up a few collectables. During my playtime, I was able to finish missions within two or three minutes and felt absolutely no danger from the looming foe.
“…being the Predator feels absolutely powerful in the right hands, as it should.”
Adversely, there is some excitement when a decent Predator challenges a squad. Exactly like the film, Fireteams are picked off one by one and scramble to revive each other in the midst of a firefight, until they ultimately lose. Loadouts allow for a variety of strategies, some easier than others, to obtain victory. A Berserker Predator with an Eldersword and melee boosted perks can decimate in up-close combat. Whereas, a ranged hunter can focus on energy perks and use their laser to blast squads from afar. Unfortunately, stealth abilities are severely underpowered, and generally leave the most popular strategy of the species useless. Regardless, being the Predator feels absolutely powerful in the right hands, as it should.
That small amount of immersion is torn away by clunky and buggy movement of the Predator. Running through trees is supposed to be the most efficient way to traverse the jungle. However, the flow and the controls are a mess as you’ll be constantly stuck on platforms, jumping to the wrong area, or simply not knowing where to move.
The leaping mechanic allows for an alternate fast movement across the map though suffers from similar issues. At times, it simply doesn’t respond or is too slow, leaving the agile alien open to a hail of bullets. Before death, the hunter initiates its self-destruct mode, annihilating all enemies who are stuck within the huge blast radius or unable to defuse the bomb. It’s a shame that so much effort has clearly gone into the fan service of being a Predator, though severely let down by some horrific controls.
Hunting Grounds uses a crossplay feature between its Epic Store PC players and PlayStation 4 console gamers. As always, having crossplay is fantastic for connecting player bases and friends together, regardless of their platform. Although, it does raise the issue of the mouse and keyboard advantage, particularly with the awkward controls on console. Aiming feels so floaty it’s like controllers have their own permanent cursor acceleration. It can be frustrating trying to fire at anything not within arm’s reach, a non-issue for someone with a mouse. Additionally, switching between equipment is a breeze with a variety of keys compared to cumbersome controller mapping. Being able to remap buttons could hopefully rectify this problem but this isn’t something IllFonic has added. Crossplay is a fantastic feature for this asymmetrical multiplayer game yet lends itself to some unfair advantages due to poor controls.
It’s important to note that Predator: Hunting Grounds has zero accessibility options. There are no colour-blind modes, no field of view sliders, and no readability options for subtitles. For a game with quite a cumbersome user interface, this can be problematic for certain players. Hopefully, the PC modding community can fix some of this in the future.
“…terrible anti-aliasing that makes everything look like a pixelated vomit of green.”
Looking far into the distance, there’s something out there waiting for us, and it ain’t no man. It’s the terrible anti-aliasing that makes everything look like a pixelated vomit of green. Sure, it makes it harder to spot a Predator, but for all the wrong reasons. This issue plagues the PlayStation 4 mainly, though the frame rate drop is consistent across platforms. Firefights are almost guaranteed to slow down to a choppy ten frames per second and lower. If the Predator decides to pounce at you in the middle of an enemy area, just hope no more than three enemies are firing or the game will look like a bad stop motion animation. IllFonic need to pick up the effort in performance and optimisation. It’s an issue that hurt their previous games and continues to damage their reputation. Hopefully, patches will help nullify these problems.
A few popular internet icons have lent their voices to this game. Familiar sounds from the Funhaus team pop up occasionally and Scott Matthew Robison, better known online as Sark, narrates many of the in-game briefings and objectives. As expected from untrained voice actors, it’s not good. Sark has this tone that will pull anyone out from the grain of immersion they might have had. It’s obvious that the developers wanted to use influencer star power to sell a few more copies. In the end, the voice acting is another deep cut to the Predator: Hunting Ground’s merit.
Outside of gameplay, cosmetics and weapon modifications will try to keep you coming back for more. Levelling up unlocks new gear and abilities allowing for new strategies. Players open loot boxes called Field Lockers with a currency called Vertianium, collected purely by gameplay. These allow you to customise both your human and Predator avatar with weapon patterns, masks, armour styles, and even the Predator’s dreadlocks. Despite being referred to as “him” in most marketing, you can play as a female Predator, too. IllFonic devote themselves to lore and fans of the series will be excited to see some of the inclusions here. Predator: Hunting Grounds may suffer from a lot of tragic issues, though the fan service surely will have some players sticking around.
The question is though, how long will people be playing Predator: Hunting Grounds? Asymmetrical multiplayer games are solely dependent on player numbers and history has shown that few survive. Evolve was famously a huge flop despite its somewhat fun gameplay and Friday 13th: The Game didn’t last too long either. In fact, developers from both are working on this Predator edition to the genre, and we’ll try to ignore the fact that IllFonic abandoned their last buggy effort. Even the bonus asymmetrical multiplayer in Doom: Eternal suffers from a dwindling player base only a month into its release. Dead by Daylight is the only true success story as it’s cheaper and better optimised with much more content to play. Hunting Grounds suffers from poor matchmaking, which is already a blow to the skull, and it’s unlikely to have many players in the foreseeable future.
Predator: Hunting Grounds is not a well-made game. Becoming the daunting hunter and tracking down mercenaries for sport sets the stage for an exhilarating experience, as it has in the past. An asymmetrical multiplayer game is essentially the perfect fit for the premise with so much potential. Unfortunately, IllFonic delivers a messy romp of mindless AI, dull objectives, and fiddly controls. The sheer sight of console gameplay halting to extremely low FPS will scare off some players faster than any Predator could. Admittedly, the outstanding Predator score and atmosphere does bring some excitement. Yet, despite the dedicated appreciation for the franchise, Predator: Hunting Grounds is poorly made and not fun to play.