For many years now a lot of gamers, myself included, have been lamenting a severe lack of new and original ideas in video games in general and competitive shooters in particular. For every new IP or game-mode that’s introduced to the genre we seem to get at least ten sequels, prequels, remakes or just blatant copies.
I mean, shit, last year’s ‘new’ Call of Duty, Vanguard, was in fact the series’ eighteenth episode! Battlefield 2042 was the twelfth BF – and the crappiest yet to boot. I’m not even going to count every hero shooter or battle royale that was unleashed upon us since these game-modes became flavour of the month (or rather decade, it feels like) following the massive successes of Overwatch and PUBG, respectively.
An argument often brought to the table by the genre’s or a particular franchise’s white knights is that we’re living in a time where pretty much everything’s been done before, so of course the best any new game can do is to reshuffle and refine what we already know.
Fortunately that’s not quite true though…
When I was paying a visit to a buddy of mine a couple of weeks ago he insisted that I finally take a look at his current favourite game, Hunt: Showdown. He’d told me about it before, but at the time I didn’t feel like diving into a new game (new to me, it’s from 2019). What’s more, I thought that I was done playing competitive shooters for good, one reason being that those I’ve played in the past, especially Overwatch, stressed me out far too much, but also because of the aforementioned staleness of the genre.
Yeah, about that? There’s absolutely nothing stale about this game, believe it or not. Well, ok, there are zombies in it, and it does have an optional battle royale mode, but bear with me here, because the game’s main mode, called Bounty Hunt, is so much more than that.
Here’s the gist of it:
Up to twelve players, either solo or in teams of two or three, are randomly spawned on the outskirts of a map spanning one square kilometer. Hidden somewhere in this area are either one or two boss monsters. The goal is to find clues pointing to the bosses’ locations, then get to a boss alive, kill it, banish it back to hell and finally pick up one of the two bounties it drops. With that in your pocket you either leg it to one of the extraction points scattered around the map boundaries, or try your luck with the second boss too, if there is one, and then extract.
Although this sounds pretty straightforward it’s much, much more complex in reality.
First of all, the maps are full of stuff trying to kill you. Zombies of different flavours, hellhounds, hives (which send swarms of poisonous insects after you) and other hellish creatures lurk the compounds, which is what the various settlements, farms or factories where clues or the bosses themselves can be hidden are called.
These monsters absolutely can kill you, make no mistake, but their main purpose is to slow you down and, most importantly, to make you cause a ruckus. You see, sound in this game is your biggest asset and your worst enemy at the same time. The larger firearms can be heard from all across the map (literally), and since enemy players are the real threat you want to make as little noise as possible at all times. Playing with a good pair of headphones is pretty much mandatory, and it’s totally worth it not only from a tactical perspective. The sound is so good in this game!
The bosses are not that hard to defeat once you know their weaknesses, but it takes a while, and you really don’t want other players to get the jump on you while you’re busy squatting in a corner, bandaging yourself after a nasty boss attack. Once you’ve finished the bugger it gets even more hairy, because you then need to ‘banish’ it. Starting that process only requires the push of a button, but it takes three minutes and twenty seconds to finish, and only then the coveted bounties drop. What’s more, during that time all players can see on their maps where exactly the boss died, and how far the banishment has already progressed.
Should you survive this phase you can then pick up one of the bounties, which will have two very important consequences. One, your approximate position is now shown to all players by an icon flashing every few seconds on the map, and two, your ‘dark sight’, which is normally used to locate clues and bosses, gains the ability to also show enemy players near you, but only for five seconds total, so you need to use it wisely.
If you manage to extract with a bounty you get the most rewards, obviously, and you will kinda have ‘won’ the map – although there can be more than one winner or winning team, as there are always either two or four bounties to claim, depending on whether the map has one or two bosses, and each player can only carry one bounty per boss. Extracting without a bounty still nets you some XP and currency, and if you managed to snag, say, a better weapon than what you had in the beginning you get to keep it.
What makes all of this so exciting is that you don’t just respawn a couple of seconds later if you get downed. In fact, if you went in solo then that’s it, the round’s over for you. While in a team your mates can revive you, provided they don’t share your fate while trying. If they’re successful you get up again, but with very low health, so you should take cover immediately and hope you still have a bandage on hand. You’ll also lose a bit of your maximum health each time, which can only be replenished when you or someone from your team initiates a boss banishment and you’re in the vicinity.
Of course there are many more details I haven’t talked about yet, for example how progression works, what kinds of weapons there are and so on. I will save those things for another time though, as I’d rather elaborate a bit more on why I feel this game is so special and innovative.
First of all, it’s nailbitingly (Is that a word? It is now!) thrilling, and in a really good way. Remember me saying competitive shooters stress me out? Yeah, always did, but for some reason this one doesn’t. I think the big difference is that when I played those other games I always went in with the expectation (or at least a strong desire) to win, and it often made me angry when I didn’t. Whereas when I play Hunt I always go in fully expecting to die, so I don’t fret when it happens, and when I do ‘win’ I’m all the happier for it. Sometimes the game giveth, sometimes it taketh away, that’s just the way it goes.
Another unique aspect is that players can choose pretty freely how they want to approach any given match. I’d never seen this in a shooter until now, at least not on this level. Don’t fancy boss fights? Just wait for other players to do it for you and attack them during the banishment phase. Or you initiate the banishment, but then leave instead of holing up, so you won’t be where others will surely expect you to be. Or you wait until others pick up the bounties and ambush them on the way to extraction (beware of their dark sight though!). Or use the sound of gunfire as orientation and get in on the action when two other teams fight each other, possibly being the last player standing.
Speaking of which, unless you really are the last remaining player on the map you’ll never know for certain how many others are left, so most rounds stay exciting until the very end.
So yeah, for me Hunt: Showdown really was a revelation of sorts. It’s probably not a game I’ll ever play each and every day for hours on end (if only because playing shooters for too long unfortunately makes me sick to my stomach), but it’s so exciting, innovative and exceptionally well designed – more on that next time – that I can safely say it is, in my opinion, by far the best competitive shooter you can play right now.
It is Buy2Play, but like most games on Steam it’s discounted more often than not. Highly recommended.