Hunter: The Reckoning Review

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Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Digital Mayhem

Platform: Xbox, GameCube
Reviewed on Xbox

Many things went wrong on the evening of the execution of Nathaniel Arkady at Ashcroft Prison. When the switch was thrown, the tortured souls of dead prisoners escaped through a tear in the world. Four people, at the prison to witness Arkady's execution, were imbued, given the ability to see the evil spirits and the power to fight them. These four individuals become Hunters. On that night, they learn that the prison is actually a haven for vampires and zombies. They beat back the spirits and seal them in. Years later, on the anniversary of Arkady's execution, some residents of the town of Ashcroft throw a rave outside the door of the old prison. For reasons unknown to you (at the start), the spirits stir, break out of prison and overrun the town. Into the breach return the Hunters. You choose one of four Hunters to play as: Avenger, Judge, Defender or Martyr. You can also play multiplayer with everyone sharing a single screen. Each Hunter is equipped with one melee weapon, one ranged weapon and "edges" – special powers in unique combinations available to each Hunter. You'll also find an array of special weapons lying around, just right for all your undead killing needs. Find the source of the evil, free the innocents and save Ashcroft from a reawakened evil.

Rob de los Reyes

Ever since the Xbox first launched, the general sentiment among gamers has been that while the Xbox clearly has the most advanced technology, there just haven't been any must-have titles except Halo. FI reported that based on its time at E3 this year, Xbox owners should hang tight, that things were about to get good. And so they have. Hunter: The Reckoning is a stunning achievement marred only by the fact that you want it to keep going. The player characters are differentiated and full of personality. The levels are creepy and well-paced. The static artwork is lavish and the animations executed in smooth detail. Throw in an industrial metal soundtrack (courtesy of coma) and the ability to play multiplayer on a single screen à la Gauntlet, and you have the next must-play title for the Xbox.

Your adventure begins with character selection. While this choice may be somewhat less gut-wrenching than in a hardcore role-playing game, one of the grand surprises of Hunter is that the 4 playable characters are so clearly distinct. The characters' titles reflect their play style. The Avenger is strong, slow and offensive-minded. The Martyr packs less punch but is much speedier. This much is well-worn but convention, but the animations assigned to each character add a vividness to what might otherwise be cliché. The Martyr, as seen in the screenshots, is something of an acrobat. The Judge, with his crossbow and cruciform sword, stands tall and haughty. The Defender (my character of choice) sports a realistic cautious walk when aiming her pistol. The Avenger's melee animation involves wide, strong swings of the axe with little regard for flair. Each character is also possessed of certain "Edges," special powers that can be triggered. Some of the powers are possessed by more than one character, but no character shares the same set of three powers. The Edges also flesh out the character concepts. The Defender's opening power is a heal. The Judge's opening power is a cone of light that damages enemies caught in its rays. As you level your character, new powers are added and old ones grow in strength and effect. Moreover, the growth in power is designed to take multiplayer gaming into account. The Defender's healing power, for example, ultimately heals not only the Defender herself, but nearby comrades, as well.

Most entertainingly, cutscenes have been produced for each character and combination of characters. It would have been easy enough to produce generic cutscenes that never showed the player character or used the character's voice, but would have been significantly less satisfying. The cutscenes are a significant inducement to continue playing, as they are well-animated and deliver an engaging story. Some of the dialogue is most charitably described as campy ("If it talks, it can think, and YOU can't stand that!"), but at least the lines are delivered with full commitment by the voice actors. Even so, much of the heavy-handedness is undercut by little bits of humor, intentional or otherwise.

A barebones description of gameplay doesn't quite do Hunter justice. At a base level, all you really do is run around a maze and hack up undead monsters. And yet Hunter comes off as much more than that. If nothing else, that maze and those monsters are some of the sharpest and cleverest bits of artwork yet to grace the Xbox. Certain monsters must be destroyed bit by bit, and watching a mere pair of legs shamble towards you (to do what, kick you in the knees?) is worth the price of admission. You could probably beat Hunter with little more than button-mashing, but observation reveals that there is something to be gained from nuanced play. Each character comes equipped with a standard melee weapon and a standard ranged weapon with limitless ammo (special weapons are also lying around, but with limited ammo). When wielding her sword, the Defender goes through a series of motions. With a bit of practice, you can learn to set up your foes so that one series of motions strikes one monster behind you, several in front, then one more behind you. The other characters are also animated in a way that offer optimal tactics for you to discover. Moreover, Hunter does a good job prompting you to switch between different types of weapons for different situations. Less is made of the Edges than might be, although some characters have more use for them than others. With the Defender, there rarely seemed to be a call to use anything besides the healing power. By contrast, the Judge's powers all seemed to be superbly useful.

The boss monsters are old-school boss monsters. They look great, but are more nuisance than fun. Like almost every other boss monster you've ever fought, the key is to find the one weapon to which it is vulnerable, then use it over and over while running in a circle. Ironically, those detailed melee animations actually make fighting single monsters even more difficult, since they seem designed for the group fights that make up 80 - 90% of the game. But at least Hunter is consistent. With the classic arcade-style device of boss monsters comes the classic arcade device of multiple lives. You'll need them. The twist is that your lives are generated by rescuing innocents. This is more than an admittedly welcome cosmetic touch, as it serves to motivate full exploration of each game area.

The multiplayer game is actually a bit more difficult than solo play. In both instances, there are areas that give the game "camera" a bit of trouble. Playing solo, however, you are free to run around and try to lodge the camera in a more favorable angle. Because all players in multiplayer share the same screen, you are not as free to manipulate the camera through movement. Melee also becomes more difficult in multiplayer. Too often, one player will charge forward to engage in melee but be stopped just short of the target because the player fighting from range is too far back. And there you are, haplessly flailing while your intended target shoots you and your companion is too occupied to move in the proper direction to free you to advance. Still, in a time when nearly all multiplayer is split-screen, the single screen action is a refreshing change of pace. Moreover, as mentioned above, the characters' Edges specifically contemplate multiplayer gaming such that a multiplayer session feels quite different than a single-player session. Since Hunter is arguably a bit short in terms of overall duration, the replayability thus gained takes on more importance.

If one were so inclined, it may be possible to run through an entire single-player game in one day of dedicated play. But why would you? To get to the other side? Hunter is full of nooks and crannies in which to poke around. The characters are different enough that even those gamers who aren't normally inclined to replay games may be intrigued by the prospect of a palpably different tactical experience. What's more, bring over a friend or two, and the game changes dramatically – a bit for the better and a bit for the worse, but different nonetheless. Hunter is a stunning combination of old and new gaming experiences. The comparison to the mindless fun of the old action hack Gauntlet is as accurate as it is inevitable. What's new is everything you'd demand: richer graphics, more detailed animations and a greater variety of settings and challenges. Xbox owners should breathe a sigh of relief. Their console isn't just for Halo anymore.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 3, 2002 7:47 PM.

The Saga Behind the Sagas: Interplay and the Business of Gaming was the previous entry.

Grand Theft Auto III Review is the next entry.

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