Hunter: The Reckoning - Wayward Review

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Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
Developer: High Voltage Software

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Evil just can't seem to leave the town of Ashcroft alone. Nathaniel Arkady was sentenced to death by electrocution, but when the switch was thrown a rift opened onto the mortal world through which the souls of tormented prisoners streamed. At that moment, four individuals of diverse backgrounds were endowed with the power to see and battle spirits – they became Hunters. After an intense battle they were able to seal the angry souls inside the prison. Only two years ago, a rave was held in the yard of Ashcroft's penitentiary, breaking the seal and once again unleashing zombies, vampires and tormented souls into the mortal town. That second onslaught was stopped by the same, four brave Hunters, granting Ashcroft a brief respite.

While Ashcroft has seemed peaceful, and the church (once desecrated by a giant, possessed teddy bear) has been restored, darkness has coalesced just beneath the surface. During these last two years, two Hunters of the Wayward creed noticed growing cult activity. A local witch's lust for power has attracted the attentions of a much more sinister being that is determined to expand its domain into the mortal realm (the "skinlands"). When everything in Ashcroft once again reverts to terror and the undead wander the streets to the domain of the few innocents still unmolested, these two Hunters have just enough time to send for help before being taken. Now the four Hunters who originally cleaned up Ashcroft are back, and if they're lucky, they might even get some local help from the Wayward Hunters on the way to face a sinister and ancient evil.

Kyle Ackerman

In the first half of 2002, High Voltage Software brought to the Xbox the White Wolf role-playing game in which certain mortals are empowered to battle the supernatural. In their hands, the town of Ashcroft became a gritty, but graphically rich world where, in White Wolf's words, "monsters wear the skins of men" (and sometimes don't even check to see if they fit). While the first game, Hunter: The Reckoning, was clearly a success, it had certain flaws. Building on that first effort, the developer has been working on two sequels – one for the Xbox, and Hunter: The Reckoning – Wayward for the PlayStation 2, both of which expand on the original and fix some of its problems.

Fundamentally, Wayward is a hack-and-slash romp in which you get to slash, shoot, cleave, ignite and perforate the walking dead and tainted supernatural manifestations of all sorts. The four Hunters from the original game return, each with varied images and abilities. Spencer "Deuce" Wyatt is the biker brute of the lot, following the Avenger creed and hitting hard with axe or rifle. Kassandra Cheyung of the Martyr creed is the fastest of the group, able to sacrifice her own health to summon her mystical powers, and wielding twin blades and twin pistols. Samantha Alexander is a policewoman of balanced talents from the Defender creed, and Father Estaban Cortez of the Judge creed is the weakest in physical combat, but has the strongest magical edge powers. Partway through your first run through the game you'll also unlock Joshua Matthews of the Wayward creed. Joshua's skills emphasize strength and speed. While each of the characters has retained their weapons, they've learned new combination attacks and gained new magical edge powers.

Dealing Acrobatic Death

The joy of Wayward is wiping out wave after wave of the undead and enjoying the different fighting techniques and edge powers of each of the Hunters. The game itself can be completed once in just a few hours, but the fun is in exploring all five hunters across multiple difficulty levels, and unlocking everything from new weapons to different outfits to special trophies (with cheat codes). It's fun to explore the different play styles. Kassandra flips and cartwheels around the town, ducking in with the occasional well placed blow or shot. Joshua can use his cleave edge to turn his spinning two-meter long crowbar into a flaming circle of death. Father Cortez can destroy the twisted souls that walk the streets with his edge powers, but can use another Hunter at his back to protect him from combat. Beyond their starting weapons, there are plenty of cool special weapons scattered around Ashcroft from conventional shotguns and machine guns to flamethrowers and bazookas. It may not be the most effective weapon, but it's exciting to watch a Hunter fire the Flare Gun into a Rot Zombie, and have it explode in its chest, causing the foul creature to burst into flame.

As a single player game, Wayward offers plenty of entertainment, especially with the myriad special items that can be unlocked. There are so many such things that it seems every time you wreck a mannequin or break a mailbox you get a message that you have unlocked something else. The difficulty levels are aptly named, as well. On the Easy setting, you won't need to use your continuation credits (earned by saving cringing innocents) until you run into the game's occasional boss battles. Harder levels are appropriately more taxing, requiring some skill to complete. The exceptions are the levels in which you have to defend someone for a set period of time against endless undead. These can be challenging at any level.

Sending the Dead Back to Hell Is Better With a Friend

The game truly hits its peak as a group activity, in which two hunters can work together to clear the streets of Ashcroft. Working together allows you to enjoy the more specialized hunters, as their strengths offset each others' weaknesses. As in the original game, it can be harder to play cooperatively than alone, but the problem is not nearly so extreme. High Voltage paid much more attention to the areas where the Hunters need to maneuver, and left enough space that two people (working in concert) can defeat bosses. You still can't wander off in two different directions, but this problem was mostly solved by allowing the camera to zoom much further out than in the original game. That makes the Hunters look smaller, but the maneuverability is a worthwhile trade-off. Importantly, the camera no longer can be trapped behind the scenery. Columns, trees and lamp posts all go transparent if they would block the camera, a vast improvement from the last Hunter title. Unfortunately, as one analog stick controls movement and the other controls facing, you can't influence the camera except to zoom in and out. Sometimes the camera swings in inconvenient directions.

Once again, the environment looks great. The character animations are fluid and individually tailored, and the monsters just keep coming. Evil creatures range from the more generic zombies and skeletons to S&M themed witches in lace-up platform boots, lace-up black tops and skimpy bottoms. You can shoot the torso off a zombie, but its legs will keep following and kicking at you. The bosses are carefully crafted, as the dark powers-that-be can not only animate flesh, but can create nasty composite creatures from sheet metal and junk. The cut-scenes are well done, although no longer unique to each character as they were in the first game. Even the sinister Carpenter and the Teddy Bear's church make appearances. The graphics still fall victim to one problem with the original game. The environment is dark, so finding the skeletons of spirits that you must put to rest can be challenging in dark places like the Ashcroft Catacombs.

Even Hunters Need Headquarters

The most dramatically different dynamic in Wayward compared to the original game is that this entire game revolves around a hub. The hub starts as the hotel room of the two Wayward hunters, and moves later as that location becomes unsafe. At the hub you can read educational messages from, check out your trophies, view movies or listen to the soundtrack songs from bands No One and Forty Foot Echo. Unlike in the original game, you can hold onto special weapons, store them in your hub location, and choose to bring one back out with you when you leave the hub's safety. From the hub you can choose different locations to visit, and will often need to revisit previous regions of Ashcroft to complete newly discovered objectives. There are usually two to four available destinations, some of which are absolutely required to continue, and others of which are entirely optional. That freedom of choice is pleasant, especially after you've played through the game once, and know which segments you most enjoy. Monsters continue to respawn infinitely, so you can rarely truly clear out a location. The game is at its best in the locations where there are Gauntlet-style "monster generators" that can be eliminated to prevent further respawning. There is a code (only available once you have played the game through once) to turn off respawning, but that turns locations like the graveyard into... well... a graveyard.

Wayward is a crisp game that offers excitement for anyone in the mood for heavy hack and slash action. It's not a game that you'll sit and play for countless hours at a stretch, but it is a game that you can constantly return to (alone or with a friend). In gaming, sending the undead back whence they came is an honorable pastime, and Wayward's town of Ashcroft has a surfeit of zombies to enjoy.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 18, 2003 5:51 PM.

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