Touted as an innovative dungeon crawler, Hunted: The Demon Forge was developed by InXile Entertainment and distributed by Bethesda. It certainly has the backing of a big player in the fantasy game genre, so it’s got the right pedigree… but will it prove to be a treasure trove, or are we on a fruitless journey into a dirty hole in the ground?
This is a third person game and has all the basic components comprising a dungeon crawler. There’s the choice of two playable characters in single player mode, and the same two characters appearing in split-screen multiplayer mode. The controls are straightforward and pretty much what you would expect from this type of game. There are the basic melee actions and power moves utilising the controller buttons, while the triggers are used to aim and fire your missile weapon. Movement is standard as well but with an added innovation of being able to crouch behind cover and leap over walls.
There’s also the required role playing elements, where you improve your character’s abilities. In this case it’s by collecting crystals, with which you can buy additional abilities or enhance existing ones. There are weapons and armour to find, gold to loot and quests to complete; all the stuff that makes up any respectable dungeon.
The developers have, however, strived to make their mark by delivering some innovation into the genre through putting more emphasis on the multiplayer game. In a nutshell, each of the characters has been designed to complement the other. We have Caddoc, the typical warrior type who lets his axe do the talking, while the other character is a female elf called E'lara, who fills the role of ranged support. Each has a skill tree that supports their role at a pinch, but each can take up the other’s role. In the case of Caddock, instead of a reasonably rapid-firing bow, he has a crossbow to supplement his melee weapon.
The theory is that when playing multiplayer, the warrior takes on the tank role and the ranged elf snipes from cover or high ground. This is extended further into how the differing skill trees can assist each other. Caddock can, for instance, levitate enemies, and while they hang in the air E'lara can finish them off with her bow. In single player mode (you can chop and change between characters), the other player becomes a bot and depending on the skills you allocate, will still look to complement the player controlled character. To round this off, experience and progress achieved in multiplayer is credited to your single player game.
The storyline is well written and there are some puzzles that you will need to solve if you wish to progress further. These often require the use of one or both the characters’ abilities to resolve. The game is largely linear, as directed by a useful sparkly tracer you can pull up on command, but there are lots of side areas to explore that often reveal hidden treasures.
So by all accounts, this should be a very good and entertaining game to play. However, despite a lot of excellent components it seems it has been glued together with wallpaper paste. The real shame is that the game mechanics and graphics really let the game down.
The graphics are best described as coloured dirt. Sure, hidden under the dirt is a lot of detail and in places some great scenery, but throughout the game it’s as if you were viewing this through a windscreen badly in need of some spit and a dirty rag. It’s hard to pin down but the colours seem to feature lots of shades of brown to give a sense of menace. Instead, though, they deliver brown mud that will have you squinting trying to spot monster and treasure alike. The only redeeming feature is the contrast and highlights often provided by a bucket of blood. There are blood splashes to the inside of the screen, the artistic splodges of sword-driven blood, and these are offset by the satisfying red mist of an impacting arrow.
As to the gameplay, there are some design decisions that have badly let the game down. At any one time you can only carry one potion of health and mana. No mad chugging in a particularly nasty fight; rather, you only have the one lifeline before a frantic search for a container to smash on the off chance it contains a health pot. As a consequence you will often find yourself nursing your character along, looking for pots rather than taking in the nuances of the game itself.
Actual combat is a bit glitchy, with the monsters often pushing up against walls aimlessly while you plug them full of arrows. Sure, when they are concentrating on the job they take cover; however they often pop in and out of cover in exactly the same place… which makes for an easy kill but offers little in the way of real challenge. When it comes to melee there is some level of finesse: you can block incoming blows, but basically you point your character in the general direction of your target and button flay away. It works, but it feels clunky and a little contrived.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge should have been a great game. It has all the necessary components and the innovation to make it so, but all of the great thinking and ideas were spoilt when the coders and graphic designers got hold of it. It's worth a look if you really are hankering for a mindless dungeon crawler - and your favourite colour is brown; otherwise, wait till it hits the specials counter.