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Crytek’s latest, called Hunt: Showdown, is a strange beast

This hardcore shooter feels a lot like Escape From Tarkov

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Crytek’s latest game, Hunt: Showdown, is now live on Steam’s Early Access platform. At first glance, it looks a bit like other shooters in the survival or battle royale genre. But if you drop into the game expecting to find the next PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds you’re going to have a pretty rough go of it. Let’s talk about what the game actually is, as well as some of what you need to understand in order to have fun.

Hunt: Showdown is absolutely not an arena shooter. Instead, it’s a mashup of two other fairly obscure games: Evolve, the team-based monster hunting game released in 2015, and a newer, hardcore tactical shooter called Escape From Tarkov. There’s also a little bit of the player-versus-player mode from The Division thrown in for good measure.

When you first boot up Hunt you’ll need to hire your first hunter. This is the character you will control on a mission. Each hunter has a particular set of skills as well as a different loadout, things like rifles, pistols, melee weapons and other gear and consumable items. Next, you’ll need to pick a mission. Each one asks you to hunt down a different monster on a different map and at a different time of day.

A team of players stalk a monster through a forest, sticking to the shadows. One is armed with an exotic, 20-round revolver. Crytek

If you don’t pair up with a friend, you’ll be matched to another random player. Communication is key, however, so finding friends to drop in with is highly recommended. Together, you’ll need to work to locate the monster, kill them and then exit the map with the loot that it drops. But there will be other teams of players on the map hunting that same monster. If you’re not careful, they’ll be hunting you as well.

Hunt makes excellent use of environmental details, including dynamic light and shadow, but also wildlife. Disturb a murder of crows and they could give away your position. In the video, embedded above, you can see how clues are located and used to narrow down the position of the boss monster. Once that monster is killed, a timer ticks down and the loot pops out. Once you pick up that loot, every other player in that mission can see you on the map. From there, it’s a race to the exit.

There are multiple ways to succeed strategically. You could go around hunting and killing the other players on the map, but with limited ammunition that might not be the best way to go. You could stalk the players who are closest to the monster and pick them off once they defeat it. But two players can be harder to kill than one monster. It’s up to you and your partner to make the call.

Once out of a mission, players gain experience for their “bloodline,” which effectively means their online account. That opens up perks down the road, and expands the capabilities that you can grant to your hunters.

Players in Hunt: Showdown move carefully and quietly through a dimly lit interior space Crytek

In a way, Hunt’s mission-based gameplay solves some of the problems I have with Escape From Tarkov. While that game excels at gunplay and maneuver, the goals that it gives to players are very opaque. The development team building Tarkov seems to want players to feel free to roam around the map working toward whatever personal goals and quests they feel like grinding on in a given day. But that turns the game into a walking simulator at times with lots of dead time between engagements.

Instead, Hunt gives every player on the map the same, specific goal and pushes them closer and closer together as the mission plays out. It has the similar purpose as the circle does in Battlegrounds, but without the need for an artificial barrier.

In that way, it also reminds me of The Division’s Dark Zone, the player-versus-player area in that game. Back when I played it regularly, it required players to gather at a helipad to extract any loot that they found. Intense firefights would erupt there, and that was always a tense and enjoyable part of the gameplay for me. But those helipads eventually became hunting grounds for cheaters and griefers looking to kill off low-level players and make off with their hard-won loot. It would be those same cheaters and griefers that would ultimately drive me away from the game.

To succeed, Crytek’s Hunt will need to make sure that it always offers a level playing field. That means matchmaking players with similar tiers of abilities in their bloodline which, in turn, means building up a healthy player base. (But it will also need to have rock solid netcode, something that Escape From Tarkov currently lacks.)

Hunt: Showdown is available on Steam for $29.99. Reviews are currently mixed.

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