After just a few hours with Predator: Hunting Grounds on the PlayStation 4, it’s clear that the game isn’t finished. But it’s hard to see how more polish and stability would fix the game itself, which, at its core, is dull and repetitive.
The $39.99 cooperative shooter is asymmetrical, pitting four heavily armed commandos against another player controlling the titular action movie villain. Unfortunately, only the Predator is assured of having any fun during each of the roughly 30-minute missions.
As the commandos, players get to pick one of just three different maps before embarking on one of three randomly selected mission types. There’s not all that much to differentiate those missions, however. The commandos need to move from one location to another, holding down a button on a glowing pile of loot or shooting at blinking lights once they get there. That’s when the AI-controlled mercenaries start to come out of the woodwork. Gun them down, then rinse and repeat a few more times to reach the end of the level. Easy, right?
Of course, there’s also a malevolent alien stalking you from the trees.
The trouble is that the four commandos’ enjoyment of the game is entirely predicated on the ability of the player controlling the Predator to make the experience both tense and fun. I tried to learn how to be a good Predator, but unfortunately the game’s tutorial bugged out on me the first time through. It finally ran correctly, but then I realized it was little more than a giant wall of text. This renders the tutorial mission itself useless; trying to tell someone how to be a good alien just isn’t as effective as showing them. There’s no tutorial for the commandos at all, just another block of text.
I read through the Predator tutorial three different times, and I’m still not entirely sure I know what the hell I’m supposed to be doing. So I stopped trying, and let another member of my gaming group take the reins.
The one highlight of Hunting Grounds is the jungle itself. Leaping from tree to tree as the Predator is exhilarating. It’s a fairly narrow and limited path, mind you, but the vantage point is unique. You really do have the perspective of the iconic alien from the films. The foliage itself has impressive density and scale, something along the lines of Arma 3’s remarkable jungle terrain that was introduced in 2016’s Apex expansion. Sadly, the smattering of military- and industrial-themed structures below are mostly forgettable.
But even when someone knows what they’re doing, it’s entirely possible for the Predator role to go completely off the rails.
Ideally, the goal of a good Predator is to isolate the commandos and pick them off one at a time. Unlike the troops in the original movie, however, everyone knows that the Predator is there to kill them, so there’s no reason at all to stray from the pack. More often than not, that means the Predator is attacking the entire unit. Stay too long in the kill zone, and it’s game over.
Developer IllFonic seems to acknowledge these tactical shortcomings by giving the Predator a self-destruct mechanism. Once the commandos kill the creature, it’s a race to perform a simple pattern-matching minigame to defuse that self-destruct sequence.
The good news is that if the bomb goes off, everyone in the blast radius is dead. If things go poorly for the Predator in a mission’s first few minutes, it’s pretty easy to head back to the waiting room and start another game. But, if you do manage to stop the explosion, another, bigger wave of AI-controlled enemy soldiers will run out of the bushes a dozen at a time to try and steal its corpse. Unfortunately, killing them isn’t much fun at all; they just sort of leap out of cover, eat bullets, and fall over. Hold back enough grenades, and it’s not much trouble at all.
Which is the entire problem, really. The core loop isn’t enjoyable, in any way. The Predator carries with them no sense of danger or surprise, since everyone knows they’re on the way. The entire point of the movie is that the soldiers are fighting an unknowable, alien threat. The game reduces them to a known quantity, a monster to be disposed of before the win condition.
After a while, the game’s glitches and inconsistencies become entirely too much. Joining a pregame lobby feels tenuous, giving some players only a fraction of a second to attempt to change their loadout. The menus literally read “Totally rad item name here” above new cosmetic skins, which is a bit of a hint that there’s still work to be done finishing the game. Glitchy cutscenes rob it of any gravitas it might have had, including maddening texture pop-in on my launch-day PS4, and characters whose weapons are consistently invisible as they rope into the map from the helicopter above.
If you were excited about Predator: Hunting Grounds, your best bet is to check back in a month later and see if anything’s improved. Right now, it just doesn’t work well enough for this to be a review, or even impressions. For now, consider this a warning.
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