2023 has been kind to fans of cyberpunk action games. Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider touted retro character-action sword slashing in January, Turbo Overkill brought over-the-top gunplay and chainsaw leg attacks in August, and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty introduced a brand-new district to one of the coolest dystopian cities in modern gaming in September. Players searching for a neon-lit futuristic dystopia to run, gun, hack, and slash through certainly haven’t lacked for options this year.
If, like me, you’ve run through those and you’re looking for a short but sweet run-and-gun action game to break up the onslaught of major releases and catch your breath, I’ve got good news for you. I’ve been having a blast lately, er, blasting my way through Huntdown, the 2020 side-scrolling cyberpunk shooter from Swedish developer Easy Trigger Games.
Here’s the elevator pitch: Imagine if Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s foul-mouthed cyberpunk anime Cyber City Oedo 808 and Walter Hill’s pulse-pounding action thriller The Warriors had a baby, and that baby was a side-scrolling shooter with beautiful pixel-art environments, tense and thrilling boss fights, and more fourth-wall-breaking humor than you can shake a boomstick at. Players can choose to play as one of three bounty hunters: Anna Conda, a badass scene-chewing heroine straight out of a Blaxploitation flick; John Sawyer, a 150-year-old cyborg with a literal jaw of steel; and Mow Man, an unflappable robot mercenary with an affinity for deadpan puns.
You can switch characters to start each level, and it’s worth trying them all: Each brings their own unique sidearm and throwable weapon in addition to the many weapons you can find in the levels, from bullpup rifles and AK-47s to missile launchers and remote detonatable bombs. Once you’ve selected your bounty hunter of choice, you’ll embark on a city-wide campaign as you battle through swaths of futuristic street gangs and brutal adversaries while exploring secret areas and collecting bounties.
Huntdown may appear at first glance to be an average run-and-gun side-scrolling game, but the actual experience of playing it has a surprising amount of variety and strategy. The game’s cover system particularly stands out; it allows the player to duck into shadowy doorways and openings in order to avoid incoming gunfire. While cover systems in third-person shooters are nothing new, it’s seldom been implemented in 2D side-scrolling shooters. The cover system in Huntdown feels completely natural and intuitive, even from that different perspective.
Enemies can use these same corridors to avoid your attacks, which can be overcome by either a well-timed shot when they pop out to return fire or an up-close melee attack that knocks them from cover. It’s a relatively simple mechanic, but one that transforms every one of the many combat encounters throughout the game into a nail-biting contest of wills.
Huntdown’s environments are vibrant and well-animated, offering chance glimpses at a futuristic dystopian society where riot police clash with street gangs in giant armored mechs and megacorporations loom over everything within sight. By far the most memorable aspect is the design of the many boss fight encounters. From hockey-mask-wearing mutants fighting in a coliseum to masked strongmen brawling in wrestling rings, every major target has a unique and creative design that transforms every fight into a memorable and exhilarating set-piece. The addition of two-player co-op makes the experience of playing Huntdown even more fun, as you strategize to take down major bosses, collect secret stash suitcases hidden throughout the levels, and recover prized weapons.
Huntdown is a game that doesn’t aim to be anything more than what it is: A deliriously fun cyberpunk run-and-gun shooter that pays homage to nearly every sci-fi touchstone of the ’80s, with a straightforward premise and a wealth of cool and deadly weapons to choose from. If any of that sounds like it would be up your alley, I highly recommend giving Huntdown a shot.