Developer IllFonic garnered quite a reputation in a relatively small amount of time thanks to the surprising hit that was Friday the 13th: The Game. For all its jank and faults, it managed to build up quite a following thanks to the sheer love that was put behind its portrayal of the cult horror icon Jason Voorhees and his many movie incarnations, almost all that saw some kind of representation in the game. Unfortunately, due to many legal woes tied to that game’s rights, IllFonic had to give up development a year or so after its initial release, basically killing off any plans of post-release updates.
But that wasn’t to be their last movie-to-game project as Predator: Hunting Grounds was announced to some fanfare last year at E3. I got to play an early version of the game a few months later at Brazil Gaming Show and came out pretty positive about the whole thing, for as trepidatious as I was about Predator working as a good basis for a game. Having now played the final version of the game, released on both PC and PlayStation 4 with crossplay thanks to Sony’s backing, I can safely attest that it’s indeed somewhat of a weird but still enjoyable game, for all its quirks.
I’m the perfect audience for Predator: Hunting Grounds, having grown up religiously watching all the bombastic blockbuster action movies of the 1980s and 1990s, both Predator films included. Stallone and Schwarzenegger battled for the reign of my favorite action hero during that time, so there’s absolutely no doubt that I would have to at least give this game a look eventually, better yet review it for the site. I’ve already had some contact with the franchise in game form thanks to the excellent Capcom arcade beat ‘em up, and to a lesser extent, the Doom-clone Alien vs. Predator computer game. Those games worked because they fit into the mold of established genres and didn’t really try to mess with conventions, something that Predator: Hunting Grounds is guilty of and doesn’t really do a lot of with.
Hunting Grounds is an asymmetrical adversarial multiplayer game, meaning that you get to play as the Predator against a group of four player-controlled mercs, or vice-versa. While playing on the human side, you’re given a set of pretty boring objectives to complete as you fight off a bunch of AI-controller cannon fodder, that is up until the player Predator decides to drop in and try to chop you up to pieces sometime in between.
Or not. For most of the games that I played trudging through the jungle along with three other peeps, we were able to freely finish all off our work and get to the choppa without any trouble. Matches usually last around ten to fifteen minutes either way, but it’s definitely more fun to get to fight a Predator that’s willing to throw down, obviously.
As the Predator, things are a little different. You get a host of nifty tricks up your sleeve, like being able to freely move atop trees with ease, and of course, make use of the trademark shimmering stealth technology made famous by the movies and Metal Gear Solid. Your goal as one of the few Yautja classes that are made available as you level up is to rid the world of any humans in your way before they can get away. Given that you’re obviously outnumbered, your Predator is vastly more resilient than the enemy, but are not invincible as you can go down eventually if you’re not careful. For the few matches that I was able to play as the monster, the game threw me against varied group compositions that either trounced me with a decent amount of coordination, similarly to what happened to my friend Leo during our games at BGS last year, or a bit of a cakewalk as humans broke apart from the group and turned into easy targets.
On the human side, the further you level up, the more character types open up, and you’re able to customize your arsenal to your liking, picking a primary and secondary weapon, along with up to three perks and three equippable trinkets, like grenades, healing items and even limited traps you’re able to set up in the jungle. The cosmetic side of customization is very limited, and for as much as I tried, my guy always ended up looking like a dork trying to cosplay as a gruff movie soldier.
As of this writing, there’s no option to play as any of the iconic actors from the Predator movies, but it was recently announced that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be making a return as a playable in-game version of his Dutch character as part of paid DLC coming May 26th, as well as some audio tapes that will serve as a sort of continuation of his story after the first movie closed, which will be included as a free update. No mention was given as to how that inclusion would work in-game, will everyone get to play as Arnold in the same match? I feel bad for the Predator if that’s the case.
Expectedly, there’s quite a wait period to be had when trying to jump into the fray as the Predator, but I ended up having to wait quite a while every time I tried to play the game, regardless of what side I picked, even when going with the “I don’t mind which one I end up going with” option. Comically, I was able to watch almost the entirety of the first film while waiting for a match to pop up during this review period, which is worrying considering how new the game is.
I can’t say I did not have a good time playing Predator: Hunting Grounds, but it’s got its fair share of issues beyond the aforementioned connection times and playerbase. The actual gameplay can be downright boring if both sides aren’t committed to playing their roles, and that’s something that worried me from the very get go when I first heard about an asymmetrical game based on this property. I mean, what makes the first Predator movie so great is that no one in it expected to be attacked by such an enemy, and that’s basically kaput when it comes to the game. There’s no surprise, only the tension remaining of whether or not the player behind the Predator will want to or even know how to play their part and attack. There’s an investment to playing as the Predator since there’s the long waiting time, so it’s hard to imagine people purposefully choosing to play as them if all they’re looking for is a quick game to jump in.
And even the time you put into the game doesn’t really feel like it’s worth it taking into consideration all of the progression that there is to be unlocked throughout. I didn’t feel particularly excited to try out any of the later classes for the humans, and I had not even a sniff of what’s to come as one of the other Predators. The few unlocks that came my way proved to be downright disappointing thanks to the weak inclusion of loot boxes given every so often after matches that limited themselves to awarding me with pretty meh paintjobs for my guns. Yay. And even then, if I ever found one I really wanted and never got through the boxes, it was only a matter of popping a measly number of the in-game currency to buy it. All in all, I felt that the weapons that I had from the beginning worked well enough that it didn’t really make me anxious to unlock later tiers, not to mention extra perks and whatnot.
That’s also an issue I find myself having with the multiplayer shooter I’ve played the most in the last few years, Overwatch, the lack of any real incentive to keep playing outside of making numbers go up in my profile and a few pretty skins, but at least that game is quick to get into and fun to play cooperatively. Predator: Hunting Grounds surely can be enjoyable, but it takes so much of an effort on your part and time to get into matches that it ends up just not being worth it with so many other quality options available.
IllFonic has done a decent enough job injecting the game with some of the Predator vibe that stems from the original movie’s main theme remix and the same starting setup of a ground of mercs dropping into the forest in order to take out guerrilla ops. Outside of that, there’s an attempt at making a connection to the overall lore of the Predator that even the movies tried and fumbled with in their delivery, mentioning the top secret organization called Stargazer that works inside the CIA which sole purpose is capturing a Predator specimen.
In the game, that plays out only when your group manages to kill the alien, at which point you have to guard the body until it’s extracted. None of the writing outside of the matches makes any real point at giving you clues in regards to that, and when an unknowing group comes into contact with that bit of gameplay by sheer accident, it can get really confusing. Outside of that, the objective-based human game structure is pretty self-explanatory and it’s impossible to get lost if you follow the onscreen markers.
It’s still up in the air if Predator: Hunting Grounds will have the same kind of staying power as IllFonic’s previous game. Up until now, only a few weeks after its release, it’s been already relatively difficult to get into games quickly, and it honestly lacks a lot of depth to keep me interested going forward. Here’s hoping that there will be more to come to this in the form of content drops and tweaks to its problems, because as it stands, I see no reason to stick around.