When it comes to Aliens vs. Predator, I'll choose aliens every single time. I have a thing for H.R. Giger's xenomorphs, and I'll always find them infinitely more fascinating than their pop culture counterparts. However, given that one of the most recent Alien-related shooters that released (you can guess which one) was pretty awful, I was ready to try something new.
Enter Predator: Hunting Grounds, IllFonic's latest swing at the asymmetrical multiplayer genre. You can become a Yautja yourself as you parkour through the jungle and swoop down on unsuspecting humans to rip their spine out through their necks. Or you can play as the humans to complete a series of objectives. It sounds great on paper, right? Unfortunately, like with its previous effort Friday the 13th: The Game, IllFonic has proven once again that its true expertise is pushing games out before they're quite finished cooking.
Here's why you might want to be a bit hesitant when it comes to making a jungle excursion with this new multiplayer affair.
Out for blood
Predator: Hunting Grounds is a fairly barebones, multiplayer-only game. When you enter the menu for the first time, you have two real choices beyond customizing your character: play a Fireteam match or hunt your prey as the Predator. You don't have to jump in right away if you don't want to, as there's a pretty robust tutorial to take in so you can learn the basics for each game mode, and it'll take about 15 minutes or so to complete. You can't just "look it over," though. Choosing "Tutorial" launches you straight into the mode so you'll have to wait for it to load if you've already completed it.
If you choose Fireteam, you're sorted into a team of four. It's you against a fifth player, the Predator. Across an abysmally small selection of maps, you'll work to complete a number of objectives. This ranges from collecting intel on your AI enemies to eradicating the remnants of drug cartels hanging out in the jungle.At one point, you even have to install tracking devices. These missions give the illusion that you're doing something engaging or useful, but I honestly couldn't tell you why I was doing it to begin with. Clearly, the only reason the missions exist are to get you near a Predator to hunt you down and murder you – or be totally quiet and keep to itself, which tends to happen more often than not.
You also have to worry about AI enemies dotting the landscape as well, but they may as well be little more than moving targets. They also can be downed with one melee attack for the most part, and in some rare instances, two. They'll walk out and stare straight at you before even thinking about reaching for their gun to shoot you, and they'll stand right beside a grenade without even flinching, leading to some hilarious instances where a whole group of 5 to 7 of them exploded in unison. Satisfying, but wow, they're stupid.
As the Predator, your only objective is to find and kill everyone. But good luck successfully finding everyone in an expedient manner, at least until you’re more familiar with playing the role. Even then, it can be difficult to accomplish, which is how it should be – but that takes a bit of the fun out of things, too.
Predator has more health, better agility, and some truly interesting abilities like the way it can swing through the trees and trap human players in nets and pull out their spinal column. But when he bleeds, he leaves a green trail, and it's simple for a proficient fireteam to follow him and cooperate to put him down while he's weak. Plus, heat vision and tactical cloaking aren't very useful when you can barely see the human players and they can see you since cloaking is very simple to spot.
In the end, I enjoyed playing far more as part of a fireteam simply because there’s more to keep you busy. While many players will undoubtedly find parkouring through foliage and searching the map via infrared to find the human players and send rockets careening their way, some (like me) will likely find it a bore. Even when on the ground, slashing through players, I couldn’t find enjoyment in being the Predator. You look a lot cooler, and thinking about being the proficient hunter that the Yautja are is great and all, but the game doesn’t do a great job of translating this feeling when you’re actually playing.
To win the match as a fireteam, you must complete all your objectives and head to the exfiltration location: the same chopper you ride into every match with. As long as one member of your team makes it onto the helicopter, even if the rest of you die you win the match. As the Predator, you have to kill everyone in the fireteam to win.
This often leads to an extremely tiring, uninteresting 15 minutes where you end up camping as the Predator by the exfiltration location for a last-ditch effort kill because you couldn’t find them. I thought this was just me, and that I wasn’t good at playing Predator...until I noticed others doing this, likely as a strategy. It isn’t fun, either way, and leads to some cheaply-lost matches. It really depends on the skill level of the person who's playing, I suppose.
There are some fun victories to chase, though. Nothing beats the rush you feel when you're up against 5 to 10 enemies with no teammates left on the field, no grenades or health, and a minuscule amount of ammo and still grab a rope to the chopper in time. It was my finest hour. And that's all it takes to feel a sense of accomplishment that gets you to keep playing, even when the rest of the game feels lackluster. When these things happened I wanted to push on, which made the disappointing content throughout the rest of the game feel that much more frustrating. Similarly, when I was able to secure a few victories as the Predator, I felt as though I had accomplished something when I kept downing an entire team with my bow, my launcher, and claws. It was a satisfying moment since I had spent most of the match up in the trees waiting for the exact moment. Unfortunately, there’s just much more action waiting to be had with the fireteam.
Funnily enough, during one match, before entering, the Predator player threatened my team with plenty of colorful language, and that he'd do this and that to our mothers and he'd, well, I'm sure you know what he said. Turns out as he was being thoroughly trounced during the match, I noticed a "Predator Downed" notification. We captured the Predator, my fireteam brethren and I, and won the round after shipping his body off to be examined. The match ended there, with a scene of my fireteam fist bumping and celebrating. At the results screen, I noticed our very vocal opponent had left, and I'm still unsure if this is what the match is supposed to turn into if one of your opponents turns into a toddler because they can't hang with the big boys.
Aside from my issues with the game itself, I was plagued by several bugs as well. At one point, subtitles became overlaid on top of each other and shook while characters spoke. During a different game at the end of a match, when the Predator self-destructed I suddenly found myself blown away by the blast radius and trapped beneath the ground. During one rare occasion, the textures on a few of the AI enemies remained muddy throughout an entire match.
Changing it up
Character customization, while available, leaves much to be desired. In terms of aesthetics, you can opt to play as a male or female soldier, though the skin, face, body, and hair options are, frankly, basic and atrocious. You can choose between a male or female Predator as well. It may sound bizarre, but honestly, the female Predator looked more attractive to me as a female player than the human option. I opted for a male character instead for fireteam purposes.
There’s a decent amount of options, but they run from olive drab to tan and all the boring colors in between. There are some fun designs like red or blue tiger print, or a particularly fun bloody print that I had to adopt immediately, but most shaders are pretty boring. Luckily, the game makes up for some of these more boring options by giving you fun cowboy hats and gas masks to liven up your look. There’s also a fun skin where your fireteam member can go sleeveless (unlocked at level 100), complete with Predator tattoo, which looked pretty rad.
You can either earn customizations by winning matches and opening up Field Lockers, Predator’s version of loot boxes, which contain three items apiece. They cost 500 Veritanium, which is the in-game currency you can earn in matches. So, yes, there are loot crates, but there’s no way to spend real money on anything here. If you buy a Field Locker with Veritanium, you may also get duplicates, which is annoying. But you do get a small amount of currency back if you happen to get something you already had to soften the blow a bit.
A fledgling hunter
Here's the thing – and this may not make sense – despite all of my complaints, I still enjoyed myself, for the most part. Predator: Hunting Grounds isn't an awful game. It's an unfinished one. Beneath the glaring issues and frustrations, it's actually quite fun. I didn't dislike my time with it, and looked forward to playing for review. But as it stands, there are too many problems preventing me from wholeheartedly recommending it.
It seems to suffer from many of the same launch and ongoing issues that plagued Friday the 13th: The Game, but there's a silver lining here. Should the issues I lined out be addressed and improved with future updates, and additional maps and objectives rolled out over time, this could indeed be shaped into an exciting prospect. In its current state, however, it's best left to hardcore Predator fans insistent upon adding any related media to their collection.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 download code provided by the publisher. Predator: Hunting Grounds is currently available on PlayStation 4 and PC.
Predator Hunting Grounds
- Satisfying cooperative missions with Fireteam
- Gory kills as Predator will make fans giggle with glee
- Satisfying victories give you hope for the game's future
- Lopsided multiplayer affair
- AI is dumber than a bag of hammers
- Playing as Predator is somewhat unfulfilling
- Matchmaking doesn't always work properly
- Occasionally riddled with bugs