Ashcroft is an unassuming town; nothing of note resides there except for maybe Ashcroft Penitentiary. Behind the doors of which, Nathaniel Arkady awaits his execution by electric chair with nothing but a room full of spectators to keep him company. Separated by only a window, the assembled crowd waits solemnly for the time to arrive. Among the visitors are four strangers who, unknown to one another, will become bound by a common fate. Slowly, inexorably, the deadly power switch is flicked, and Nathaniel Arkady’s life spasms and jerks out of him, as the electrical current surges throughout his ravaged body. At the same time, the four strangers begin to see things, awful shambling corpses who stand where the living once were. This moment will become known to them as the ?imbuing’, a time when a select few people begin to see the world as it really exists – beneath the control of the forces of darkness, with no regard for humanity. After fighting their way out of the prison, the four heroes close it down for ever. Unknown to them, they will return to this place several years later, as a rave thrown on the prison grounds will awaken the spirits there, and force our heroes to once again lay the undead to rest.
First impressions of Hunter: The Reckoning are fairly good. The introductory movie provides an interesting look into the mythology of the Hunter universe. Based on White Wolf’s pen and paper role-playing game, the story proves to be somewhat intriguing. Using imagery taken from the real world, and superimposing over it pictures of vampires, werewolves, and the undead, the narrator imposingly tells of a secret world where vampires and werewolves not only exist, but hold positions of great power. Unknown to most of the world, acts of violence committed by these supernatural groups are attributed to more ?human’ atrocities, such as gang warfare. The one faction of humanity that do know the truth are ?the hunters’; a group of specialized men and women who are charged with stemming the flow of this preternatural evil.
Perhaps surprisingly for a game based on an RPG, very few conventions of the genre are present in Hunter. While there is a certain amount of levelling up, and experience points, the game takes a decidedly action packed route for its general content. Not unlike Gauntlet or Smash TV, Hunter presents its world from an overhead perspective. Mere minutes into the game it becomes obvious why this is. Like the aforementioned games, Hunter enjoys making you fight – constantly. From the very beginning it is common to see up to twelve enemies displayed on screen at once. While this could have proven awkward, developers High Voltage have tried to implement a unique control system to help cope with the decidedly 360 degree action. The left analogue stick controls movement of a character’s legs, while the right dictates the direction faced. So it is entirely possible to walk one way, but fire in another. This is definitely needed to help cope with the onslaught of enemies that you will face, as there is no guarantee they will only appear in front of you. There are four playable characters available in Hunter, and this is one aspect that will be familiar to RPG fans and, strictly speaking, they conform to traditional classes. The Avenger is a slow, but obscenely powerful melee fighter; the Martyr is by far the game’s fastest moving character, but also its weakest; the Judge is proficient with Edge powers (magic), but has limited skills in combat; while the last of the four, the Defender, is a balanced mixture of speed, power, and Edge proficiency. While single-player mode is definitely fun, most Xbox owners will want to indulge themselves in some distinctly ?old-skool’ multiplayer action. Playable with up to four people, Hunter truly sets itself apart in this aspect of gameplay. While the single-player campaign provides an interesting story, the gameplay can become tiresome fairly fast, but multiplayer will allow you to really take advantage of the respective skills of the four characters. Teamwork is definitely a key gameplay aspect of Hunter, and if players cannot cooperate, one of the major flaws of the game will soon become apparent. Multiple players are always bound to one screen, so it proves impossible to go and do your own thing but, as game combat can transpire on any side, players will often find themselves brawling at different edges of the screen, unable to move because everybody is pushing in a different direction. Although minor, this can bring a severe sense of frustration to an otherwise fun game.
While the overhead perspective does not require an abundance of detail, the development team have certainly lavished a lot of care and attention upon the visual elements of this game. Environments are suitably barren and dirty looking – featuring burnt out cars, and other elements such as mist that rolls across the floor of the cemetery level; all of which help purvey a sense of despair and unease. Character models are also drawn and animated smoothly and, considering how many of them can be on screen at once, the enemy characters also exhibit a substantial amount of detail and smooth animation. Every graphical aspect of Hunter helps reinforce the spooky and supernatural feel of the title. Likewise, sound is dynamic and does its job well. Generally, the game has a minimalist soundtrack. The wind howls, the undead moan and shuffle from place to place, and this all helps accentuate the fact that the characters are set apart, alone in a desolate place. When entering a boss fight or a particularly perilous situation, music will begin, and consist of heavy guitar rock tunes that, while not exactly befitting the game, are in no way detrimental to the experience.
Replay value is probably the one element of this title that is sorely missing. Two additional modes are unlockable, but they are definitely not as exciting as they may sound. One mode allows you to play through the game again with the option of doing so in a different character costume, while ?Nightmare’ mode obviously pushes up the difficulty level – uninspired indeed. The main thing to bring players back for prolonged periods of time, though, will definitely be the multiplayer mode. It is certainly fun playing this game with friends, as long as you all have the tolerance to cooperate, but if you don’t, then you can always turn the friendly fire option on and punish a friend’s selfish play by shooting them in the back?several times.
Overall then, anyone looking for a fun action game should check out Hunter: The Reckoning, but do not approach it expecting a roller coaster epic. It will likely take even players of modest skill less than ten hours to complete, and replayability certainly should not factor into a purchase decision. If you are looking for any of the above, and are likely to play mostly in multiplayer mode, that definitely should figure into your decision as Hunter’s multiplayer mode is considerably more fun than its solo trip.