What a gamer sees in a game doesn't always jive with what the developer intended. That's not necessarily a bad thing — as long as the gamer likes what he ends up with, of course.
We recently saw a demo of Hunted: The Demon's Forge, a third-person…well…on the product sheet, publisher Bethesda is calling it a third-person co-op action game for the 360, PS3, and PC — that much we can all agree on. But it's when the developers at inXile Entertainment start describing their baby that we start seeing things differently.
Before the demo started, they summoned a few great names in dungeon-crawling gaming to set things up for the audience: Baldur's Gate, The Bard's Tale…even Dragon Age: Origins. But we saw something decidedly different in Hunted….
What the developer sees
"This game is about bringing the old dungeon crawl to today's gamer," says Brian Fargo, CEO of inXile. Before you dismiss that as marketing talk, however, know that the industry veteran has been in the biz for over 25 years and has helped bring out such famous classics as The Bard's Tale, Baldur's Gate, Wasteland, Fallout, Icewind Dale, and others.
"Wizardry was the first game I became totally addicted to," he says, explaining his passion for fantasy gaming. Fargo goes on to discuss how the genre evolved from there to The Bard's Tale, the Ultima series, Might and Magic, and Dungeon Master, before they became more action-oriented with Ultima Underworld and even first-person shooters like Heretic and Hexen. "All those games did well, because I think they went back to the original, romantic notion of going into a dungeon, looking for the secret doors, finding the chest, finding the berserkers…all that great stuff."
Anyone who's encountered the room of 396 berserkers in the original Bard's Tale (1985) can probably relate to what Fargo is saying, but might he be a little stuck in the past? "I sit at home with my big TV and wonder what it would be like to play that [traditional] style of gameplay today," he says. "The users who play those products are different today, right? It's 2010. So we want to take who gamers are today and mix it up with the essence of those old, classic dungeon crawls, especially for those who haven't experienced those or who want to experience them again — and that's how this product was born."
So Fargo sees a little Wizardry, a little Bard's Tale, a little Ultima, Baldur's Gate, or The Elder Scrolls in Hunted: The Demon's Forge, huh?
Sorry, but that's a bit of a stretch….
What I see
Heretic and Hexen? Maybe, but the game that immediately comes to mind when seeing Hunted in action is…Gears of War, believe it or not. Gears of War in a fantasy setting. Here are five very specific reasons why.
1. This is a serious co-op shooter (just replace Lancers and sniper rifles with swords, bows, and spells) — not one where a second player simply drops in artificially for an extra body in a campaign designed for one (hello Fable 2). The game will push players to work together in a variety of ways.
At some points, ranged attacker E'lara will split up from Caddoc, who's the melee specialist (both characters, however, have access to all fighting styles). She may have to cover him from high ground with her bow and arrow while he gets his hands dirt and bloody on the ground. That should sound rather similar to certain scenes in GOW….
E'lara can also power Caddoc up (or vice versa) with, for example, a magical fiery aura before he lunges sword-first into a fray. And some puzzles require both players to do something at the same time, such as one stepping on a pressure plate while another shoots a now-exposed switch.
2. The combat in Hunted is cover-based…in third-person view.
3. You can execute enemies for an extra gruesome death sequence.
4. When one player's down and crawling for help, the other can revive him — but the difference here is proximity isn't an issue. You can throw healing potions from a distance, as long as your "down but not out" friend is visible.
5. When players finish off the last enemy in an area, the game will play an ominous "all clear" sound.
OK, so maybe the developers' romantic notions about capturing the essence of those classic role-playing games are just slightly misguided, but it's not exactly like Hunted is in bad company with all the classics mentioned in this article. Bethesda hasn't announced a release date yet, so it will be a while before we can say for sure. But if inXile does it right, who's going to complain that the game ends up being a little bit of everything above?