If the gaming industry insists on trying to salvage something workable out of the standalone Predator franchise, I suppose the increasingly-popular asymmetric multiplayer scene is as fitting a venue as any. The Predator hunts humans for sport – not over philosophical differences or any material benefit, but purely for entertainment value, and competitive shooters are our purest expression of that.
So Predator: Hunting Grounds is something that should work, and conscripting the devs behind the successful Friday the 13th game – another asymmetric multiplayer title – was a promising move. But while the team at IllFonic is eager to show off their familiarity with the franchise, they’ve failed to grasp what makes the Predator such a memorable villain, and that reduces Hunting Grounds to just another skimpy multiplayer package with little lasting appeal.
Every match begins like the original movie did – a group of mercenaries airdrop into the jungle for a routine mission, unaware that they’re about to be hunted by an invisible alien. At the direction of a handler who really needs to tone down his “tough guy” voice, these four players chase waypoints around the map to gun down AI-controlled militias, secure narcotics, gather intel, and other nondescript PMC stuff.
None of that is terribly interesting, but we’re ultimately just killing time until the fifth player shows up as the title character. The Predator can leap around in the treetops and has all of the same tools he had in the film — thermal vision, optical camouflage, wrist blades and a shoulder-mounted plasma cannon. If he’s downed, he can activate his self-destruct device, at which point the mercs’ only option is to get out of the blast radius in time.
A match can end in a few ways. The mercs still have a mission to carry out, and if they can complete it and successfully evacuate, it’s game over for the Predator. Conversely, if the Predator kills all four mercs, that’s a victory for him. However, a lot of matches end with the fireteam successfully downing the Predator, who then activates his time-bomb and brings the whole thing to an apparent stalemate. Players earn points based on their performance, but neither side is ever declared the winner, as if IllFonic would rather let us evaluate ourselves.
When the Predator isn’t in the picture, Hunting Grounds is a stock-standard first-person shooter where the AI isn’t terribly bright and the scenery all looks the same. It’s the Predator encounters that are meant to elevate it, just like they transformed the original film from a generic ‘80s action barrage to something more tense and memorable. Unfortunately, Hunting Grounds fundamentally misunderstands the source material.
The whole point of the famous “if it bleeds, we can kill it” line is that underneath all of the fancy alien technology, the Predator is just another squishy piece of carbon who’s no more immune to bullets than the rest of us. In Hunting Grounds, however, he’s a brick shithouse able to take an immense amount of damage before falling. If I’m controlling the Predator, I want to be setting up traps and patiently waiting for ideal moments to strike, but in practice it’s more efficient to simply run around on the ground, slashing players in the face.
IllFonic seems to have recognized that the Predator was too powerful, and instead of dialing his combat prowess back, their solution is to make him insensibly loud, rendering stealth an even less viable option. His heavy footsteps practically shake the ground, his blades make a cartoonish swooshnoise, and even when he’s up in the trees, his signature clicking noise alerts players that he’s nearby.
The Predator is also on a timer, since the mercs can still end the match by completing all of their objectives. That’s even less incentive to hang back and meticulously pick off opponents one by one.
So even though Hunting Grounds trips over itself trying to remind us at all times that it’s a Predator game – with liberal use of sound effects, musical cues and lines of dialogue lifted directly from the film – it fails to capture the spirit of the franchise. Reducing a promising asymmetrical concept to “four regular guys versus one particularly strong guy” makes this both a bad adaptation and an unremarkable competitive shooter, even divorced from the franchise it’s attached to.
Since it’s a multiplayer-only title with exactly one mode, Hunting Grounds was clearly banking on the strength of its premise. Failing that, there’s just not much to it, and players will have seen everything there is to see after just a few matches. Maybe we should take this as a signal to stop trying to make Predator games a thing — if this didn’t work, I’m doubtful that anything will.Rating: 5 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed by IllFonic and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.It is currently available on PlayStation 4 and PC, This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PlayStation 4. Approximately nine hours of play were devoted to the multiplayer mode. There is no single-player mode.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Drug References, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity and Strong Language. The game is unsurprisingly full of gun violence accompanied by generous blood effects. Things get considerably more gruesome when the Predator is involved, with execution animations ranging from stabbings and beheadings to pulling the skull and spine right out of a victim’s body. F-bombs are peppered throughout the dialogue, and mission objectives occasionally involve securing narcotics, though they’re never used.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles are available for all dialogue, as is a voice-to-text option for player communication. Despite this, much of the game’s balance (particularly when playing as a merc) rests on players being able to hear audio cues, many of which don’t have adequate visual representation. It is not accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.