On some level, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge feels like a top-down, dungeon-crawling, RPG presented from a more traditional, behind-the-shoulder action perspective. It feels like cookie-cutter fantasy, except that the Elven E’Lara is the violently brutish protagonist, while the muscle-bound warrior Caddoc is the more cautious, emotional companion. Oddly, however, that sense of genre-staple familiarity coupled with just a slight presentational spin permeates the game. Which is to say that it feels like we’ve played Hunted before – many, many times, in fact – but not necessarily in this exact way.
In our short demo, we journeyed from what appeared to be the beginning of the game through a lengthy opening sequence that sets up the continuing storyline. We began in a torch-lit cave, pushing through a damp passageway of spider webs and into a large antechamber. Suddenly, the ground erupted and a hulking, wide-horned demon appeared, threatening to devour us whole. Thus wakes Caddoc from his campfire dream somewhere in the forest beside his adventuring companion E’Lara. The both of you are, at this point, merely searching for treasure and riches – fortune and glory – when you very quickly reach the mouth a cave like the one glimpsed in your dream. Recklessly, and in true videogame fashion, you proceed…
In the opening hour of the game, you’ll encounter the usual allotment of mutant spiders in the lush greenery of the surrounding woods, as well as undead archer-skeletons in the ruins within. Whichever character you’ve chosen to play, your better half will take care of themselves with a reasonably well tuned A.I., but healing them at a distance seemed as simple as throwing one of many health vials their way.
As one might imagine, Caddoc commands a broadsword and shield while E’Lara wields the typical Elven bow-and-arrow. Combat for Caddoc consists of a series of light and heavy attacks, and there was a fair amount of strategy once we became outnumbered with regard to balancing the two. E’Lara’s bow provided a more stop-and-pop approach with a surprisingly enjoyable onslaught of arrows – which can be collected throughout the environment. Rarely in games have we had this much fun playing an archer.
A few sequences later, each character will earn their unique magical abilities which can be upgraded as both experience points and hidden collectibles are acquired throughout each battle arena. Early on, for example, Caddoc will find himself equipped with an area affecting lightning spell which he receives, of course, just before the enemy-to-combatant ratio significantly ramps the difficulty.
You can pick up weapons and defensive armor from the dead and a handy pop-up menu will tell you its strengths or weakness relative to your current load-out. But the true story-related power-ups – in this instance, a powerful axe – seem to be gained as the result of more complex puzzles such as directing E’Lara to set her arrows aflame and light a series of torches sequentially from a distance. And when we say “direct,” we mean that any actions that must – but can only – be executed by the alternate character are triggered by directing them with a button press. Had players selected E’Lara from the beginning, they’d have been prompted to light the torches themselves. Fortunately, single-player gamers can switch between either character to change-up the gameplay experience at select waypoints, and multiplayer fans playing through a co-op adventure can opt to switch roles, as well.
Graphically, the game looks impressive. Certainly, the levels vary in color palette and design enough to keep the player engaged, but the narrow, self-directing nature of the environments in the early portions of the story keep the scope fairly limited. However, we’re assured that, in the service of good looting, the landscape opens up for more branching exploration once the first few hours are complete. In the meantime, there are a handful of dynamic sequences – like a sprint through a collapsing set of ruins – that keep the momentum moving forward while the story beings to formulate.
Eventually, we were led through a system of caves by an enigmatic – and thoroughly busty – femme fatale into the very chamber where you encountered the demon from your dream...which also happens to await you in real life. A mad dash away from the impending threat and players are thrust into the game proper on an adventure that developers claim will take about 20 hours to speed through without finding all the hidden collectibles and upgrades.
As we said earlier, Hunted is a strikingly familiar game, but not without its charms. It’s just different enough at this point for us to explore further and potentially fall beneath its eventual spell. But only time and good game design will tell…