Getting by with a little help from a friend
You have to feel at least a tiny bit sorry for Hunted: The Demon's Forge. The developer, inXile Entertainment, doesn't have a lot of big games under their belt, the only ones being A Bard's Tale from 2004 and the canceled Hei$t. The publisher, Bethesda, so far has had a spotty track record with their games from the okay-ish Wet to the meh Brink and the horrible Rogue Warrior. The release date? The week before E3 where everyone will be talking about the big games, the surprise announcements and new hardware. So Hunted comes out at a pretty bad time which is unfortunate because the game is actually quite fun and although there is some flaws here and there, it's actually a solid experience hampered only by a lack of anything completely innovative or potentially long-lasting.
The story of Hunted is pretty simple, told reasonably well and features a good yet surprisingly thin cast of characters as you go through the 6 chapter adventure (I'd wager somewhere in between 10 or more hours if you want to explore every nook and cranny). You play as either Caddoc, a big muscle-y brute with a tattoo on the back of his bald head or E'lara, a sarcastic and bloodthirsty elf who just wants to kill stuff. You're tasked by a strange spirit named Seraphine (voiced by Lucy Lawless) to rescue villagers that have been taken hostage as you battle demons and Locus...sorry, Wargar, as you try to figure out why they've been kidnapped and what Seraphine's up to.
The plot itself is not really anything special although the cast is as stereotypes are reversed with the young looking female elf being the violent one and the big bald scary dude being the voice of reason, and of course, Lucy Lawless manages to be enticing even in voice form. Their banter is quite playful and even come up with some funny lines (my favorite is after E'lara describes Seraphine as "slutty", Caddoc asks whether her clothes are as well to which E'lara responds "they're not slutty, they're strategically placed"). The adventure is very linear although there is a couple of side areas that will bring about treasures from simple hidden corners to full-on rooms and thanks to no mini-map, exploration can be encouraged.
Unlike most games like say Dead Rising 2 or Fable 3, the co-op in Hunted is specifically geared towards teamwork and although communication is recommended, it's not wholly necessary. Caddoc specializes in brute force as he wields big hammers, swords and shields and tears through enemies while E'lara, ever the sniper, uses the bow and arrow to pick enemies off from a distance. So there will be many instances of Caddoc handling the bulk of the crowd while E'lara uses her bow to kill faraway ranged users to they quit peppering you with arrows or bombs. Each one also has skills that complement each other so for instance, Caddoc has a levitate move where enemies inside a specific area gets lifted up in the air which E'lara can easily pick off. One of E'lara's abilities can freeze enemies which makes Caddoc able to shatter them with ease while another has a chance to destroy an enemy's shield, making it easier for Caddoc to get hits in. Their magic spells are the same however, which consist of a lightning spell that can arc to multiple enemies, a sigil where enemies takes damage in a certain area or a fireball that can be remote mine'd if you want.
As far as complaints of the game, they're not game breakers per se but it's unfortunate they exist. Graphically, despite using the Unreal Engine, it's not the "holy shit!" stunner you'd expect but it doesn't look bad either. Environments and vistas look decent while actual environments are well done but not spectacular. Character models and spell effects are pretty good but the lighting indoors can be strangely poor and I did run into some stuttering and a few freezes on the PS3 version when cutscenes would load in. Also the game is not difficult in a Demon's Souls way (thank god!) but it's a game that can potentially kick your ass if you think you can hack-and-slash your way through it. Getting caught in a multi-hit combo from an enemy and the weird inability to break out of it can be very irritating and using E'lara the entire game, I found hit detection with the arrows can be a crapshoot.
And this is a minor complaint but there is a loot mechanic but not one you'd expect. Destroying a weapon rack will drop weapons or shields and walking on top of it will display the stats of what you're equipped with and what's on the ground. The thing of it is is that this isn't Diablo or Borderlands where you can get a nice stash of goods going on but rather you replace them constantly so know that purple-tiered shield you found? Well have it hit too many times and it loses its durability, eventually requiring a replacement. Also, some weapons have, like World of Warcraft or Oblivion, special elemental attributes which add way more damage but it'll eventually run out with continual use with no way to replenish it. While this keeps things fresh and prevents any dominating of enemies, it's still quite strange to find a really sweet bow and arrow only for it to become less effective to another you might find.
Now you might be asking yourself "is this game worth 60$ and worth my money? Is there longevity to it?" Well this may sound like my closing statements but this actually leads into a surprisingly cool addition to the game: The Crucible. A full-on mission creator that allows you to create your own mini-missions and share them online, or play ones created by inXile themselves. You can make a horde mode with enemies getting more harder, have waves entirely of one enemy type, have a time limit with more time added with each kill or special modifiers such as having boss characters, mana and health regeneration or prevent characters from using other weapons. While the manner of unlocking things is a touch on the disappointing side (you collect gold via pickups in campaign, kills in Crucible which fills to a certain tier which gains you access to more assets to work with), it adds some nice replay value to a game that would otherwise just be a rental. Now the big question: are you going to bother making your own, or play other people's missions? I messed around with the editor and it's very straightforward and easy to make your own creations, it just isn't as robust as LittleBigPlanet 2 and I doubt there will be the big creative types flocking over and creating impressive things.
It's too bad cash is so light this month and not to mention the cavalcade of releases since Hunted: The Demon's Forge would probably be a buy had I the funds to do so. The game is up against some stiff competition, The Crucible, while a fun diversion, might not be a compelling reason for replay value and the gameplay itself is fun although nothing groundbreaking. I suspect this might become one of those sleeper hits: the kind not many people played but those that did actually enjoyed it. Oh yeah and before I forget, the AI in this game is more than adequate and isn't a burden like Resident Evil 5's AI was. Something to be praised, no?