Things aren’t looking good for Project: Stargazer following the death of their commanding officer and the chaos that took place when the Fugitive Predator escaped their secret facility. They no longer seem to be considered a legitimate intelligence agency and have been forced into the shadows, now operating out of some facilities hidden within the jungle that looks like it was slapped together out of whatever was to hand.
Much like Stargazer itself, I was overseeing the various insertion operations in a repurposed cargo container that was serving as Sony’s command complex for Predator: Hunting Grounds. I am of course talking about the recent demos of Illfonic’s upcoming game that was shown off at the 2019 EuroGamer Expo that took place over the weekend of the 17th of October 2019.
Once I found out the game had made its way over to the United Kingdom, you could have been damn sure I was going to head down to get my grubby mitts on the game and take in as much of the game as I could. Thankfully the Sony reps on site where more than willing to put up with my presence for a large part of the Sunday and I got to watch a lot of games taking place, in additional to playing three games myself.
The version of the game being demoed was the same pre-Alpha build that we’ve seen Illfonic and Sony taking to the various other events such as GamesCom and New York Comic Con, so I didn’t see a different version of the game than what the gaming journalists have already spoken about.
However, I did get a chance to actually see a lot of the game in movement in front of me, and to get a feel for how the game played for myself. From what I understand, the game has already progressed well past this point so everything I say below can be prefaced by “in this build of the game…”
Though Predator: Hunting Grounds is a multiplayer game, I did see elements of narrative in the way of the pre-game briefing that explained the upcoming insertion giving some context to the upcoming events, which I have to admit I’m very pleased to see. Your “Fireteam” is inserting into the jungle to install malware onto Stargazer’s global network and things are interrupted by the Predator. I hope some form of narrative is continued throughout the rest of the missions.
There are four classes to choose from as the Fireteam – the Scout, who favors SMGs and apparently has the ability to better spot the Predator, but I didn’t get to see this feature in play. The Sharpshooter, who serves as the team’s sniper. From what I witnessed, the sniper had the ability to tag the Predator when he landed a shot with his rifle and revealed the location of the Other World Life Form to the rest of your brothers-in-arms.
There didn’t seem to be anything too unique in regards to the CQB or Assault classes from what I witnessed. While this build of the game did include the classes, it was also locked to specific weapons for each class (which also meant I didn’t get to see any of the progression system in action).
The CQB was rocking a shotgun and the Assault had a typical looking Armalite rifle. The Scout also had an Armalite looking rifle, with the only difference seeming to be the sight of the weapon and a faster rate-of-fire. I thought the inclusion of the larger machettes for the melee weapon was genius too! The echoes to Duch and Billy’s blades brought a real smile to my face.
As expected the Fireteam plays much like a typical first person shooter, with the actual mission objectives taking most of your focus early on. I have to say the inclusion of the AI enemies in the game was such a stroke of genius, and I think very much needed.
Not only does it fit in thematically in replicating the original Predator’s formula, but it also gives the Fireteam something to do while the Predator is getting himself into the action because depending on the player that can actually take some time, but more on that later!
Much like in Alien: Isolation and its human and synthetic enemies, the Stargazer enemies also offer a kind of respite from fighting against the named extra-terrestrial baddy. While it’s certainly a thrill when the Predator makes itself known and then disappears back into the foliage, I think the game would struggle to keep all the player focus on the Predator when you don’t really know where it is. There’s only so much keeping your sights on the greenery will entertain! But when you’re in the midst of it, and the Predator is making it’s presence known, it’s an absolute thrill!
I do really hope the AI of the Stargazer enemies is significantly improved in the later versions of the game though. They didn’t showcase an over-abundance of the intelligence aspect from what I saw or fought against. I’d like to see more cover-taking or flanking, and less standing around the open.
During the pre-game sequence, the Fireteam is able to pick an infiltration point by vote. Then the extraction point seemed to vary based on the selected infiltration point. I’m not sure if each point has a pre-determined extraction point, or if that is just randomized. Either way, I do like that feature as it adds an extra layer of variation to the games being played.
Something that I think is going to be vital while playing as the Fireteam is communication! You have got to call out the compass bearings, you have got to tell people you’re down and call out the need to get to those reinforcement points (which are radio points used to respawn your dead team-mates). Teams that don’t talk aren’t going to do too well when they jump into these Hunting Grounds!
Despite the Fireteam feeling like a more traditional shooter, the Predator’s regular appearances really gave it that extra spice so it stands out. The different movement system that Predator: Hunting Grounds employs for our favourite alien big game hunter also meant Hunting Grounds also felt like a completely different game to any of the previous Predator games.
I love how the Predator looks and moves in this game. With how “usual” the Fireteam aspect of Hunting Grounds is, I think everyone would forgive me for spending so much of my time with my eyes glued on the screen of the Predator player. I honestly don’t think the Predator has ever looked as good while moving as it does in Hunting Grounds.
Seeing how beautifully it was animated while the Predator swung around a tree, or the way its deadlocks moved while jumping…it looked amazing. I’m also really fond of Illfonic’s design for what seems to be Hunting Ground’s “standard” Predator design. I love the almost sleeker take on the barer classical style of the Jungle Hunter. The mask also reminds me somewhat of Ahab, one of my favourite Predators.
But I’m certainly eager to see more of what Hunting Grounds has to offer in terms of the Predator’s progression. Like the Fireteam, the Predator was also locked to a specific class and equipment in this demo. The one we’ve all been getting hands-on with was known as the Hunter. He came kitted out with your essential Predator gear – wrist blades, plasma caster, cloak, infra-red vision, med-kit and that ever so wonderful self-destruct.
The wrist blades seemed to take 4 or 5 hits to take down the enemy, and the plasma caster looked to require some spot-on targeting to really damage the Fireteam. Unlike most Predator games, it didn’t appear as if the plasma caster auto-locked which maybe a balancing mechanic, though it did seem to have some sort of aim assist while using in the infra-red vision.
I’m eager to see more of what the points system will unlock in regards to the Predator appearance and equipment, but for now what other goodies the game has for is still unknown.
I mentioned earlier that something was needed to keep the Fireteam players occupied while the Predator made its way over to the action. The Fireteam is able to choose one of four possible insertion points, meaning the Predator player doesn’t know where they are. I don’t know if it’s going to be the same for the final game, but the pre-Alpha build had the Predator always locked into a single insertion point and then having to make his way over to the Fireteam.
I watched so many players struggle with this initial moment and I found myself getting a little lost too. You are given a brief indication mark of where the Fireteam is but the jungle is absolutely huge! There’s a mini-map but I didn’t check to see if there was a larger map to help you better navigate (I know, I know). If there’s no map, I think there’s going to be a lot of learning of game maps to really get the best out of being the Predator.
In addition to the early iconographic cue as to what direction the Fireteam was in, the infra-red mode also offers additional assistance in that it will display a pulsating bubble as you get closer to your prey. I’m not sure if it triggers off anything in the game other than the Fireteam’s presence, but it reminded me of the heartbeat sensor as seen in Predators, or possibly triggered by weapons fire. I did like that there were additional hints because the map really was, forgive the pun, very much a jungle.
One of the mechanics that really seems to make Predator: Hunting Grounds stand out from the previous Predator games is the implementation of the predkour movement system. I absolutely love the focus mechanics that Rebellion used in Aliens vs. Predator (2010) and I thought that was always a fantastic way to get the Predator to move around. With the predkour system, Illfonic takes it one step further and really steps up the way in which the Predator is able to move around the map and make you feel like you are the Predator.
Having seen the mechanic in action, I can understand why Illfonic previously commented about how urban based locations would lose something. So much of the movement is based on all these branches and huge trees. I still think you could get around it with things like powerlines, or construction areas, but I do understand where they’re coming from, even if it does still disappoint me a little.
As much as I really enjoyed seeing and experiencing predkour in action, I did sometimes feel a little “on-rails”. I don’t know whether this was a case of the learning curve, a rush to try and get in as much experience as I could during 20 minutes, or the system itself, but I felt like sometimes I just wasn’t in control of where I was going. Sometimes I’d find myself making leaps I didn’t want to, dropping elevation when I just wanted to stop and take a quick look around.
I got to set off the self destruct! I spent around 4 or 5 hours in that cargo container watching people play Predator: Hunting Grounds and I was the only person on the Sunday that managed to set off the self destruct and it was pretty sweet! Had I been a second later, the Sony rep that had a little vendetta against me for taking his skull earlier would have downed me before I had the chance. I took out all but one player who was hidden away in a sniper tower somewhere.
When you’ve already used that Second Wind and you take that final blow, you get the chance to set off the nuke but if a member of the Fireteam makes it to you in time, they put that final round through your skull and end all the fun there! It was so much fun. That’s a mechanic that doesn’t seem to get given to the player a lot and I’m so glad Illfonic has brought it into Hunting Grounds!
I also didn’t get to see anyone use the mud camouflage mechanic which I was gutted about. I must admit it doesn’t seem very obvious to the player. I noticed the prompt once during the final section where a Fireteam was waiting for their evac, and there was a quick “Press ” prompt on the screen. I’m still eager to see how that looks!
As much as I love attending these kinds of events and getting a taste of these games, it is still just a taste. But it was a taste that left me wanting more. We had several different groups of people making return trips around the queue to try out the game several times and there was a solid 2 hour queue. The general buzz from inside the container was really positive. I heard so much praise for this pre-Alpha demo and I really can’t wait to get more of Predator: Hunting Grounds!