Name: Hunted: The Demon's Forge
Genre: Third-person action adventure
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
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What would you get if you crossed Lord of the Rings with Gears of War? Something a lot like Hunted: The Demon's Forge, probably. A fantasy epic with cover-based combat mechanics and a heavy lean towards co-op play, it's quite the unique adventure. But is it a memorable one? Read on to find out.
Despite its sword and sorcery stylings, Hunted for the most part actually plays more like Uncharted or Gears of War than Oblivion or Demon's Souls. You'll take the role of one of two mercenaries, the muscle-bound baldy Caddoc or scantily-clad elven huntress E'lara. Initially out to line their pockets, the two become deeply involved in events of potentially world-destroying significance, and end up having to mow down an army's worth of orcs, giant spiders and other demonic beasties by using cover-based mechanics.
The intention behind the dual-character set-up is that each has specific strengths and weaknesses. Caddoc is supposedly more skilled at close-combat melee attacks, dealing and taking more damage, but also moving more slowly than his companion. E'lara on the other hand focusses on ranged combat with a bow and is faster, but is also slightly weaker. However, as both have access to ranged and melee attacks, it more or less only leads to aesthetic differences in play styles. Caddoc's specialisation could even be considered the weaker of the pair, considering that the game's damage-enhancing skill tree opens up over-powered ranged magical attacks to both characters later on in the game.
Having said that, the overall combat is good fun. Melee attacks can err a little too heavily towards button mashing, but using a bow to headshot a goblin 50 feet away is a joy you won't experience anywhere else in gaming at the moment.
In an attempt at Diablo-style loot hoarding, downing most foes will give you new weapons to wield. Despite being a mostly linear, chapter based game, there still are plenty of excellent side quests and puzzles hidden within each level that are an equally good source of new weapons too. It's a shame then that there is very little differentiation between all the available gear. You'll likely find yourself finding one decent weapon and more or less sticking with it until the end-game high-end weaponry reveals itself. Even weapons infused with magical abilities are a little pointless as their powers deplete so quickly.
Though Hunted revolves around a heavily clichéd "end of the kingdom" storyline (and far too often embarrassingly gets its kicks out of a little elven side-boob) the relationship between Caddoc and E'lara, central to the game, is actually quite a good one. Despite appearances, the hefty Caddoc is the more grounded of the pair, weighing up the odds before wading into a fight, while E'lara is feisty and reckless. At times they make a genuinely loveable comedy duo thanks to some solid voice acting, at least when they're not weighed down by an overly predictable fantasy script.
It's a good job that the scripted relationship between the pair is strong, for if you're playing alone with just an AI partner for company you're likely to find their behaviour too infuriating to like otherwise. Though the difficulty of the campaign in single player is actually quite low thanks to the heavy beating your partner can take before falling, your AI companion never fails to act stupidly. Playing as Caddoc during a particularly tricky sequence involving a minotaur-like guard about halfway through the game, I died at the feet of my computer-controlled assistant, despite E'lara being fully stocked with health-refilling potions.
In this respect then Hunted is best played in co-operative modes. Both offline split screen and online modes are supported, but a disappointing lack of drop-in drop-out play means you'd better have a pal ready for the long haul or you'll spend a long time waiting for a fellow adventurer in online lobbies.
The game comes into its own in co-op though. The difficulty ramps up and you'll have to work an effective partnership to lure and defeat the many foes. Some of the game's more obtuse puzzles also open themselves up satisfyingly with an extra pair of eyes on the screen, though an overall lack of graphical polish and a strict adherence to established fantasy aesthetics leave the game a little wanting visually.
It's a reasonably lengthy adventure, and one that will easily extend beyond the 12 hour mark for those who want to uncover all the game's secrets. There's also a challenge mode called The Crucible, which also acts as a "lite" level editor for those who cant get enough of Hunted's combat systems.
The overall idea behind Hunted is a strong one; take the best elements of cover shooters and brawlers, and then give them a fantasy make-over with a few dungeon crawling sensibilities thrown in. Execution however is the problem here; an over-reliance on fantasy clichés harm the script, while the odd technical issue both graphically and in terms of AI mar the experience. Lots of fun can be had in co-op mode where the game is at its strongest, and there's an interesting relationship between Caddoc and E'lara once you cut away the fluff. It's worth a rental and maybe even a purchase if you're a big co-op fan, though we'd like to see a fair bit more refinement should a sequel ever arrive.