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Hunter: The Reckoning - Redeemer

Review By:  J. Michael Neal

Developer:  High Voltage Software
Publisher:  Vivendi Universal
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Mature
Online Play:  No
Accessories:  Xbox Live (DL content), In-game Dolby Digital
Date Posted: 

1-1-04

It’s a wonder how, in this day and age, a game like Hunter: The Reckoning can still be fun – after years of genre hybrids, 20-minute cut-scenes, and professionally penned stories, there’s still room for a good old-fashion hack-n-slash beat-um-up on the gaming palette. Even more remarkable is that, despite its shallow-as-a-puddle gameplay, Hunter can linger for weeks without growing stale. Now, High Voltage Software must ask the question, “How long can we do Hunter games before the franchise’s lack of depth gets the best of it?” Lucky for us (and them) the answer is “at least one more round”, as their sequel, Hunter: The Reckoning - Redeemer, manages to bring a bit more depth and replayability to the table without watering down the frenzied pace that made the original king of the bargain bins. Whether they can prolong the inevitable attention drift a third time, however, remains to be seen.

How Hunter was able to make a name for itself in the first place was the remarkable engine that powered the game; remarkable in that it could handle dozens of characters on the screen at the same time without effecting frame rates. Since a beat-um-up of this scale had never been done before (or at least not this well) the thrill of fending off twenty adversaries at a time was fresh and intoxicating. Making life a bit easier against such extreme odds, and also helping to further differentiate this game from the competition, were distinctive Super Smash TV-style controls that allowed players to move in one direction and attack in another, a luxury usually afforded only to first person shooters. This ability came in very handy while retreating from a mob of monsters or providing cover-fire for a friend. Throw in some of the best four-player cooperative play seen since the days of Hyperstone Heist and what you had was one stand-out title for anyone seeking an action fix. And as if all those weren’t enough, the game had a pretty competent story thanks to the rich background White Wolf’s World of Darkness universe provided it.

Four “Hunters”, or humans “imbued” with the gift to see the true nature of the evil all around us and compelled to fight it, were joined together by fate in Ashcroft, a depressed former industrial town on the edge of Hell, to cleanse it of 50 years of demons which used the city, and its cruel penitentiary, as a cattle ranch. As par the pen and paper role-playing game Hunter: The Reckoning is based on, each Hunter has his or her own “Creed” which is linked to their personality and background – there is Father Esteban, the “Judge” and sage-like leader of the rag-tag group; there’s the “Defender”, Samantha, a former detective who grew up fending bullies off the weak; Kassandra, the “Martyr” who must appear like an incompetent, ne'er-do-well brat to her wealthy parents so she can keep up her raver by day, Hunter by night lifestyle; and “Deuce”, the loveable biker cum “Avenger” who turned to a life of thuggery after witnessing his mother’s murder at the age of 14. There personality differences were also illustrated in their stats, which followed the typical gaming logic of the large male being slow, but strong, the small female being fast, but weak, and so on. Each Hunter also possessed a unique melee and ranged weapon, as well as special “Edge” abilities, acting as the game’s magic attacks, fitting to their particular Creed.

Redeemer too has a fairly respectable story, uncommon for a game of this type. It picks up ten years after the events of the first game with the Hunters being mysteriously drawn to the town of Ashcroft once more. However, things have changed since their last stay – the Genefex Corporation has set up shop, transforming the Ashcroft from a bombed-out ghetto into a shining example of urban renewal. One reason for the turn-around is Genefex’s CEO/fellow Hunter Lucien has waged a one-man (and his billion dollar backed paramilitary group) war against every Vampire, Werewolf, and Rot within a 100-mile radius. You will soon discover that this situation isn’t as black and white as it may first appear and will eventually find your allegiances lying with an unusual party.

Joining the original four playable characters is Kaylie, the “Redeemer”, who you may remember if you completed the first Hunter. She was the little girl you saved from a giant, rampaging teddy bear near the middle of the game. Well, she’s all Imbued now and growing into a fine young woman under the guidance and training of Father Esteban, who has become like a father to her now that her parents are gone (they weren’t fortunate enough to be spared from the bear’s wrath). Aside from providing a new (and very well-balanced) Hunter to choose from, she’ll also feature prominently in the story, as her quest for a “nonviolent solution” to the monster problem will be the catalyst for the story arch.

Kaylie isn’t the only addition in Redeemer, however. Not only has the weapons arsenal has been expanded to 40, and Edge attacks to 15, but also new ammunition upgrades can be equipped to your standard ranged weapons to add special attributes for a short period of time, like combustion and paralytic rounds. These, of course, complement the Glyph power-ups scattered across the levels, which endow your character with special abilities like increased speed and extra health for a limited time. Don’t worry, all this firepower won’t go to waste – as many as 30 creatures can attack at a time, with the game boasting some 10,000 monsters to vanquish from start to finish.

As you can imagine, often killing everything is just not an option. Cutting a path to safety may be your best bet, and because of that, Hunter has an unusual feel. It’s not a “horror” title by any stretch of the imagination, but it definitely has the feel of “zombie apocalypse” movies in which getting from point A to point B alive requires just as much running as it does fighting. It’s that feeling of being surrounded, pinned down, and outnumbered that movies like Dawn of the Dead captured so brilliantly. Only this time, you’re armed well enough to make it reverse the situation. 

You can also enlist the help of some friends, with four-player support remaining the highlight of the series; and you will definitely want to bring some friends along. This game was made to be a four-player experience. Each Hunter has his or her specific stats, weapons, and Edges, and they all compliment one another. It is only when they are all working together (the slow but strong character, the fast but weak character, the ranged expert, the melee expert, the offensive Edge user, the defensive Edge user) that the gameplay truly opens up and the tides can be turned in your favor.

The only problem is the tide can be turned a little too well, if you know what I mean. The more people you have playing with you, the easier the game gets. That’s because the number of enemies that attack at any given situation does not increase depending on how many people are playing. Say in the single player game you reach an area in which six zombies shamble from off-screen to feast upon your delicious man-flesh, in a cooperative game those same six zombies will appear. This may not seem like much, but six against four isn’t as difficult as six against one. That wonderful feeling of being painfully outnumber is often lost because of this. I say a ratio of at least four enemies for every one-player character should be kept at all times. The game can certainly handle the workload. I think it wouldn’t have been too much to ask for a simple line of code to scale the number of creatures on screen at any given situation depending on how many players are present, especially considering how easy the game is even by ones lonesome.

Even on the highest difficulty setting this game is entirely too easy, with only bosses providing any sort of real challenge; and even they are basically ordinary creatures with exorbitant amounts of health, requiring no pattern memorization or special feats like typical bosses do. The game gives too many advantages to players; not only do fallen enemies drop constant health and energy refills, but number of bonus lives given at the end of each level is obscene – by the time I reached the end boss on my first run-through I had amassed 70-some-odd lives and had only died a handful of times, so even though he was a bugger I had more than enough continues to throw away. On top of that, your basic ranged weapon has unlimited ammo and finite secondary weapons are everywhere, so rationing isn’t really an issue. There’s nothing wrong with a hack-n-slash game of this kind being a bit easy, with enemies being little more than cannon fodder, as I do enjoy running around like an idiot mowing through crowds of monsters like it’s no tomorrow; but I think the option of a real kick-you-in-your-ass difficultly level should be present, especially for parties of four looking for a real good time.

Of course being easy also translates into being “short”, but that never hinders Redeemer. First of all, who wants to play a 30-hour beat-um-up? Not me, that’s for sure. Three or four hours a pop at twenty levels is enough for me, thanks. And second, there is plenty of incentive to take this puppy for a free play-throughs, and a daunting length would definitely discourage that. Not only are there goodies to unlock, including downloadable customs, playable monsters, and DVD style extras, but also an experience system that builds like any action-RPG and carries over from game to game, accruing to unleash longer and more powerful combos, higher capacity magazines and faster fire rates for your standard ranged weapon, and new or enhanced Edges. This was a pretty wise inclusion, as nothing gives meaning to your every action and completists reason to play through with multiple characters like gaining experience from every action; that and hidden characters that can only be unlocked by completely maxing out a Hunter.

However, playing through the game is a thoroughly enjoyable experience regardless of the extra incentives. If you were ever a fan of mindless maiming you’ll love what High Voltage has done with the concept, even if you think you had your fill of the first game. The Hunter license still has some life in it yet, even if the World of Darkness is coming to an end, and for this Redeemer is worth checking out. It’s the kind of old-school, twitchy, instant fix veterans of the Golden Age can’t do without. Hell, Streets of Rage II doesn’t have much depth when you think about it, or Contra, or Strider, or Golden Axe, but the same reason you trudged through those games countless times is the same reason you’ll play Hunter: The Reckoning - Redeemer time and time again – because it’s simple, basic fun.

If you are too far removed from your gaming heritage to enjoy this kind of game, on the other hand, you may be disappointed. Hunter: The Reckoning: Redeemer is pure hack-n-slash, pure run-n-gun, and if you can’t appreciate a game like Contra: Shattered Soldier or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King even the experience system won’t fool you into seeing depth where there is none. For the most part levels are nothing more than “get from point A to point B alive” with the only variety coming from the occasional escort mission, rescue mission, or find the key. If you feel like you are beyond this sort of simplicity, you might want to wait for something with a few more role-playing elements like Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II, Champions of Norrath, or Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.

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