Reviewed: December 5, 2002
Released: November 19, 2002
One of the nicest things about the N64 was that Nintendo included four controller ports. This feature was carried over to the GameCube and while it isn't always one of the most ultilized features on the Cube, it is certainly nice when a 4-player game comes along; especially when that title supports up to four players simultaneously on the same screen. Sure, split-screen games can be fun, but unless you have a huge TV and are able to focus your vision on one small part of that screen, traditional multiplayer games can often become confusing and unplayable.
Hunter: The Reckoning is the latest GameCube title to support four simultaneous players, and it only took one marathon gaming session for this bloody slasher to quickly replace Gauntlet: Dark Legacy as my new favorite party game. Today is the day when four-player games stop getting compared to Gauntlet. Hunter: The Reckoning is the new standard by which all future four-player games will now be compared.
Set in White Wolf's World of Darkness, Hunter: The Reckoning is a third-person action-shooter where players take the role of one of four unique hunters - Deuce, a biker ex-con, Father Cortez, a prison chaplain, Kassandra, a raver chick and Samantha, a tough ex-cop. Armed with a variety of fearsome weaponry, players will battle it out with a plethora of supernatural enemies. Non-stop heart-pumping action, combined with outstanding graphics bring the true spirit of Hunter: The Reckoning to life, and give players a taste of the World of Darkness.
Here are a few of the features you will find in this game:
The nice thing about Hunter is that it scales to the number of people playing the game. Each of the four main characters compliments the others, so when you have four people playing you have a very well rounded team. If you choose to go solo you will find the Judge to be your best bet, as he is the strongest of the four.
Each character begins with a melee weapon and a ranged weapon, and you will collect many more weapons along the way such as chainsaw, machine gun, shotgun, flamethrower, etc. These other weapons will require their own ammo while your initial weapons are unlimited, but generally weaker. For instance, the Avenger has a shotgun with unlimited shells, but the fire rate is very slow and it takes multiple shots to kill something that another shotgun can take out with a single blast.
The characters also differ in their attack speeds and unique special abilities and attacks. The Avenger is a slow lumbering hulk that can swing a battle-axe delivering devastating damage, while the Martyr can twirl like a ballerina chopping up zombies like a sushi chef at three times the normal attack rate.
Each character starts with a base set of stats and these go up over the course of the game as you are awarded experience points during combat. The nice thing about this is that experience is awarded based on combat participation with an extra bonus going to the person who deals the fatal blow. This forces everyone stays in battle if you plan on keeping up with the rest of your team. If you think you are going to hang back, let the others do the work, and collect free experience you will quickly find yourself left behind in every aspect.
In addition to weapons, each character has special magical abilities called Edge powers. These powers draw from your Conviction meter (think mana) and some characters rely on Edge powers more so than others. This leads to some strategic planning and teamwork where you must coordinate your attacks and let the proper people pick-up the blue power-ups to keep their conviction meter fully charged. This is particularly true of the Defender who has the ability to heal herself and others in your team.
There are a few gameplay mechanics that can cause some problems until you learn what they are and how to work around them. One of these is the fact that for your character to increase in experience they must survive the level. If a character dies and you do not continue immediately then choose to reenter the game later you will lose all of your experience and skill bonuses and basically start from scratch.
Control is pretty good with an intuitive button configuration. There is an obvious omission of a target-lock forcing you to manually aim in the general direction of an enemy. This results in frequently wasted shots and the inability to circle-strafe opponents. New to the GameCube is an auto-fire mode that kicks in when you fully press the trigger. This is a curse and a blessing as it wastes a lot of monsters but it also uses ammo at an accelerated rate.
You are eased into the hectic action by a light tutorial in the abandoned train station. Here you learn the basics of movement and combat and how to read Glyphs. These symbols are scattered about all of the levels and will provide gameplay hints and strategy tips for certain bosses. It is also in this train station that you get your secondary assignment.
Naturally, the main goal is to defeat the ultimate evil behind this undead invasion, but for you to get the really good ending you are going to need to save 50 innocents. This is the number required to fix the derailed train that brought you to this zombie-infested town. Each innocent you rescue provides you with an additional “continue”, so you have more than one reason to save every last person you find. All of these “continues“ are pooled, so anybody can use them when they die.
The first few levels start off slowly. The monsters are your typical zombies but these move faster than you might expect and they tend to swarm in large numbers. Speaking of numbers, the monster count is fixed regardless of how many people are playing; however, they do become easier to kill if you don’t have a full compliment of Hunters.
As the levels get longer and harder so do the monsters. Pretty soon you will start encountering zombies who are heavily armed with pistols and shotguns. Some even have flamethrowers. The boss battles are huge and terribly difficult – I never dreamed a giant teddy bear could kick so much ass.
As with most four-player games you will have some problems. The more players you have the further back the camera pulls out. Your movement is also limited to the rest of your team so while you are trying to get that conviction power-up before it fades away, your buddy is trying to move in the opposite direction trying to pick-up that flamethrower.
In my multiplayer experience we finally agreed on various attack plans like “circle the room clockwise with Judge clearing the way with his bow while Defender brings up the rear and Martyr picks up the weapons”. Once you start preplanning a level you can eliminate a lot of the frantic shouting like “move up...move up…further…” We also exploited a game “feature” that allows you to leave one player by a door while the rest go fight. If things go bad that one player can open the door and bring everyone out to regroup. Of course you need to alternate this person or they won’t keep up with experience points.
Another thing to consider when playing with multiple players is your friendly fire options. While master gamers may be bold enough to attempt this game with friendly fire turned on, you will most likely want it off. You will often find your entire team clustered together and with Avenger swinging that huge axe your team will fall faster than the zombies. And if you are spread out you have a good chance of hitting a teammate with a shotgun or flamethrower blast.
The levels are linear by design, but you might find yourself backtracking after completing certain trigger events that open up new areas. Monsters spawn in preset locations, so once you learn what triggers an appearance you can often avoid the trigger and the subsequent combat. You can also weigh certain battles versus their potential reward. Often avoidance is a respectable alternative to reckless combat.
Hunter is dark - very dark. The game takes place at night in dark outdoor areas and darker indoor areas. This gives everything a creepy atmosphere than sets the mood for the horrible monsters you will encounter. These monsters vary from level to level, but only slightly. You might be fighting the same zombies in the penitentiary as you were in the schoolyard but now they might have a machine gun.
The occasional new monster will grace the screen and scare the crap out of you. Statues come to life and are quite difficult to defeat until you learn the proper tactics. All of the various monsters are incredibly detailed and well designed. The animation is flawless, almost as if somebody actually motion-captured a real zombie.
The opening movie blew me away and had me totally pumped to rid the world of evil. The character intro’s reminded me of Mortal Kombat with the deep-voiced announcer doing the narrative. While some movies are pre-rendered many are created using game graphics. This seamlessly merges movie with gameplay and doesn’t take you out of the game. Even when the bosses make their grand entrance it is done through a chilling combination of game engine graphics and pre-rendered visuals.
Hunter is presented from a top-down angled view and you have virtually no camera control aside from minimal zoom in the single player mode. The camera does an amazing job of keeping all the players in view during multiplayer sessions. I never once died because of a poor camera angle, although I did fight to reach certain objects because of the positioning of other players in my team. This isn't a problem in the single player game.
There is great detail put into almost every aspect of this game. Monsters can be dismembered and there is location sensitive damage. There is always excessive blood and the GameCube is capable of keeping track of large amounts of it before the pools start to vanish from the levels. The cafeteria level was the first place I noticed the pools starting to vanish as new monsters were killed, and that was only because you fought hundreds of monsters in one very large room.
The environments themselves are very realistic and nicely detailed with destructible objects. In the boss battle with the giant teddy bear, he will chase you around the church and the pews will splinter and fall apart as he lumbers after you. Cars and propane tanks will explode if shot. This is a great way to take out large numbers of undead but it can also kill teammates, as explosion damage is not covered under the Friendly Fire Insurance program.
There is a lot of detail in this game that you will probably miss unless you play it by yourself and zoom in. Even with only two players the camera pans out to such a high vantage point you cannot begin to appreciate everything that is being rendered on the screen. I was very surprised to see that the GameCube and Xbox versions looked virtually identical, both in quality and framerate; especially in light of the fact that the GameCube has about half the memory of the Xbox. This is truly a testament to some skillful programming on the designers' part.
The music in Hunter is geared toward action more than suspense. The music never really scared me and it never got repetitive. It serves as a driving force to slay some undead.
The sound effects are all very clean and distinct. Every last subtle sound has been accounted for whether you can hear it or not. Often the din of combat will drown out the lesser sounds, but when you are creeping through the sewers you will hear dripping water, splashing footsteps, the hollow echo of footstep on concrete, the echo of gunfire, etc.
The Dolby Pro Logic II surround mix is put to good use bringing these effects to life and having you look over your shoulder when you hear a moan or footsteps from behind the sofa.
With four people playing the intensity of the gunfire may have you reaching for the volume control. The shotguns are loud and will often drown out the more subtle sounds like the cheerful crackle of a roasting zombie you just torched with a flamethrower, or the reloading of a weapon, or the supernatural sound effects when you invoke your Edge powers.
Hunter: The Reckoning is admittedly a short game. Figure on 12-15 hours to finish this depending on how good you are and how many people are playing. The main game is a linear experience and follows the same story. There are no secrets or bonuses to unlock, which may turn off some gamers, but at least the GameCube version has a few exclusive cheat modes that set it slightly apart from its Xbox cousin.
But Hunter is all about having violent, bloody, fun and doing it with a group of your friends. It’s easy to learn, easier to play, and gets quite addictive. Before you know it you are hooked.
Hunter: The Reckoning is a dark, adult version of Gauntlet, and you will replay this game for the same reasons you are compelled to play those other “party games”. The entire game has this foreboding, evil element to it that makes you want to take a shower or perhaps go to church when you are finished playing. But after having my ass beat up and down the chapel by a giant teddy bear, church might not be the safest place for me to go right now.