Reviewed: December 20, 2003
Released: October 29, 2003
Last year Interplay released Hunter: The Reckoning, one of the most horrific cooperative multiplayer games ever seen for the Xbox. As addictively fun as this game was there were a few areas where the game needed some tweaking and High Voltage has “redeemed” the series with their latest sequel to the White Wolf franchise, Hunter: The Reckoning Redeemer.
Hunter: The Reckoning Redeemer features:
In my original Hunter review I made some comparisons to the old Gauntlet games and Redeemer doesn’t stray far from the “kill everything on the screen” formula. Once again you take on the role of one of five Hunters in single player or cooperative multiplayer for up to four Hunters at a time. Naturally, this is where the game really shines as you can pick and choose characters whose skills complement the rest of the party creating a powerful fighting force.
Redeemer takes place ten years after the original (or eight years after the PS2 sequel) and introduces a new character, Kaylie Winter. If that name sounds familiar you might remember Kaylie as the little girl you rescued in the first game, the one with the teddy bear that probably kicked your ass up and down the church a few times before you figured out how to kill it. She is all grown up and a playable Hunter from the moment you start the game.
Hunters are identified by their class (function) and each has their own unique combat tactics, Edge attacks, and weapon proficiencies. Burly Deuce is the obvious brawler that excels in close-range combat, either swinging his giant axe or pumping off a few rounds from his 12-gauge. Father Esteban is master of the Edge attacks and backs up his spells with a crossbow and sword. Cassandra is a whirling blur of spinning knife attacks and dual pistols and Samantha, with her katana and revolver once again is the most rounded character, perfect for solo gameplay.
Playing alone, Redeemer is an exercise in frenzied combat and survival, but when played with two or more the game becomes much more strategic as you learn to coordinate ranged and melee attacks and make use of each Hunters’ strengths and compensate for their weaknesses.
By design, the pacing of the game rewards you for keeping your weapons loaded during slow times and penalizes you (kicks your ass) for getting ambushed with an empty clip. Manual reloads are a bit faster than the auto-reload, so it’s wise to keep an eye on the ammo counter and make sure to distance yourself from any enemies before switching or reloading weapons.
Movement and combat are handled with the analog sticks and create a very fluid combat interface that allows you to move in any direction while firing in another. Since you are often surrounded by dozens of undead, this is the perfect combat system for total 3D combat. My only critique of the system is more of a visual problem than a control issue, but when moving your Hunter they only show up as facing in one of the four cardinal directions. This can be a bit disconcerting when you are facing “south” but firing “southeast”.
Each of the 20 levels is massive making it way too easy to get lost. There were many times when we simply lost our sense of direction or where we were supposed to go next. Some type of compass or waypoint indicator is drastically needed. The problem is made worse with multiple players trying to explore in multiple directions all at once.
Speaking of multiple players, the Hunter franchise is designed to be played with four people. Much like Atari’s D&D Heroes, you can only appreciate the brilliance of the game design when you have a full complementary party of characters working in unison against a common foe. Even though the game matches the number of enemies to the number of players, the odds are always against you. Every encounter is huge with dozens, perhaps hundreds of enemies attacking from all direction, even from off the screen.
There is a certain level of…err…cooperation required to play this game cooperatively. While it might be tempting to run around and collect all the health, ammo, and magic power-ups, your really need to share these limited resources for the overall good of the party. Father Esteban’s healing ability for both himself and the party will certainly make him a popular choice as a playable character.
Enemy AI really isn’t an issue. The game relies more on sheer numbers and a variety of attacks to keep the challenge alive. To help even the score Redeemer offers plenty of new weapons that will help keep these overwhelming numbers in check. Weapons like flamethrowers, mini-guns, and powerful grenade launchers will clear out patches of undead with delightfully grotesque results.
Visually, Redeemer is a major leap forward over the original in both textures, modeling, and even camera work. While the camera can still get stuck in places it is much better than the problematic system of the original game. It does a good job of auto-zooming to keep everyone onscreen and ready for action.
Character design is excellent for both Hunters and the more than 30 terrifying monsters you will encounter during your trip through Ashcroft. You will quickly learn to identify each monster by both their animation and their initial appearance, which is crucial since you will need to plan your attacks almost instinctively for each encounter.
Each of the Hunters has a look that is as unique as their personality and their function. The animation is smooth and flows naturally with a fight system that chains the hits together in some impressive combo animations. Monster animation is just as nicely detailed and even a bit creepy when dismembered creatures stagger around waiting for your final deathblow.
The movies are very nice and create a very cinematic experience both before and during a few key parts of the game. Unfortunately, the presentation value slips during the game and you are forced to read much of the dialogue and clues in pop-up text boxes.
The music is a mix of hard rocking guitar riffs that fit the psuedo-punk style of the character design and gothic horror presentation. The only thing that doesn’t quite work is the randomness of when the music decides to play. At first it seems to be cued by the onscreen action but after a few hours it appears to be more random than anything else.
Some of the ambient sounds effects are quite chilling but for the most part the sound presentation left me wanting. There were suitable moans and groans for the scores of undead and plenty of atmospheric effects to bring the city of Ashcroft to life, but the big letdown was the weapons. Naturally, these play a pretty important part in a combat game but all of the gunplay sounded just a bit too hollow with no punchy effects to back-up their visuals.
Dolby Digital offers a bit of spatial quality but even that seems to fall short of other games in the genre. The entire sound package was merely average in what is otherwise an outstanding game.
Solo gamers need not apply. Redeemer is a game meant for four players and no less than two. You simply cannot enjoy this game as it was meant to be played if you tackle it alone. The 20 massive levels will take you considerable time to get through, partially because the game is very challenging, and because you will inevitably get lost and find yourself wandering aimlessly looking for a door or exit portal. Expect 10-12 hours to finish this game with a well-rounded party and 15-20 to muddle through on your own.
Redeemer does feature support for Xbox Live but only for new content downloads. Playing the actual game online would be a huge boost for the value of this title, as it isn’t always easy to get four people together around one Xbox for a good solid night of gaming.
Hunter: The Reckoning Redeemer is a great game and sure to be a big hit at your next party. It takes the Gauntlet-inspired cooperative gameplay model into a dark and terrifying direction that will appeal to horror fans or those just looking for some intense action.
While Redeemer improves upon just about every aspect of the original game it never really achieves a “sequel” status other than the storyline. As impressive and disturbing as the first game was, Redeemer is more of an upgrade; a solid action title that just left me wanting something more.