‘Predator: Hunting Grounds’ review: excellent ideas are marred by a flawed execution

Bugs and dull gameplay make for a boring experience

It’s said that the key to any relationship is a good first impression. Not sure who started that, probably someone shallow with a winning smile and no sense of humour, but they’re not completely wrong either.

Predator: Hunting Grounds, assuming you try the tutorial before anything else, makes a decidedly sub-par first impression. This is probably because it’s not a game designed to be played against AI, but it’s not entirely the fault of the bumbling marines you hunt as you learn the controls.

Let’s take, for example, the bright-green leaves silhouetted against the clear blue sky. You should be able to see the light shining through them with all the glory of the aeons that our particular star has existed for. Instead, you’re treated to some strangely pixelated leaves backdropped against what looks to be the competitor to green screen: blue screen.

Alright, graphics aren’t the most important thing in the world. How about animations? Sneaking up on your first marine is exhilarating as you cycle between cloaked and uncloaked, and toggle on and off your heat vision. That all looks cool, so you sneak up, initiate the stealth attack and the Predator ham-fistedly performs a very lacklustre Heimlich manoeuvre on the poor guy, all as he sprays blood out of his back before you see the claw appear from him.

There’s almost a level of slapstick to it. It’s an odd thing to think about one of fiction’s greatest hunters, but it’s a thought that stayed with me throughout the learning process as I leapt from branch to branch using Predkour and watched the AI soldiers magically float up the stairs backwards while chasing me.

The good news is that Predator: Hunting Grounds isn’t a single-player game. That means that some of these issues shouldn’t really affect it, right?

Uh, well, no. You see, Predator: Hunting Grounds is a Player v Player v Environment – more commonly known as PvPvE – game. That means that it pits one Predator against a team of four human players in a Fireteam, and then sets it in a world with AI humans running around being ineffective.

Predator: Hunting Grounds Review
Credit: IllFonic

Let’s talk through the Fireteam stuff. Each match has you dropped into an area with your three buddies, and you’re given a list of tasks to complete before you can leave. These tend to be things like investigations, drug busts or killing certain AI enemies.

These aren’t exactly inspiring missions, but they shouldn’t have to be given how interesting the core concepts are. After all, putting a bunch of players in what could be a co-op mission and telling them to complete it while a Predator hunts them is, undoubtedly, a very cool idea.

The first thing you’ll likely notice about the Fireteam is that firing the weapons feels a little odd. There’s a phrase called “gunfeel”, which is basically shorthand for how a gun sounds, feels and fires in a game. Not as shorthand once you explain it, but it’s always good to learn new things.

The guns in Predator: Hunting Grounds feel like pea shooters. All of them. There’s not enough feedback, and they don’t sound angry enough. In fact, even when shooting someone you don’t get a feeling that these are tools designed for killing, you get the feeling that they’re tools designed for tickling someone until they fall over and shout uncle. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the missions were fun to do, but it’s not just the missions that lack ingenuity.

The AI is also incredibly lacklustre. You can quite happily pick off an enemy with a loud assault rifle without alerting any of his friends, even if they’re all next to each other. It makes them feel incredibly dense and unaware, which isn’t much fun to play against.

This is true for most of the objectives until you have to defend something while a timer ticks down. At this point, the AI knows exactly where you are at all times, and they spawn nearby before walking straight towards you, firing. There are no tactics involved here. Instead, it is as if they’re controlled by some great hivemind that’s uninterested in keeping individual soldiers alive. They just want results.

Once you’ve accomplished destroying/investigating/shooting whatever it is you have to do, you need to escape. It’s at this point you have to get to “da choppa”. Except you need to call it in first and then defend the area because everyone and their mum knows exactly when and where you requested evacuation.

This includes the Predator, who is likely to have been popping up throughout your mission anyway. This is where most matches are won or lost, though not always with any logic. Killing off the Predator is hard to do, but it also struggles to kill off the Fireteam, making it a strangely even fight if everyone is still alive.

Predator: Hunting Grounds Review
Credit: IllFonic

Let’s switch to talking about the experience as the Predator here. As the Predator – or The Yautja, (pronounced Ya-OOT-ja) as the species is called – you should feel like a powerful, unstoppable hunter that’s designed for killing. You’d never attack the weak as there’d be no honour in it. You know full well your prowess in battle, and you want to bring back a trophy worthy of your skill.

Except, you’ve brought your big old shoulder-mounted plasma caster to make light work of these weak humans. You know, the one that obliterates whatever it hits? Yeah, except in this game it does a minute amount of damage instead. That’s alright, though; you’re still a master of stealth, so you can sneak up on these foolish humans and gut them, right? Uh, also no. The humans have a preternatural sense of where you are, and your cloaking isn’t actually all that good, you just look like a glitch.

Everything just feels a bit wrong. None of the weapons that anybody uses feel powerful enough, everyone has too much health, and none of the missions or AI are up to scratch. There’s certainly still fun to be had here, but not for particularly long.

Speaking of long, the matchmaking at present is horrendous, leading to a 12-minute wait at one point over the weekend. This is being looked into, apparently, but that doesn’t help those who’ve been playing on launch weekend.

Predator: Hunting Grounds Review
Credit: IllFonic

There are a few other bugs, too, like the mission that had me slaughter the Fireteam as the Predator, only to have them escape somehow despite all being listed as dead. There was also one instance of getting stuck inside a tree as the Predator, which makes you feel decidedly powerless.

It’s not all bad, though. The progression system is actually pretty good, with you unlocking new items for both sides as you level up in the multiplayer. These help keep the games more interesting and varied if you’re willing to push through the early levels. There’s also an undeniably enjoyable sense of tension when you know you’re about to get into a fight with the other side, and that’s the kind of thing that can only work in this style of asymmetrical multiplayer game.

Predator: Hunting Grounds is out now on PC and PlayStation 4.

Our Verdict

While I do have some faith that IllFonic will be able to turn this game around, at the moment, Predator: Hunting Grounds feels like an incredibly interesting concept covered in a series of strange balancing decisions and an intense need for the suspension of disbelief. It’s an odd game filled with occasional glimpses of fun, but trying to capture the fun is like trying to say an Arnie quote without shouting it a loud terrible Austrian accent – impossible.

Pros

  • Some excellent references to the films
  • A good progression system
  • A strong core idea

Cons

  • The Predator feels very weak
  • The guns lack punch
  • There are a fair few bugs
  • The visuals look dated
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