Hunted: The Demon's Forge Hands Off Preview – Treasure Hunted
Written Friday, May 07, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's not actually been that long since we last saw Hunted: The Demon's Forge, but even in what has been a relatively short space of time, a few things have changed. Running on an Xbox 360, the game is looking incredibly smooth and stable even at this early stage. And where previously we were shown an all too brief overview of the game upon its original announcement, this time around during a sojourn to a stately château outside Paris, inXile was on hand to lead us through an extensive hands-off demo showing off all-new content.
A “sense of wonder” is what inXile is aiming for with Hunted. That, and making the ageing dungeon crawling genre more relevant to a modern audience weaned on a diet of action games like Halo, Gears of War, Uncharted and so on. Its secret weapon? Co-op gameplay centred around third-person cover-based fantasy action, with adventurers E'lara and Caddoc specialising in ranged and up-close melee attacks respectively.
This time we got to see almost a whole hour of combat, secret passageways and all manner of things “off the critical path” as inXile President Matt Findley and Creative Director Maxx Kaufman call it. In fact, to demonstrate just how much cool stuff you can find off the critical path - or veering off the game's main designated route, if you prefer – Kaufman and Findley play a co-op segment for us that begins in a large arena of exterior combat with an army of persistent skeletons, before moving into uncharted territory in narrow, claustrophobic tunnels and treacherous dungeons.
Initiating the route to unearthing a secret is a simple case of getting a clue from one of the many 'death stones' to be found throughout the game. The ominous glowing, emerald skull-shaped artefact is disturbed by female archer E'lara in the demo, causing huge stone pillars in the environment to dramatically topple, spurring an exciting, fraught sprint through tumbling rocks. After a successful escape, E'lara and her burly sword-swinging buddy Caddoc, get a helpful clue towards finding a secret treasure, but not before resurrecting another bunch of skeletons to wade through with a few arrows, a lightning-fuelled 'battle charge' and a few broadsword slices and shield dashes.
“Caddoc, you're off your game today” E'lara tells her partner after killing more skeletons than he managed to. Apparently, there will be snipes like these between the duo during and after fights. Further down the trail, a B button prompt pops up to indicate that E'lara and Caddoc are close to the death stone secret and a smoky spirit appears to reveal another hint via a few revelatory lines of dialogue. Kaufman is keen to stress at this point that the death stone isn't necessarily required to pursue Hunted's secrets, but will help in making it a lot easier by offering hints and tips.
“Where's this axe the spirits spoke of?” inquires Caddoc confirming that this particular secret is a powerful hacking implement that can be used as an alternative weapon to his standard sword. Players will have a journal that stores all of this salient information, so you don't have to worry about forgetting the clues that are dispensed to you on your journey. “Over here, ya bastard!” E'lara then shouts to Caddoc, who then uses his brute strength to push a huge rock out of the way (as she asked so nicely), opening a passage into the next dungeon, where they fall through a crumbling hole into a cavernous hall filled with flickering candles.
Even more skeletons appear this time, which Findley admits are Hunted's early enemy “fodder”, which is why they appear in such numbers to begin with. Thankfully, smashing them into bonemeal looks pretty effortless. From the hall of candles, another network of winding, labyrinthine tunnels leads deeper and deeper underground, so E'lara can light the tip of an arrow on a brazier to illuminate the way. Lighting extinguished braziers along the way to mark out their path, Caddoc and E'lara eventually come upon a water filled shaft and a room with a riddle.
It’s at this point that Caddoc pushes a huge stone switch activating a creaking mechanism that creates a walkway for E'lara to cross and pull a lever to stop the water pouring from a huge stone face in the central shaft. The rocky visage then speaks as the water slowly drains, dispensing another riddle to be jotted down in the journal and used later on. With the pool drained, a walkway down and out of the oppressive dungeon is revealed, leading to an exit where the axe awaits on a pedestal suspended in the middle of a pit. Using the riddle from the stone face, E'lara shoots arrows into statues in a specific order to activate a walkway over to the axe, which Caddoc then snatches victoriously. Job done!
This is but one example of Hunted's off-piste exploration opportunities that are rewarded with special valuable items. They're completely optional, but seriously, how can you resist the temptation to stray off the beaten path and find yourself a rare trinket or weapon? Kaufman and Findley promise special armour, weapons, crystals, mana and health upgrades as well as gold and other loot will await players that take the time to explore, meaning that Hunted's own twist on the fantasy genre should appeal to attention-deficit action hounds and obsessive-compulsive collectors alike.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is shaping up remarkably well ahead of its 2011 release, looking richly detailed and hugely appealing from a gameplay perspective. Until we get hands-on with the game, it's hard to tell how well it actually plays, but it all looks suitably tight and slick at this stage, so those lame Gears puns like 'Spears of Gore' that greeted the original March announcement might not be too wide of the mark. And that's a good thing, by the way.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is due for a Q1 2011 launch.