Hunted: The Demon's Forge Hands-On Preview – Tales From the Crypt
Written Friday, March 11, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
When you stop and think about it for a second, the fantasy genre is kind of a minefield. It's so packed full of Tolkien-esque tropes and clichés, that it's almost impossible to make something really stand out from the rest of the fantasy crowd without it looking like something that reeks of Gandalf's jock strap. At present, Hunted: The Demon's Forge is walking a knife edge between being something different and something grounded in old fantasy traditions, which could actually turn out to be a good thing if developer inXile can get that balance just right.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is a fantasy game with a resolutely action-packed slant, taking its cue from the likes of Gears of War with its own cover system and up-close and personal melee combat. The entire experience is also centred entirely around co-op, so what better way to go hands-on with Hunted once more than with a bit of face-to-face co-op alongside a fellow journo? Before that though, we've a single-player tutorial to work through in order to learn the basic mechanics that make Hunted tick.
We're treated to Hunted's opening credits, which is a suitably epic sequence, with a camera that swoops across sprawling vistas stretching far into the horizon, hinting at the promise of exploration to come. The action then begins with a cobweb-ridden catacomb where Caddoc - the male member of Hunted's duo - finds himself guided by a disembodied voice into the clutches of a powerful horned demon. Game over already? No, of course not. That would be rubbish. Turns out it was all just a vision that acts as the spark to Hunted's narrative fuse, providing the impetus for the journey ahead.
It's then time to sink our teeth into the meat of what co-op has to offer, with a click of the left stick conjuring up a spirit guide to help us stay on track through the maze of subterranean tunnels and various puzzles that lay in wait. In single-player, you'll still trawl Hunted's dungeons and battlegrounds with a partner who will be under the command of the game's AI, although you can give your buddy a prod in the right direction with a tap of B when you're focused on a point of interest. Therefore, executing co-op actions alone is a simple button press away, which should make life nice and easy in single-player.
Marching into battle as E'lara, with her bow primed, we find the basic mechanics of the game are tight and responsive, playing exactly as you'd expect a third-person shooter to play, aiming arrows at the sword and shield-wielding skeleton soldiers that zone in on our position as we traverse a gloomy exterior location, through a courtyard with cover conveniently dotted around for some strategic shooting. Thumping an arrow into a skeleton's head is satisfying, but if things get a little too hairy, E'lara has the option to switch to melee attacks, just as Caddoc can use a bow if you like. However, each is an expert in their own proficiency, so E'lara is far weaker in a close-quarters melee situation whereas Caddoc is a comparative klutz with a bow.
After vanquishing the skeletons, we press on past cascading waterfalls and the bones of what used to be a huge monster, to arrive at the first death stone. Here, the temptress Seraphine (voiced by Lucy Lawless) from Caddoc's visions appears and advises that the duo touch it to receive a helpful vision. While Caddoc stops to consider the consequences, E'lara impulsively touches the stone, triggering a terrifying vision, as promised. We'll have to find out whether it does prove to be helpful or not in the full game.
Discovering these iridescent green death stones on bodies peppered throughout the world will issue story vignettes and clues to solving optional puzzles that'll enable you to discover new items, such as the Riddle of the Axe, which we solve during our hands-on. The puzzle involves lighting E'lara's arrows to light the eye of a statue, which creates a walkway to the axe imbued with freezing properties. Moving on and we fall through the floor into a pit of bones and another scrape with the demon from Caddoc's visions. Then it's time to move on to the next sequence, which is set down in the valley of Dyfed, where a muddy town square is besieged by savage Wargar – Hunted's orc-like antagonists who are drinking a mysterious silver liquid known as 'sleg', which is making them even stronger, more feral and dangerous.
After spending our gathered upgrade crystals on new spells at a handy portal, we venture forth into the viper's nest, where Wargar units begin pouring in left, right and centre. Finding a raised plateau of ground, we manage to lay down some covering fire with arrows, before wading in to support Caddoc with our sword and shield. There's a huge ballista tower firing bolts at us too, so with a bit of teamwork, Caddoc flanks the Wargar operating it and brutally carves him up. Soon, we find our way into a heavily fortified tower where the town's Lord Mayor is holed up, surrounded by his ill-gotten gold and riches. He asks us to save his daughter from the clutches of the Wargar, but we're not doing it without first naming our price. He offers 10,000 gold. We suggest 20,000 gold. Each. He reluctantly agrees to our terms, and so it's into the dungeons of the keep where more danger and traps await.
Traversing the caves, we find another death stone that leads us on an optional quest to recover four runes to unlock a treasure-filled crypt. Once we crack the puzzle, there's a giant skeleton warrior to vanquish, before we can claim the prize. However, the main mission strand is issued by a large talking stone visage carved into the living rock of the catacomb who talks in riddles, telling us of an azure flame. Using the spirit guide, we head into another network of winding caves to find a room where the huge blue flame resides. A giant spider attempts to snatch us away as we enter the room, but we struggle free, light E'lara's arrow and return to the craggy face, where we light the wall-mounted braziers to open the exit.
Blinking out into the open, there's one of many obelisks where you can switch characters if you so wish, and we decide that a swap might be a good idea to mix things up a little. Marching out into a rain-slicked battle arena, we're set upon by a group of Wargar that include a pair of fearsome creatures with gnarled spider legs sprouting from their backs. These are a more formidable breed of Wargar, able to teleport at will, making tactical spells and aggressive melee combat a must. Soon, we manage to put down all of the marauding Wargar in the area after a hard-fought battle where all of our health-boosting vials are expended and our limited co-op revivals are rinsed. Caked in Wargar blood, Caddoc and E'lara recover another death stone, another riddle and a cliffhanger end to our hands-on session.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is looking in fine shape ahead of its impending release in June, with just the right amount of action, exploration and RPG elements in its crystal gathering and ability upgrades. You choose which spells to acquire and which to boost, meaning that despite being a third-person action game at its heart, Hunted still has enough of the traditional dungeon-trawling, puzzling and lateral thinking to set it apart from other games of its ilk. On the basis of our hands-on, Hunted ought to be an enjoyable experience in co-op, with plenty of strategy for two players or indeed solo play with the AI, as well as providing a good old fashioned fantasy yarn to get swept up in.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is scheduled for release on May 31st in North America and June 3rd in Europe.