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ups: Cool multiplayer action; lots and lots of baddies; great concept and universe.
downs: Limited continues; no difficulty settings; some gameplay issues.

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Hunter: The Reckoning Review
game: Hunter: The Reckoning
three star
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: Interplay
date posted: 09:10 AM Wed Jun 19th, 2002

Based on the popular White Wolf pen-and-paper game set in the World of Darkness, Hunter: The Reckoning blends shoot-em-up action with an RPG. Evil walks the world, but most folks can't see it, at least until something truly outrageous happens. When somebody witnesses a supernatural event (like zombies rising out of the ground or the appearance of a possessed monster) it is called the Reckoning, and those folks usually end up as Hunters. Hunters roam the world taking out the manifestations of evil, and they are doomed to be outsiders because many of the innocents they come across never actually see that the \"people\" Hunters are taking out are actually evil incarnate. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it, and in Hunter: The Reckoning, that somebody is you.

The White Wolf game is a complex scenerio. Vampires secretly rule the world in order to dominate, and it is up to the Hunters to help out humanity (at least, those of us not in league with the dark ones). The story of Hunter: The Reckoning begins a year before the game starts. Four innocent people witness an execution in Ashcroft prison that goes horribly awry. The inmates of the prison are possessed by evil spirits and demons and break out. The four main characters in the game help nail down the evil to contain it within the prison walls. The prison is barracaded and the Hunters leave Ashcroft to embark on evil-smashing forays in the rest of the world.

A year later, a group of kids breaks into the prison to hold a huge rave on the anniversary of the execution. The techno dance beats awake the evil spirits (big surprise there) and the ravers are decimated. Although the evil ones' dislike of electronica is completely understandable, the four original Ashcroft Hunters return to set things straight. A burly biker guy, a Catholic priest, a teenage raver and a former cop make up the core Hunter team. They represent four different \"Creeds\", which are very much like classes in most RPGs: Avenger, Judge, Martyr, and Defender. Each of these different Creeds endow the characters with different types of \"Edges\", which are pretty much magic.

It all sounds good so far, and when you begin playing Hunter: The Reckoning, it all feels really good. Up to four players can play on the same screen, a switch that is very welcome in console games. The controls are very handy, set up in much the same way as Smash TV or that old Neversoft game, Apocalypse. You use the left analog stick to move and the right stick determines your facing. That means that although Hunter uses a third-person perspective, it is still very easy to navigate for maximum destruction. You can run backwards, strafe, go on a crazy bezerker rampage in circles, whatever. You have two basic weapons ? a projectile weapon and a bladed weapon. Your basic projectile weapon never runs out of ammo, which is a good thing. In addition, you have your magical Edges at your disposal as well as any other weapons you might pick up (including a shotgun, machine gun, flamethrower, etc.). The weapons you pick up have limited ammo, and you can only cast your Edges so often before you must recharge your Conviction (which are pretty much just magic points). The controls are pretty tight and definitely lend themselves to some insane combat.

The gameplay is pretty typical. You begin by getting off the train coming into town. You must read blue glyphs to get information about the game (things like how to move, fight, and recharge health). Another kind of glyph recharges your health and a third kind of glyph recharges your conviction. These glyphs are located on the ground at different places, and they only carry so much charge, so a full crew of four players each using a glyph once will usually wipe it out. Early in the first stage you are tasked with rescuing enough innocents to repair the train so the town can escape alive (at least those townsfolk who aren't already possessed or dead), and that's how you get the good ending.

As you play through you encounter loads and loads of baddies ? zombies, vampires, bizarre possessed statues, and a lot more. There is no shortage of enemies to kill, too ? they keep coming and coming and coming. In fact there are so many of them and they respawn so quickly that it can really hinder your progress, but more on that later. Along the way you'll be asked to escort NPCs, find keys, and accomplish other assorted goals drawn straight from the videogame clich� box. After a few intense segments of fighting through typical zombies and monsters you'll face a level boss. The bosses range from utterly typical to pretty cool, although the puking teddy bear from early in the game remains my favorite. And, of course, there are cutscenes to suture together a barely-there story about how you must destroy the evil, what bizarre connections some folks have to the evil, etc., etc.

This could be a remarkably fun game, and I had all of my friends stoked to play it when it came out. Unfortunately, it's not very much fun and there's not very much to it. The first hour of play is great, and then it nosedives. Hunter: The Reckoning is a classic example of developers just not listening to gamers, and what's even worse is that it's the second example of Interplay's failure to bring the same high quality to their console titles as they were able to bring to their PC endeavors. When I first met with Interplay to see Hunter, I believed that it would be a great game, and I had hoped that given Interplay's PC experience they would be able to help mature the console gaming experience. I was wrong.

There's the camera. A lot of folks cite this as the game's worst flaw, but it's not actually as bad as all that. Sure, you constantly have to yell at your buddies to \"come left,\" or \"back up,\" in order to get unstuck from behind an obstacle or to reach the baddie who is pummeling you. It forces you to coreograph your actions and come up with some squad battle tactics, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It would be nice if the camera could zoom out a little more, but forcing you to fight as a group is OK with me.

However, what further complicates the camera issue is the \"continues\" issue. You begin the game with a set number of continues and you earn continues for rescuing innocents. First off, this is a concept that should have been eliminated ages ago. In the recent Game Developer magazine there is a whole column dedicated to the \"new\" idea that developers should allow gamers to save, start, and stop at any point in the game (Hunter also does not allow you to save your game except at scripted points, usually at the beginning/end of a level). That concept should already be common sense. I bought the game ? I paid $50 for the thing ? and you're going to tell me how much I can play? Or how often I can continue? Guess what, there's nothing in it for the developers to create continue systems like these ? they aren't getting any quarters out of me and my Xbox. This is the thing that PC gamers complain about in console games, and that console gamers just complain about. Think about it ? you begin with a number of continues, and then you earn one for each innocent your rescue. The number of continues you can or will get never changes, whether you are playing alone or with the full four characters, and there are just not enough innocents to rescue. That means that the continues that got you through the first eight segments of the game may only get your four person party through the first four segments. When you have four people playing (and when at least one of them is always at a bad location for the camera to allow movement, attack or defense), those continues go quickly, and you'll find yourself in the later levels unable to proceed because you can't continue. What's the point of having a game that supports four players if you can only really get through it alone?

Now, lest you think I'm a big videogame wuss, let me affirm that I'm not. And let me also affirm that there are other ways around this issue. Although you have a pretty decent number of weapons at your disposal, none of them are really tough. Where are the big bombs and such? Your basic missle weapon is almost completely useless, regardless of which character you play. Magic (the Edges) is severely limited by how much Conviction you have, so you can't use it too often, and many of the Edges are just plain lame (woo-hoo, I can run faster to avoid the monsters for a few seconds). Firepower is a serious issue here. Furthermore, the health and Conviction recharging glyphs are barely useful when playing with four characters.

Also, there's the constant respawning of monsters. One thing that I loved when I played this game a year ago was the huge numbers of zombies we mowed down. Of course, that was with invincibility turned on, and we couldn't really proceed because the game was unfinished. On the other side of things, I really hate the fact that monsters respawn at an infuriating rate. You'll mow down 30 of them and another 30 will be on you before you know it. More firepower would have made those teeming seas of zombies fun to kill, more continues would have made it a matter of patience, but as it is you'll find yourself running past targets in order to survive and proceed. I hate to criticize this aspect of the game, but something's got to give.

In addition to all of this, there's the issue of difficulty. You have one difficulty setting ? really freaking hard. And when you beat the game you unlock a harder difficulty setting. Obviously this is some kind of ploy to hit the \"hardcore\" gamers out there, but it misses completely. Even \"hardcore\" gamers appreciate variability in difficulty. And when you beat the game don't believe that all of your hard work in levelling up your character pays off in the Nightmare mode. You start from scratch all over again. As a matter of fact, I assumed on my first play through the game that it must be something like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance where you could restart the game with your higher level characters. That made a twisted sense to me ? play better with your buffer character and you'll have more continues when you need them. However, there is nothing like that in Hunter, and the omission is tragic.

If I had my druthers, I'd like to see more firepower and infinite continues in the game along with some difficulty settings. I mean, come on ? give us a prize for beating the game with no continues, but don't stymie us from playing in a group. Hunter is beatable, and perhaps if each of the four people you're playing with have beaten it on their own, then you may stand a chance of beating it in a group. But the limitations imposed by the game just kill the fun, and that's a real crime. If anyone ever figures out the code for invincibility (Interplay has confirmed it exists, but is unwilling to leak it) Hunter could become a really fun party game like Loaded on the PSone. Lots of folks will love Hunter in spite of its flaws, which I take as a sign that the Xbox needs some good multiplayer titles. Just like I felt after beating Dark Alliance, I'm sad that Hunter didn't live up to the hype, and I'd really like to see Interplay take another shot at it.

Shawn Rider (06/19/2002)