The Predator is perfect for video games.
Unfortunately for the iconic franchise, things on this front haven't historically gone as well as its counterpart Aliens series. But developer IllFonic aims to change that quickly with the release of an innovative asymmetrical multiplayer experience.
Predator: Hunting Grounds pits a group of humans against a singular Predator in a four-on-one throwdown in the lush South American jungles to interesting results.
Pairing a global presence like Predator with familiar asymmetrical multiplayer functionality (IllFonic's last game was of the same ilk with Friday the 13th: The Game), Hunting Grounds elbows its way on to the multiplayer scene via a fitting marriage.
Graphics and Gameplay
Hunting Grounds isn't going to win awards for its visuals. But what's here is a fitting in-universe environment that is entirely functional to the confines of the gameplay.
Graphically, environments are lush. Everything is a little brownish and muddy, but the foliage sways in the breeze and provides ample cover for Predator and humans alike. The maps are massive and detailed in ways that make sense, with habitats that feel believable and sensical geography.
Hunting Grounds really shines visually, if not from a gameplay sense, when the grunts have to slow down and pick out the shimmer of the cloaked Predator within the foliage of the jungle. Landing shots and seeing that green blood spray is exhilarating.
But such moments are fleeting and don't often carry over to the entire experience.
For as good as everything can look, players would be hard-pressed to tell which of the three maps they're on at times. They all look relatively the same, which makes sense given the setting and material at work. But multiplayer enthusiasts shouldn't go in looking for varied experiences across the different maps.
From a presentation perspective, this is a love letter to excellent source material. The Predator itself is incredibly well done, and paired with the show-stealing soundtrack, the game keeps a fun nostalgia-high going. Even the sound effects feel almost goofy—in an "80s movie good" way.
The same love and affection don't really apply to the human characters. It would be unfair to go in expecting to see some of the movie stars who have graced the franchise over the years. But the humans involved aren't more than typical filler grunts, and given the customization options, they feel pretty videogamey.
This sort of just fits with the gameplay side, too.
The idea is awesome: Marine players engage with enemies and emit heat signatures that the Predator players might see, officially starting the hunt. It's a great tension tool. Add in mechanics, such as muddying oneself for concealment, and the tension keeps a steady climb throughout a match.
But playing as grunts compared to the Predator still isn't nearly as interesting. It's typical, quality gunplay and FPS fodder. The missions before really engaging the Predator are simple "go here and hold a button" stuff, and the enemy combatants aren't anything to worry about.
Playing as the Predator is a good time for the first half or so of a match. The monstrosity controls well for the most part, and it's rather intuitive to use the "Predkour" system to leap from branch to branch while tracking down prey. Much of a match's opening feels akin to a stealth game, and there's a smooth energy system in place for players to juggle. Cloaking, jumping around and shooting weapons all drain that energy.
But things unravel a bit once the stealth-like portion is over. A coordinated fireteam of grunts typically obliterates the Predator because he just isn't well-equipped enough to handle everyone at once. And if a Predator is still learning the ropes, it's more hysterical than intimidating.
Replayability will all come down to one's enjoyment of the gameplay loop. Dropping in as a grunt and doing a cookie-cutter mission before all hell breaks loose (but only potentially) isn't the greatest, but it could hinge on the makeup of one's party. The Predator side is understandably more enjoyable.
That loop includes a few different scenarios that can play out at the end. Some or all grunts can escape. The Predator's corpse, if killed, can get marked for recovery.
Or, one scenario is a race-against-the-clock puzzle minigame to prevent the Predator's nuke from going off after he's been downed. It's an odd little idea on first pass, albeit a welcome one. Though it's a small minigame within the grander scheme of things, it's a good example of the excellent tension that would have been nice to feel throughout the entire experience.
Wholly passable on both a presentation and gameplay front, Hunting Grounds—like most in this niche genre—will stick over the long-term largely based around post-release tuning and the community itself. There is some fun here, though there isn't a ton of meat on the bones.
Multiplayer and More
Given all the different things it tries to pack into a multiplayer session, Hunting Grounds performs reasonably well.
Load times aren't daunting, and matchmaking is within understandable timeframes, too. The whole experience is probably going to be best with a pre-made fireteam, though enjoyability even then will come down to just how good a singular game's Predator is at his job. It isn't uncommon to lose a squadmate or two but still rather breezily achieve the objective and head back to the matchmaking queue.
There is some interesting strategic depth here players will eventually uncover. Linking up with friends and asking one to outfit entirely as a Predator-killing machine and having another as support only gives off almost Overwatch-ish vibes.
It almost feels like some better options for both Predator and humans alike should've been unlocked from the jump. Which is a shame, as some might end up putting down the game well before it really spreads its wings and creates some interesting strategic combat.
Unfortunately, trotting out the word "videogamey" above when talking about the grunts was quite intentional. The idea extends to the entire progression system, which has managed to weave in—besides things like perks and attachments—loot boxes. And while there is a ton of loot, much of it can feel like filler items, such as goggles and beanies.
The game goes the Call of Duty route in some areas, too. Additional loadout slots sit locked behind level requirements, as do weapons themselves. Not that leveling feels unfair or grindy, but it feels odd not to give grunts every available weapon against such a threat, instead locking some guns behind levels of 50-plus.
If there's a saving grace to some Fortnite-styled progressions and odds and ends, it's that grunts and Predators share progression. That's nice, in part, because queue times for the Predator are (understandably) quite long.
Hunting Grounds does loop in a tutorial for the Predator, but it's a limited affair. Those trying to learn the grunt role are stuck with text guides and learning on the fly.
The game doesn't come up short in other general areas, though. Controller mapping makes it in, as does a hefty suite of options, including whether to have cross-play enabled.
Hunting Grounds is likely the best video game adaptation for the series to date, which is great for fans. The Predator itself is dutifully represented in all facets, and the soundtrack, if nothing else, has that threatening feel that can pull the tension strings well.
Otherwise, Hunting Grounds suffers from some of the typical setbacks of a newly released asymmetrical multiplayer game, but the hope is balancing and pacing patches address the expected concerns.
For now, Predator's latest foray into gaming probably registers at best as a bite-sized play session offering from time to time. There just isn't a ton of content from a general perspective when it comes to features like maps.
That said, it should be plenty interesting to see how the game evolves in the coming months, if not years, especially if the community takes charge.