Sometimes the best way to distinguish your game among others is to incorporate elements across genres into a single, coherent gameplay experience. On paper, this gets people very excited—think about Halo, which gives players shooting, driving, and flying all in one beautiful package. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of work to get every component working properly, and if one malfunctions even a bit, the entire experience can be ruined. Enter Hunted: The Demon’s Forge.
Hunted was designed as a “dungeon crawler” of sorts, but with typical RPG elements blended with cooperative combat. There’s Caddoc, the gruff sword-swinger, and E’Lara, the nimble elf archer. There are no other choices—by maintaining these two characters, each one can undergo a unique story arc and personal crises can be… oh, who are we kidding? These are just silly archetypes that we understand immediately, and they actually work well enough within the context of co-op battles. Don’t expect anything epic, but the lighthearted jibes and exchanges between them provide some nice relief as the game plods along.
Although either character can technically be used across a variety of combat scenarios, their specializations in ranged or close warfare form the core of the game. This is particularly nice in multiplayer because it’s strangely more consistent than the single-player campaign. This is mainly due to your assignment to a character, rather than having to constantly worry about switching back between them—which can only be done in specific contexts, mind you. Why the game couldn’t allow players to freely switch characters at any time is a mystery; even Donkey Kong Country managed this trick, after all.
Unfortunately, the melding of slashing and shooting doesn’t work out quite as smoothly as one might hope. It’s easy to get turned on by this premise, but Hunted simply doesn’t deliver on its primary design. By the time you’re an hour into the game, very little novelty awaits you. In the past, many games have spruced things up by adding new abilities or significant rewards to keep things fresh. Instead, Hunted feels drab and stretched thin as you go along. The combat is awkward and repetitive, and the AI is terrible. This is often forgivable among foes, but in any game with friendly AI, the problems become a major headache. Your companion often behaves erratically, lagging behind or charging ahead when they shouldn’t and generally making a mess of things. It’s a bit like the stress of bringing a date to a formal event, only without having to leave the comfort of your living room. Somehow I doubt that was the intended selling point for the game.
Another disappointment lies in the narrative itself. While technically you could produce any game with a “fantasy” flair, a product from Bethesda is held to a higher standard. If a fantasy story isn’t rich enough to make the player feel utterly submerged in the world, everything tends to turn rather silly after a while. The intrinsic intrigue of an investigative mercenary duo will die down if clues are not offered along the way—even little bits of tasty substance to keep curiosities piqued. A lot of people might have been able to overlook this, but this area feels very lackluster and lends the impression of a rushed product.
All told, Hunted offers a modicum of playing pleasure on a slow weekend, but a rental would be safer than a purchase. The visuals seem dated in a few spots, and in fact, the game sounds better in most areas than it looks. The music is particularly strong, probably one of the few things that Hunted gets right, but scarcely enough to warrant a purchase. Irksome gameplay and unpolished graphics keep Hunted grounded in the realm of “decent at best." With so much potential, it seems a more serious execution could offer better things in the future.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]