In comparison to other slasher villains like Jason Voorhees or Michael Meyers, the Predator has a particularly unique way of making its victims feel out of their depth, and this is exactly what Friday The 13th developer Illfonic wants to bring to Predator: Hunting Grounds. It's another asymmetrical multiplayer game, but also very different from the team's previous game. In Hunting Grounds, a heavily-armed squad of four players has to complete a covert mission in a remote jungle full of hostile forces, while another player takes on the role of the iconic alien hunter--their goal is to make sure the squad doesn't make it out alive. Revealed earlier this year, GameSpot went hands-on with an early build of the game and learned how the parallel co-op and competitive mechanics work.
Compared to Illfonic's Friday The 13th, Hunting Grounds leans closer to action-horror than just a standard slasher, and you're far more capable of defending yourself than a group of camp counselors in the face of their movie monster. At its core, Hunting Grounds is an asymmetrical multiplayer game that hinges on the blend of co-op and competitive gameplay, pitting two drastically different sides against one another.
When playing as the mercenaries, you'll face off against hostile AI in the jungle while completing objectives, such as securing intel or destroying enemy equipment. While the mercs are doing their mission, which has a randomized set of goals for each match, the lone alien hunter stalks the humans from the trees above, waiting to strike and collect its bounty of skulls. It sticks very closely to the original Schwarzenegger movie, complete with cheesy one-liners and references. There's even a cassette tape titled "Ain't Got Time 2 Bleed", which blasts music in the chopper that takes the crew to their mission.
Just like Friday the 13th, Hunting Groups wears its admiration for the source material on its sleeve. According to Illfonic CEO Charles Brungardt, Hunting Grounds was intended to be an evolution of the asynchronous multiplayer mechanics from their work on the previous game.
"We were just finishing up Friday The 13th, and we were kind of looking at what our next project could be," he said. "One of the guys threw out 'Predator' during a meeting, and immediately we all knew the type of game it would be. It just came together from there. We knew walking into this game that there were going to be a lot of challenges here--especially with the two different styles. There's a lot of work that had to go into it, but we were able to get it up quickly and begin playtesting it early. We still have a while to go, but the feedback we've gotten daily and the excitement we've seen has made it fun to work on and improve."
We played as both the human characters and the Predator, which showed off two distinct playstyles. Gameplay as the soldiers is akin to a standard military FPS. But for the Predator, it goes for full stealth-action in the vein of Assassin's Creed or Sekiro. You can select from one of four classes when playing as the mercenaries, which includes assault, CQB (close-quarters combat), scout, and sharpshooter. Each archetype features its own unique loadout, which can be upgraded and customized after ranking them up. Working together, you'll ensure that you can complete all the necessary objectives, cut down the opposing forces, and make it back to the chopper alive. But while you're engaging in your goals and wiping out hostiles, the lone rival player will actively be surveying the scene, waiting for their chance to strike.
The experience of playing as the mercs can feel a bit nervewracking. As you're taking out enemies and completing objectives, you're constantly looking over your shoulder and into the trees looming above. On the inverse of that, however, playing as the Predator can offer up some surprisingly amusing moments. Moving to a third-person perspective, you have a greater sense of control and awareness of your surroundings, which can open up the potential for playing mind-games with your prey. Possessing its familiar set of gadgets, including a wrist-blade, cloaking device, thermal-vision, and the fan-favorite Plasmacaster, you're well-armed and can easily stand up to whatever is on the field. When the time is right, you can go in for the kill against weakened mercenaries. Getting a successful kill will award the Predator with a skull, which he'll place on his belt.
If wounded, the Predator will bleed glowing green blood, which the mercenary players can track. The hunter is very resilient, but it can still be taken out if enemy players coordinate and strike at the right moments. Just like in the film, the Predator is a sore loser and can activate a mini-nuke to cover up its failure. If players aren't able to reach the dying hunter in time to exact a killing blow, then they'll have to escape from the blast zone, or else suffer a posthumous defeat at the hands of the Predator.
I appreciated how different the game was on both sides, but I can't deny that--unsurprisingly--the game felt at its best when playing as the Predator. While the mechanics of the human characters were serviceable, it often felt a bit mundane. This was especially evident when facing off against disposable hostiles that lack cohesion, made worse by strange spawn points and dull AI. The best moments I had were when I came crashing in as the Predator, interrupting the rival players from finishing their mission.
I can't deny that--unsurprisingly--the game felt at its best when playing as the Predator.
My hands-on with Predator: Hunting Grounds was from an early build, but I came away pretty intrigued by how it went about going fleshing out the original conceit of the film. Over the years, the Predator has mostly been attached to the Alien vs. Predator series. So it's especially refreshing to see the character be the central focus of its own thing, and I had so much fun getting the jump on my prey when they least expected it.