Ain't Got Time To Bleed
On paper, Predator: Hunting Grounds feels like a perfect video game representation of the franchise. Illfonic Games, the same studio who worked on the (sadly killed too soon) Friday The 13th Game have improved their craft, providing a new asymmetrical multiplayer experience that includes smart refinements to the formula. But, despite a rock-solid core, there are still some rough spots that keep the game from being an absolute must-have.
If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It
As mentioned above, the main gimmick of Predator: Hunting Grounds is fairly straightforward. Four players take on the roles of a military unit sent into a jungle to pull off some sort of covert operation. Whether it's assassinating targets, shutting down a drug ring, or blowing something up, you'll be getting the job done and calling in a chopper for extraction. Meanwhile, a fifth player takes on the role of the titular Predator as they effortlessly traverse the area, hunting down the other four players with advanced alien technology. The only way for the fireteam to win is to finish their mission and get out or kill the Predator. The Predator must claim its prize and kill all four members of the fireteam. In the most basic terms, a match of Predator: Hunting Grounds is an interactive highlight reel of the original 1987 Predator movie, with you either in the boots of the soldiers caught in way over their heads or in the skin of the alien hunter wanting to test their mettle against Earth's best warriors.
The trickiest part of creating an asymmetrical experience is the developers have to create two different sets of systems, mechanics, rules, and limitations and then make them compatible with one another without losing the core appeal of either. In this case, loading into a match as part of a fireteam plays out like a bog-standard first-person shooter. You have a gun, some grenades and ammo, a mini-map, a knife, and three other players you can coordinate with to take on a series of gun battles against AI soldiers. Everything from the punch of the guns to the UI gives the impression of it being a perfectly average FPS. That lasts until the Predator shows up with his bag of tricks, turning the mission into a game of bloody hide-and-seek.
As for the Predator players, Hunting Grounds looks and plays like a third-person stealth action game. You can effortlessly leap across tree branches, super jump from place to place, and have access to the iconic infravision mode and cloaking device. But, you also need to manage your stamina and energy consumption. Otherwise, you'll be both completely exposed to enemy attack and unable to jump to safety. In fact, as powerful as you are, if the entire fireteam focuses their fire you will go down in a matter of seconds. So playing an effective Predator is all about keeping your distance and creating opportunities to separate the fireteam and take them apart, similar in style to the Arkham Asylum games or Ubisoft's Splinter Cell series.
It Ain't No Man
As I played my first few matches and switched between human and Predator, my impressions were absolutely delightful. Playing as the fireteam remained tense with my teammates calling out signs of Predator activity all while we casually went through the military shooter routine. Eventually, that tension paid off with an ambush by a plasma cannon or surprise attack from behind. Playing as the Predator was deliciously sadistic. Leaping and cloaking while taking potshots with my plasma cannon until the entire team was disoriented before going in for the kill never failed to feel amazing. Even when I messed up, either getting overwhelmed by the fireteam or getting taken out by the Predator, there were always smaller ways I felt like I could spoil the opposing side's day. Seeing my fellow teammates win or activating the Predator's self-destruct sequence brought me small victories from the jaws of defeat.
Between rounds, there's a progression system that slowly unlocks new weapons and items as you play. Thankfully, it unlocks both fireteam and Predator items at a healthy pace, so I never felt like I was forced to grind things out in one particular role. It's a solid drip-feed of new weapons, perks, and even different classes of soldiers and Predators to play as. Soldier classes like Recon, which focus on painting enemy targets and flushing Predators out of hiding, or the superfast objective focused Scout really helped balance out against new tricks like the Predator's remote-controlled Smart Disc or the sheer physical might of the Berserker Predator class.
Once I got to around level 20 or so, it drastically changed the dynamic of the matches I was playing. Fireteams were constantly covering themselves in mud and actively checking tree lines, becoming more proactive to the more familiar tricks of the intergalactic hunter. However, that didn't completely ruin the appeal of being the Predator since there were plenty of other ways to mess with the fireteams' plans. I could destroy ammo and health crates, setting up elaborate net and bear traps, or even using motion detectors and audio decoys to fake them out. Personally, I enjoyed using a lot of intel oriented perks with the long-distance focused Scout Predator, and taking out my targets with several shots from the relatively silent Yautja Bow, or occasionally being more direct with the Berserker Predator and just wailing on the fireteam with a big war club.
This progression system also ties into Predator: Hunting Grounds' loot boxes. Every time you level up, you get an in-game currency called Veritanium and a consumable field locker. Opening up a locker grants you a bunch of collectible cosmetic skins and accessories. Things like sunglasses and camo paint for the army guys or different masks and warpaint for the Predators. It's an ultimately harmless system thanks to two key factors. First, the only way to buy more field lockers is with the strictly in-game Veritanium rather than a second microtransactions currency, at least at the time of writing. Secondly, every single cosmetic is separately purchasable with Veritanium, although it costs a lot more than getting a field locker. You have the option of either rolling the dice to see what you get or just save up for that one thing you really want. In my time, I found the in-game economy to be quite generous. I was able to get about 8000 Veritanium after about ten games of play, which let me buy almost anything in the cosmetics shop I wanted. Despite it bearing the title it does, Predator: Hunting Grounds wasn't preying on my wallet when it very easily could have.
Get To The Choppa!
Sadly, as I started getting into the late game of Predator: Hunting Grounds, some of the appeal started to wear thin. Fireteams start treating Predator attacks more like a nuisance than a challenge, and Predator games either end with me effortlessly winning or getting shotgunned in the face, having my self-destruct disabled, then having my corpse teabagged. There are some noticeable balance issues with certain weapons and tactics that occasionally lead to frustration. These could be addressed with additional content down the line and balance patches later, but it was still disappointing to see such a killer premise become rote and stagnant.
This does bring me to a conceptual issue I have with Hunting Grounds: it tries so hard to emulate John McTiernan's original movie that it really doesn't do much outside of the original set-up. There is only one game mode, and the three maps available are just different variations on a jungle environment. Also, while the matches do have very tight objectives and goals for players to follow, the result is a very fast-paced arcadelike affair. It's an energy that doesn't entirely work with the inherent suspense and uncertainty dealing with a Predator should invoke. Over time, this forward momentum just wears the game down to being another action experience; something the very source material was meant to be a subversion of.
There is plenty of potential for different game modes like a seven-player free-for-all with fireteam members capable of turning on each other for a single chance of escape from three Predators, like in the 2010 sequel. Even a change in environment could lead to so many forms of diverse gameplay like an urban cityscape, or a war-torn desert location. Both of which can add many different challenges for both teams. Obviously, these would take a while to develop and deliver, and this does not discredit the solid foundation Illfonic has made here, I just wish they went that little extra mile to put their own personal spin on the license.
Predator: Hunting Grounds Review | Final Thoughts
Predator: Hunting Grounds is a fast-paced multiplayer experience that gets a lot right. Playing as either a soldier or as the Predator feels rewarding in its own right, there are plenty of ways to build your own killing machine to your own playstyle, and the steady drip-feed of content is more than enough to justify an investment. But, if you were hoping for more than just imitation of the classic Predator experience and a more stable long-term online meta, you might want to hold off.
TechRaptor reviewed Predator: Hunting Grounds on PlayStation 4 with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
- Looks and Feels like the Predator Movie
- Solid Stealth Action Gamplay
- Fair, Rewarding Progression System
- Limited Game Modes and Maps
- Multiplayer Imbalances
- Doesn't Expand Past Source Material