Predator: Hunting Grounds Review: IllFonic brings another classic franchise to life and create a fun and thrilling experience
Played On: PS4 (Original)
Even for some of the issues they had on a technical front, IllFonic delivered a game that horror fans could only dream of with their 2017 hit – Friday the 13th: The Game. Based on the iconic horror franchise, players were warped into a classic slasher flick as they either worked with seven other campers to survive and escape Jason Vorhees or play as Jason to slaughter every camper in sight. The asymmetric gameplay created plenty of unique gameplay moments that even made for some fun streams to watch, excellent callbacks to different locations and Jasons of the franchise, and some brutal original and nostalgic kills that amped up the blood. However, IllFonic is now taking their formula and utilizing it to revive another fan-favorite sci-fi action horror franchise with Predator: Hunting Grounds.
Essentially, the game puts players in the first film of the franchise by having players either team up as a group of mercenaries sent to accomplish a mission in a thick South American forest or go on the hunt as the deadly Predator. There’s actually a variety of multi-goal missions for the four mercenaries to accomplish that range from assassinating pre-determined targets to uncovering info that’s actually a strong improvement from Friday the 13th and is more fitting to Predator. The game isn’t simply just a straight up battle between four mercenaries and a Predator as there are NPC enemies scattered throughout each area with reinforcement able to be called on at the sound of an alarm. It’s a great addition that adds more looming threats for both the mercenaries and the Predator and adds a lot of great complexity to each game. Also, it ties nicely to the film as the mercenaries there didn’t even know about the Predator and were really just there to complete a mission.
The mercenary missions are actually pretty solid as they vary between maps, have slight deviations to cut down on repetitiveness, and have the group travel across different areas of the map in order to get some combat variety as well as allowing for more opportunities to run into the Predator. The map layouts are actually pretty great, and they feel large enough to not immediately run into the Predator, but small that it’s not like you’re never going to see it. Overall, the mercenary gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect with it mirroring most first-person shooters, but it’s still a great experience that’s made even better through co-op. There’re some benefits to better teamwork and communication, especially when the Predator shows up, and even while it’s not as much of a necessity compared to Friday the 13th, playing with friends is incredibly fun and made even better through the deeper class system and customizability Hunting Grounds offers.
The classes players can choose are pretty much the ones players are used to seeing in these kinds of cooperative games: there’s a very mobile scout, a hard to spot recon, a heavy support, and a more accurate assault. Even the weapons aren’t too out of the norm or expected, although players can tote the same kind of chain gun that Jesse Ventura’s Blain has in the original movie. The big talking point here is actually the depth of customizability that allows players to not only create their own classes, but also their own characters. Players are able to customize what the gear they bring, different attachments that they can put on their weapons, like different sights, and choose between a variety of perks to improve their odds. Not to mention, players can even change the appearance of their mercenary and customize their character’s gender, the clothes and kind of camo they wear, and even add different accessories (like aviators, eye-patches, facepaint, etc.).
Things are even better for fans with the Predator as they can pretty much create their own versions of the character. There’re three distinct classes for the Predator that come with their own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, while the Berserker class has much higher health and armor, it’s mobility and stamina are much lower than the Hunter and Scout classes. Personally, the Hunter class, which is also the starting class, actually has a very strong balance that players will really enjoy. There’s also some familiar weaponry for fans that are an absolute blast. While players are already given the Predator’s deadly metal claws and a shoulder-mounted plasma caster for ranged attacks, there’s some extra weaponry and gear that players can unlock as they progress. With tools like the net gun, smart disk, audio decoy, a power and high-tech bow, and even motion detectors, players will not only have the weaponry and gear to feel like a dominant threat, but also like they’re crafting the ultimate Predator. Even just customizing the Predator is awesome as seeing the different helmet designs, trophies players can have strapped to their backs, and armor styles and skin colors players can take advantage of to create their own Predators. Hell, you can even customize the Predator’s dreadlocks, which is still really funny to me, and players can access all of these options through gaining experience, earning in-game currency, unlocks through field lockers – which are earned through level progression.
Honestly though, the best part of Hunting Grounds, to the surprise of no one, is playing as the Predator as it’s really a fan’s dream come true. Where playing as Jason was more rigid and slow, playing as the Predator is much faster, more fluid, and an absolute blast with all of the mobility and weaponry options offered to players. It actually blew my mind how running across tree branches to get the high ground is very smooth and aside from wishing that there’s an easier way to dismount off of branches, the experience is pretty genuine. From the use of the Predator’s iconic thermal vision to highlight enemy players and even figure out where they are on the map through visibly seeing the noise they make to going invisible to initiate a surprise attack, there’re plenty of tools to give the Predator the edge and create an authentic experience for fans. The Predator doesn’t have too much of an advantage though and there’s actually a great mechanic of energy conservation for the Predator player that makes them actually have to strategize and plan their attacks. There’re also some brutally bloody kills that fans will enjoy and some interesting strategies that come into play on both sides in order to win.
There’re multiple ways that a game can end, and different sides can achieve victory. Players on the mercenaries’ side can either complete their mission and escape via chopper or take down the Predator. Obviously, the Predator’s goal is to hunt and kill all of the other players, but if it’s taken down players can earn extra points for protecting the body so they can take it home. However, the Predator player gets an option to self-destruct and essentially let the battle go to a tie – which I’m not a huge fan of. While it’s a great call-back to the franchise, especially hearing that horrifying laugh, I think it’s a cheap get out of jail free card for the Predator player that’s unnecessary.
Ironically and unfortunately, Hunting Grounds also suffers from the same kind of matchmaking and server issues that Friday the 13th had – but not it’s not exactly the same. The matchmaking times for players just wanting to play as the Predator are a little absurd and I’ve had to wait as long as ten minutes just to be put into a match. It’s not too much of a surprise considering there are four spots on the mercenary side compared to one Predator spot, but it definitely takes away from the experience. Even while the addition of a “no preference” option when players are picking their side is a nice thought, it’s kind of pointless since it’s more than likely just going to put players on the mercenary side because the wait times are always shorter. I will say that the wait times the game projects are fairly accurate, but there definitely needs to be some effort put in to make that process a little smoother. Also, I wish there were more game modes or something else to the game so players wouldn’t be stuck to one kind of experience. Maybe a small story mode or other game type or something other than the one kind of game type because the experience can become a little stale overtime.
Regardless of some of its failed mechanics, struggling server times, and singular game type experience, Hunting Grounds is the kind of experience perfect for any Predator fans. IllFonic has certainly upped their game in delivering players an authentic experience as the Predator through a variety of customization options, incredibly fun and bloody gameplay, and genuine care in creating a unique experience with a classic franchise.
*All of the Photos were Taken by the Author*