The thrill of the hunt
A few early hours with Predator: Hunting Grounds confirms that yeah, this 4v1 format is fun.
The new PlayStation 4 and PC multiplayer title from Friday the 13th: The Game creator IllFonic pits four soldier players against AI-powered guerrillas and one lone Predator in a lush, frantic, paranoid jungle.
The idea of leaping from tree to tree as the Predator – partially cloaked, thermal vision enabled, shoulder-mounted cannon ready to go – pretty much sells itself as a video game power fantasy. It’s great. I’m sure most of you don’t need a review (much less a review-in-progress) to tell you that.
Surprisingly, I’ve enjoyed being on the human fireteam almost as much. There’s safety in numbers. In fact, for as deadly as the alien warrior can be up-close, I’m often more nervous playing as the big lug. The pressure to not botch your 15 minutes of fame in front of total strangers is real, and it’s tense.
Predator: Hunting Grounds (PS4 [Reviewed on a PS4 Pro], PC)
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released: April 24, 2020
With precision timing as the Predator, you can wipe out an exhausted, split-up, low-on-ammo team in a matter of minutes – mission complete. On the flip side, if the soldiers band together and don’t waste time completing their objectives and extracting via helicopter, it can be tough to find your opening.
The hunter’s abilities are powerful, and to compensate, they run on an energy meter. You can’t just go around spamming shots forever. The default loadout is a little simple – you won’t be able to fire nets or throw discs or wield a badass bow until you play enough to level-up – but there’s enough going on to keep matches engaging. If you overextend and need to heal, you can chomp on a wild boar. If things totally get out of hand, screw it: there’s always the self-destruct option. It’s satisfying in its own right.
The soldier side of Predator: Hunting Grounds reminds me of a rougher, slightly more budget-feeling take on the older Far Cry games, at least when you’re fighting the AI. That goes for the gun and movement controls – they’re all right – and also the level design, encampment layouts, and initiate-a-thing-and-defend-it objectives. It’s all very routine. But given the brisk time constraint and ever-looming threat that the Predator can strike at any moment, you’ll be too distracted to notice.
When you’ve lost sight of your wily foe and you suddenly hear thudding footsteps, panic sets in.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the rate at which I’m progressing and unlocking alternate gear. It’s flying by so far, and that’s crucial. Again, your options are limited on both sides starting out, especially in terms of Predator weapons and fireteam classes. Beyond the level-based progression system, there’s also a lot of cosmetics, many of which are basic gun skins that you’ll earn again and again in loot boxes. If you’d rather just save up points, you can spring for your Predator armor of choice – no need to rely on RNG.
One of the big question marks for Predator is performance. On PS4 Pro, the frame rate is tolerable at best, but it’s inconsistent. At times, that can make an already chaotic game even harder to follow. If you’d rather go with the PC version, heads up: there is cross-play support – and it’s on by default.
Matchmaking is another hurdle right now. Unsurprisingly, it’s much quicker to get into a fireteam squad than it is to matchmake as the Predator – several minutes minimum, at least in my experience – but even after you’ve been matched, you’ll need to sit through an unexpectedly long loading screen before you can play. (For what it’s worth, you can change your loadouts, weapons, perks, and skins while you’re matchmaking, which helps.) Still, I feel like I always need my phone handy to further pass the time.
If you come in with those caveats in mind, there’s a decent experience here for stealth-action and shooter fans who have been waiting far too long for another crack at the Predator. There’s a simple joy to effortlessly running up trees and hopping across branches. This game ticks enough boxes.
I’m not sure how long the honeymoon period will last for Predator: Hunting Grounds or whether or not some of the initial technical concerns will be addressed on PS4 anytime soon – if ever – but for now, while people are still learning the ins and outs together, the game is an entertaining little thrill ride.
[This review in progress is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]