I can’t believe how much I’m enjoying Predator: Hunting Grounds, a 4v1 multiplayer game in which one player – if they’re patient enough to sit through lengthy matchmaking queues – can stalk a crew of four well-armed, mud-caked soldiers in a dense jungle while they mess with guerrillas and drug lords.
It’s not a great video game – and I’m not here to argue otherwise. But man, it can be so riveting.
Predator: Hunting Grounds (PS4 [Reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro], PC)
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released: April 24, 2020
I left off my review-in-progress wondering whether Predator: Hunting Grounds could sustain itself long-term, or if it’s an all too fleeting – and, in turn, overpriced – experience. After unlocking more weapons and tools (and adding a pile of skulls to my collection), I’m in a better place to share my thoughts.
Let me put it this way: at launch, the game has turned out more or less how I expected it to given Friday the 13th: The Game creator IllFonic’s track record. (Okay, maybe a smidge better.) I think we always knew that Predator was destined to be rough around the edges ever since the first footage, and we recognized that the main draw would be playing as the iconic movie antagonist – a rare treat – not running around as a pack of generic create-a-character soldiers. That shouldn’t come as a surprise.
At the same time, there’s something undeniably cool here. Something that keeps me coming back.
I say that as someone who has spent most of their time in Predator: Hunting Grounds playing on the fireteam side – partially out necessity, partially out of choice. The queues are significantly quicker if you opt to play as a soldier (of course they are!), but thankfully, your overall XP-based progression is shared between the two roles. That means you can wrack up unlockable items for the Predator like the net gun, smart disc, or bow even when you aren’t playing as the self-cloaking, boar-chomping lone wolf.
There are only so many ways a match can play out, and I can’t over-stress how mindless the fireteam’s find-a-thing-and-hold-Square objectives are, but in the heat of the moment – with the Predator sowing chaos, your teammates doing god knows what, and brain-dead AI-controlled fodder running amok – there’s just enough emergent chaos to keep me hooked and re-queuing. I’m not bored yet.
Really, Predator: Hunting Grounds is as fun as the people playing it. That goes for both sides.
The Predator can systematically take the fireteam out one by one, watching their every move from afar, instilling paranoia, and striking only when the time is right, no matter how tempting it might be to leap from a branch and mindlessly slash the crew to pieces. Win or lose, hunter or prey, that’s the most enjoyable way to play. That’s when you forget about the flaws and get caught up in the moment.
Most players seem to want to rush things, though – at least during the first week. It’s a double-edged sword. From the fireteam’s perspective, that’s the whole point – you aren’t supposed to linger – but with the way some people are playing, matches might as well have a five-minute timer, not fifteen. That speed creates a pick-up-and-play vibe, which I like, but IllFonic could stand to slow things down.
Balance plays a huge factor too. The default Predator loadout – what you’ll be stuck with for at least a few nights – is under-powered, but later class/gear/perk combinations, in the hands of expert players, can be devastating. This leads to a bizarro situation where fireteams often play so offensively, the hunter becomes the hunted. Shotguns and sniper rifles are ridiculous in this game. There’s an unholy thrill to taking a Predator down before they can manage to start their self-destruct sequence.
As I said in my review-in-progress, I’m more intimidated playing as the Predator than the fireteam. It’s a blast to leap over buildings, seamlessly dash from tree to tree, and pop off Plasma Caster shots. I genuinely enjoy the traversal options, cloaking, and heat/noise tracking – the power fantasy works. I just wish there was more time to enjoy this stuff once I actually get into a match. I feel so rushed.
It’s also a shame the tutorial is all too brief for the Predator and non-existent for the fireteam. (You have to consult a handful of text-based descriptions in a submenu and learn the rest as you go.) As is, there’s no solo mode. This game will live and die by its community and post-launch patches. If you’re curious about the loot boxes, they’re full of gun skins and alternate color schemes. Their presence here doesn’t bother me in general, but they’re clumsily implemented. Expect to get lots of duplicate items.
There are other issues, to be sure. The performance is pretty poor on PlayStation 4, the balance can swing wildly in one direction or the other depending on what gear and perks people equip (and whether or not they know how to parry the Predator with their knives), and the maps and mundane objectives all blur together. There’s an unshakable sense that almost everything is less finely-tuned than it should be.
Still, this could be one of my favorite flawed games of 2020. It could be the one asymmetrical multiplayer title I keep up with for more than a few weeks. (Sorry, Resident Evil Resistance. I tried!). Granted, I’ll need IllFonic to get in the weeds and fight the urge to over-balance, and I’ll need my fellow mid-level players to stick with it so the rest of us aren’t carved up by diehard Predator fans.
I’m curious where Predator: Hunting Grounds will go from here given Sony’s backing and IllFonic’s takeaways from its prior game, Friday the 13th. Despite all the glaring issues, numerous nitpicks, and small scope, I have a real soft spot for this game. The concept deserves to grow and thrive for years.
I don’t expect it to, but I can still hope.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]