Predator: Hunting Grounds is a wonderful example of “almost”. It is almost a faithful homage to a classic action series. It is not quite a good example of innovative design. Above all, it’s nearly a good game – however, it misses the mark in every respect. I dearly want to enjoy Predator: Hunting Grounds, but unfortunately, almost every aspect of the game has some fundamental flaw that makes it impossible.
Asymmetrical Gameplay; Asymmetrical Quality
Any given match of Predator: Hunting Grounds is pretty much indistinguishable from the last or next. Four soldiers, the “Fireteam”, are sent into an unnamed Central American jungle to accomplish some arbitrary task. However, there is a snag – an intelligent, super-strong alien equipped with advanced technology is hunting our Fireteam. Sound familiar? If you have watched 1987’s Predator it should. If you haven’t – well, just go do that. It’s a classic. I’ll still be here. Go on, I’ll wait.
Alright, now that you’ve consumed that essential piece of action film history, I know you’re thinking – “Man, I can’t wait to play as the Predator, that sounds awesome!”. There’s only one problem with that, everyone else thinks the same thing. That’s why, even so long after its April release, wait times to play as the “Hunter” are still at a whopping 10-15 minutes. Wait times for the Fireteam, however, are almost nonexistent.
In this case, seeing as 4/5 players in any given match will be playing as a soldier, you would imagine IllFonic would have taken extra special care to ensure the Fireteam experience is top-notch. Unfortunately, that is just not the case. If you have ever played a first-person shooter before, you have seen the entire Fireteam experience. Its bog-standard, mid-tier FPS gameplay is simply unremarkable. The “missions” that the Fireteam are supposed to complete are painfully generic, and the voiceover by the warbling commander is both unnecessary and intrusive. The AI opponents are laughably weak, but that is largely due to the fact that they’re just supposed to act as distractions, as setup for the main event – the Predator.
That’s what you’re all here to see, right? Some Yautja action? Alright, let’s get this out of the way.
The Predator of Predator: Hunting Grounds
Let me get something straight right off the bat. If you play as the Predator, you will probably have a good time. It may not happen right away, because the controls are clunky and finding the Fireteam can be challenging to begin with, but there are absolutely some fun moments to be had as the Predator. The thermal vision, the active camouflage, and the gory “trophy harvesting” animations are quite well-executed (pardon the pun).
That said, the Predator weaponry is unfortunately poorly executed. The iconic shoulder-mounted cannon packs little punch, and other weapons (like the bear trap and net gun), while effective, feel camp and ridiculous. You’ll find the most effective strategy is hit-and-run. Get in, smack them in melee a few times, and get out. Not exactly terrifying jungle hunter fare.
Don’t get me wrong. You’ll have fun. You’ll have fun maybe once or twice. More if you’re not easily bored. However, the variety you’ll see in gameplay is so little, and the wait times too long, I struggle to see how anyone could play for long and not struggle. Consider this – each match is maybe 5-10 minutes long. Wait times for the Hunter clock in at 10-15. That means that potentially for every 20 minutes you spend as the iconic alien, you might spend up to an hour waiting your turn.
Gimme the Loot! Lootboxes, Skins & Customisation
Predator: Hunting Grounds features everyone’s favourite gaming feature: lootboxes. You get these randomly after matches, and can buy more with the in-game currency, “Veritanium”. You loot and earn Veritanium during matches. 90% of the skins and vanity items available are indistinguishable from one another. I hope you like beige and green because you’ll see a lot of it. You can also spend Veritanium directly to buy vanity items and skins, with the price increasing with each item’s “rarity”. The rarity seems pretty much arbitrary, as rarer items aren’t much more exciting than the common ones. Overall, the skins & vanity item system seems cobbled together to give you a reason to keep playing. Not a great one, either.
Recreating an Iconic Aesthetic in Predator: Hunting Grounds
Lastly, let’s have a quick chat about Predator: Hunting Grounds‘ design. Graphically, the game is nothing to write home about. The visuals are somewhat dated, looking more early PS4 or late PS3 than a modern game. While the lighting is fairly well done, textures are so-so, and there are so many replicated and samey models that the game just isn’t visually interesting. There are very few levels, and the layout of those levels is so unexciting and with so little variety that there may as well just be the one. The jungle canopy is sparse, which is a shame. You rarely feel like you’re in a dense, steaming jungle – it’s more like a stroll through a forest park.
The audio design, on the other hand, is actually quite exemplary. They’ve taken a lot of cues from the 1987 movie, including the sounds of the thermal vision, the shoulder cannon, and the soundtrack. Audio clues play a large role in your success in the game as well – especially as the Fireteam. It’s crucial to be able to pick out the distinctive sounds of the Predator clicking, and the sound of the active camouflage cloak starting and stopping, to know when to be on the lookout. Headphones definitely recommended for the full experience.
Hunting for Brilliance; Finding Mediocrity
Overall, I’d find it very difficult to recommend Predator: Hunting Grounds to a friend. If you could convince 4 of your friends to buy it so you could play in private games together, I think you could have a few hours of brilliant fun. Working together to outsmart your friend playing as the Hunter or picking off your friends one by one is a guaranteed recipe for fun. Playing solo with random matchmaking, however, is a thoroughly mediocre affair. The asking price of 40 quid is far too high for the single game mode, dated graphics, and unexciting gameplay.
If you’re a massive Predator fan, you’ll be sure to get a kick out of it, especially with the post-release Dutch DLC which lets you play as Schwarzenegger’s character Dutch from the film franchise. There’s plenty of “Get to the choppa!” to tickle your nostalgia gland.
Overall, Predator: Hunting Grounds is a so-so online matchmaking FPS that relies on its source material for cheap kicks. Amazing concept, below par execution – get it on sale.