I should admit a couple of things up front: I’ve never seen a single Predator film, and don’t tend to play shooters—least of multiplayer ones. That being the case, I really didn’t know what to expect from Predator: Hunting Grounds. It’s fair to say my hopes weren’t especially high, but I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed my time with it.
The basic idea is much the same as any other asymmetrical shooter, only with with a Predator twist: there’s one team of four players all working together to take down a solo, but much stronger, fifth player—in this case, a Predator. As such, the play experience is very different depending on which side you’re on.
For the four human soldiers who make up the Fireteam side, a significant part of each match isn’t really competitive at all. Rather, it plays out as a cooperative game, with the four of you working together to complete various objectives while fighting against AI-controlled enemy soldiers. The objectives themselves are standard co-op shooter stuff: protect a marked point against waves of enemies; search for a particular item within a marked area; work together to take down a more powerful boss character; and so on.
With an effective team, you might never actually encounter the Predator. Completing all your objectives and successfully getting to an extraction point is a valid way to claim victory, and with some decent teamwork (and, perhaps, a less-than-impressive Predator), it’s not unusual to get that objective victory in the space of five minutes or so. In those matches, Hunting Grounds feels like a pure co-op game—not the most remarkable one, admittedly, but if you’re as bad at shooters as I am, an unremarkable co-op experience is often going to be more enjoyable than a more polished competitive one.
Obviously, the Predator will usually throw a spanner in the works—that’s their goal, after all. Armed with thermal vision, cloaking, a plasma shot, the ability to run through treetops, and sheer physical prowess, the Predator’s aim is to stop the fireteam from achieving their objectives, either by outright killing the whole team or by slowing them down enough to drag the match timer out to its 15-minute limit.
This creates the direct conflict between Predator and Fireteam, which is where the competitive element of Predator: Hunting Grounds lies. In a one-on-one fight in close quarters, the Predator will almost always win, but the Fireteam has numbers and tactical options like flanking on their side. The Predator is far more effective at close quarters, and the tools to sneak up on people, but an alert Fireteam who’s good at watching the trees can really hinder the Predator’s efforts to get close.
As such, playing as Predator is a much more directly competitive experience. You don’t have the same option to win solely through versus-AI objectives; both of the Predator’s win conditions rely on engaging directly with the Fireteam. It can often be a much more exciting experience—taking out an unsuspecting player through a well planned and executed hunt is immensely satisfying, and provides a nice rush of adrenaline. But the other side of that coin is that if you find yourself outmatched, you’ll end up having a bad time. (And, if you’re me, you’ll be outmatched far more often than not.)
There’s one unfortunate side-effect of the asymmetrical structure is the difference in wait times for different teams. With only one Predator per match, that would be a much longer queue than the Fireteam one even with an equal number of players queueing for each. I suspect there’s probably more interest in playing as the Predator anyway, both due to its iconic place in pop culture and the more unique playstyle it offers—the consequence being much longer queues. Queuing as Fireteam (or as “No Preference”, which will almost always give you Fireteam anyway) is often instantaneous, or a minute or two wait at most; queuing as Predator, it’s not unusual to wait upwards of 15 minutes for a match. Hopefully the new Dutch DLC—which includes a skin based on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character—will help balance things out a little bit.
I was also disappointed by how little narrative context the game provides. I wasn’t expecting any sort of actual story mode, but I thought the game might at least provide a little bit of background. The most you get is a quick, very generic briefing outlining your objectives when you’re playing Fireteam, and even those tend to get cut short when everyone readies up too quickly. It’s probably a safe assumption that most people playing Predator: Hunting Grounds will have seen at least a few Predator films, but it’d still be good to have at least a little bit of narrative framing, particularly for the Fireteam, who come across as very generic soldiers void of anything resembling personality.
One thing I really like about Hunting Grounds, compared to every other service-style game I’ve tried, is the complete absence of any systems to try and squeeze more playtime out of you or turn playing the game into a habit. At the time of writing, at least, there are no login bonuses, daily challenges, or timed events. There are loot boxes containing cosmetic items, but they can only be purchased with an in-game currency earned solely by levelling up, completing match objectives, or finding treasure in-game. You can also buy cosmetics directly, using the same currency, if you’re after something specific.
This could well change in the future, but I sincerely hope it doesn’t. There’s something refreshing about being able to play as much or as little as you like, without the game constantly trying to psychologically condition your play habits with the lure of rewards or the threat of bonus currency that you’ll miss out on if you don’t log in often enough.
As someone who doesn’t especially like shooters, especially multiplayer ones, I found Predator: Hunting Grounds oddly refreshing. Playing as Fireteam, in particular, is more of a cooperative experience with occasional skirmishes with the Predator, which is a nice alternative to the constant conflict you typically see in games like this. On the other hand, the Predator offers much more of a competitive style of play for those who want it, though the long queue times can be a bit of a nuisance. A bit more narrative context and character personality wouldn’t go amiss, but Predator: Hunting Grounds is a lot of fun for what it is.
Predator: Hunting Grounds is developed by IllFonic and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It’s out now for PlayStation 4 and PC.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.