Hunter: The Reckoning finally gives us a bona fide reason to have more than two friends.
Update: Nov. 1, 2001
We update our preview with a brand new batch of screens. What an appropriate way to celebrate the Day of the Dead.
For those of you wanting to look at our previous batch of screens, you can check those out here.
Old skool has taken its share of hard knocks in recent years. Few old skool games get released in this era of polygon-crunching consoles, and when they do they generally wet the bed (see Gauntlet Legends for case in point).
None of this means that old skool is dead, or that it doesn't deserve a place in the next generation era, but classic games definitely face an uphill battle. As Norm from Cheers might have said, "It's a dog-eat-dog world and old skool games are wearing milkbone underwear."
High Voltage, for one, refuses to believe that old skool (or at least an element of old skool) can't thrive in today's cutthroat world of video games. In fact, High Voltage has a big can of old skool love and they're spreading it mighty thick with Hunter: The Reckoning.
This forthcoming Xbox exclusive is a titillating mix of classic multiplayer fisticuffs and innovative RPG elements. It's simultaneously a flashback and a probable sign of things to come.
When we say "multiplayer" we don't mean "online," we're talking about four friends in someone's living room, downing Dr. Pepper by the gallon and duking it out against the forces of evil on the same screen. Kind of like Ikari Warriors vs. Resident Evil.
Of course, Hunter also keeps pace with the times. For starters, it marries a detailed storyline to the beat-em' up gameplay.
It goes a little something like this: A clan of vampires, as the immortal are wont to do, create a legion of zombies and wraiths in an old prison. The zombies, not content to merely sample the prison life, bust from their cells and terrorize the locals of a nearby town.
Naturally, you and your friends must put an end to their shenanigans. Our four heroes are endowed with superhuman abilities and an arsenal of weapons that would make Charlton Heston blush. Each character has a unique personality, so the single-player experience will differ for each of them. All told, there should be at least 20 hours of gameplay packed into the single-player mode.
However, as far as we can tell, it would be a shame to play Hunter by yourself. This title is clearly being designed with four-player mayhem in mind.
The basic structure is straightforward: encounter a horde of ravenous zombies, eviscerate them, and then move to a new area for the next evisceration. Underlying this simplicity is the RPG element: your players improve as the game progresses through its 25 levels. This is the sort of synergistic innovation that floats our boat and we demand to see more of it from other developers, damnit.
Even the basic gameplay is anything but routine, thanks to the wonderful game engine that throws dozens of enemies at you at the same time. Also, the game compels you to work strategically with the other players. Each character's strengths compensate for weaknesses of the others, which should help prevent outings from devolving into mindless hack-n-slash.
There appear to be about 10 weapons in the game, plus two exclusive weapons for each character. Our heroes also have the ability to use magic, which is practically a necessity when you're battling the undead.
All of this goodness comes off with a graphical flair that nearly brings tears to our eyes. Like we said before, the number of on-screen enemies is astonishing. If the melee involved 30 stick figures we wouldn't be that impressed, but these characters look incredible. Even better, the environments are fully interactive, meaning you can destroy just about any inanimate object that gets in your way.
The control scheme makes this destruction more intuitive than eating a hamburger. One analog stick controls movement and the other aims your weapon. The intuitive control is a necessity because the action is insane. Reams of enemies descend on your party like angry wasps. Body fluids spew, appendages hurl, and shotgun barrels burst in a visceral display of Xbox prowess.
About the only thing that won't be on display is an online mode. Teamwork means a lot of things to the guys at High Voltage, but it doesn't involve pairing up with some kid across the country. Teamwork also means you can't bludgeon your pal Jimmy with a blunt implement, so there won't be a deathmatch option, either.
These slight misgivings aside, Hunter: The Reckoning sounds like it should satisfy a neglected niche in the Xbox lineup. We'll have more on this title in the coming months, but for now you can get warmed up by sitting around with three friends and making battle noises.
Generously leaves the power-ups for his buddies, unless he actually needs them.