The driving, iconic score that welcomes you to Predator: Hunting Grounds is one that instantly sparks nostalgia into anyone familiar with the cult 1987 movie. Unfortunately, very little else of what made the Arnold Schwarzenegger vs alien monster bullet-fest so much fun has made it into Illfonic’s latest ‘80s adaptation. There are brief bursts of frantic action lurking in the undergrowth which, when combined with tense firefights, create blockbuster moments synonymous with the source material. These moments are all too infrequent however, as Hunting Grounds often underwhelms more than it excites.
Before dropping in for your daily dose of asymmetric action you’ll have one crucial decision to make: play as one of four fireteam members as you infiltrate an area of nondescript South American jungle and attempt to complete a series of objectives and then exfiltrate before the 15-minute timer runs down; or, choose the Yautja life and become the titular Predator as you hunt down the fireteam and try to pick them off one by one, distract them from their mission, and be an all-round nuisance.It seems like the latter should be the far more appealing option – even if the relatively long matchmaking times that come with it are not – but it’s actually as a fireteam member that I found the majority of my enjoyment in Hunting Grounds. There’s a variety of missions that you’ll be randomly assigned when landing in one of the three maps currently available. Each is essentially the same package wrapped in different paper, however, and almost entirely consist of going to a marked area on a map, holding down the square button, and dealing with a few AI-controlled guerilla fighters before moving onto the next.
These fighters aren’t the sharpest blades of grass in the jungle and will consistently funnel down the same few corridors waiting to be greeted by gunfire. They’re also surprisingly few in number and often not enough to keep all four members of your squad occupied. Disabling alarm systems can prevent enemy reinforcements but I was often tempted to let them go off so that I’d have more to do. The shooting itself feels adequate – not operating on the same plane as an Apex Legends or Call of Duty – but serviceable and at no point gave me a reason to want to stop playing.
There’s a small selection of weapons to choose from, each more than effective against the AI – especially the default shotgun which counts as a secondary weapon and appears able to one-shot every grunt at a frankly absurd range. As a result of those factors these firefights offer little to no challenge and quickly become repetitive as you gain knowledge of the enemy spawn positions. It’s a real rinse-and-repeat situation, but actually more “muddy-up and repeat” in this case as you can resourcefully use the ground below you to hide your heat signature from the perpetual Predator threat. It’s a smart mechanic which actively affects the gameplay as well as being a fun nod to the film – and also where things actually get interesting.
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When the PvE becomes PvPvE is where a lot of the enjoyment can be found in Hunting Grounds. Moving through an enemy camp and seeing a branch out of the corner of my eye shake 30 feet above me put me instantly on edge. Seeing a pair of laser sights emerge from the canopy means trouble’s about to go down.
When all of the elements of the hunt come together, high-action moments are created and the appealing core idea of Hunting Grounds shines through. Especially in the final phase, after all mission objectives have been completed and you inevitably need to ‘get to the chopper.’ The stakes are heightened as you have to defend your location from both militia and the Predator, who has to abandon subtlety and go all-out at this stage to prevent you from escaping. This often leads to those desired blockbuster fight scenes where your feet are getting hacked and slashed at by a desperate Predator as you attach to the helicopter’s dangling ropes.
For all of this to come together just right largely relies on the ability level of the player controlling Predator, and that’s exacerbated by the disappointingly unbalanced nature of Hunting Grounds – and not in the way you’d expect. Too often, the hunted become the hunters and what should be a tense, fearful encounter for the fireteam descends into a game of cat and mouse where the mouse can just turn around and unload a full clip of ammunition into their pursuer. The Predator can easily be defeated by the fireteam as long as they stick together, because the stealthy alien has very little answer to four guns being pointed at him. His health depletes quickly, and even if he does manage to escape after a close call then all the fireteam needs to do is follow the fluorescent green blood and finish him off before the tediously long healing process is complete. After all, if it bleeds…Every round is a fairly straightforward process and it’s a shame that there isn’t more to it. I would have loved to have seen a more powerful Predator have to deal with some of the makeshift traps that Arnie’s Dutch uses at the end of the movie implemented into the gameplay. A more tactically thought-out plan of attack sounds so much more interesting than successfully going toe-to-toe with a creature that you have no business matching up against. Defeating the Predator should be the pinnacle of the experience when it comes to Hunting Grounds, but it happens far too often and offers little satisfaction. Even in Illfonic’s previous asymmetric multiplayer outing, Friday the 13th, required a ridiculously long list of win conditions and on the very rare occasion that they were completed, taking down Jason felt like a real achievement. It’s a shame that the fragile Predator offers very little threat when compared to Crystal Lake’s resident boogeyman.
Once the Predator is downed three different scenarios can play out, each underwhelming to varying degrees. First, if you get enough damage in quickly then you can finish the monster off for good and call in to HQ for the body to be collected. Once this happens you’ll have to keep the body in pristine condition while defending it from a slightly increased but still impotent number of AI forces. I have no idea why these guerilla fighters want to damage the dead Predator’s body, but they do. Once you’ve done this for long enough a cutscene will play where two of your team will recreate the most meme-able of bicep filled handshakes, which is a fun touch, but does wear thin on repeat viewings. The match then ends. It’s all very abrupt and your original mission objectives are left incomplete as the drug recipes or ancient artifacts that you were meant to collect are left untouched. It’s like going to the store with a long list of groceries, seeing a deal on ice cream, and just buying that before returning home without the essentials. It all doesn’t make much sense.
If you don’t finish off the Predator thoroughly, though, he’ll have just enough time to set off his iconic self-destruct mini nuke. This is the much more interesting option that provides a few seconds of tense decision-making. You can either run and try to escape the blast radius, meaning you’ll either end the match alive or dead as again it abruptly ends once the explosion occurs. Or, if you’re feeling brave, you can try to defuse the bomb by completing a series of four puzzles against the clock. The Witness this is not, but the minigame does provide a brief period of fear and excitement that I wish there was so much more of in Hunting Grounds. The only downside to this option is that if you’re successful you’ll revert back to the monotony of defending the Predator’s body against waves of bullet-sponge AI.Meanwhile, playing as the Predator should feel like a power trip, but Hunting Grounds falls short in this regard. Some elements of everyone’s favourite Yautja’s skillset do feel great to wield and leaping purposefully through treetops, or ‘Predkour’ if you will, feels fluid. Using the net gun to trap unsuspecting enemies can be very effective, too. For the first few hours of playing your arsenal will be limited to pretty much the basics, but more exciting options begin to open up the further you progress, such as the Smart Disc and Hand-Held Plasma Caster. Those toys cater to different styles of play and let you decide what kind of Predator you want to be. It’s just a shame that you often aren’t powerful enough and are quickly put onto the back foot when engaging with the fireteam.
When at close quarters it takes several imprecise melee attacks with your sharpened claws in order to down an enemy, by which time you’ll be lucky to not have a good chunk of your health bar taken away. From this point on, the tables are often turned and the Predator becomes the prey after your first engagement. Even when using your cloaking device it’s fairly easy to get spotted in the trees when retreating and before you’ve had time to claim your kill the fireteam have already revived their squadmate. It’s a fairly unsatisfying kind of encounter that needs balancing out in the near future, whether that’s by increasing the Predator’s damage output or his resistance to gunfire.
The look of the Predator and in particular the sound design is spot-on, though, and when combined with the movie’s pulsating score evokes a big hit of nostalgia. It’s disappointing that the same care hasn’t gone into the fireteam, who are just a selection of generic male and female character models that can be minorly customized. There are a couple of little nods to the original movie in the unlockable cosmetics, such as minigun madman Blaine’s cowboy hat, but it would have been nice to see more for fans of the series.
On the whole, Hunting Grounds is without any game-breaking issues but could definitely do with some stabilising. There are quite a few technical annoyances such as texture popping, a few UI bugs, and then we get to the chopper choppy frames. It never gets in the way too badly, but can be especially noticeable when watching another player’s view once you’ve been killed by the Predator and decide to stick around.
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