Game: Hunted: The Demon’s Forge

Genre: Action (Fantasy Hack n’ Slash)

Developer: inXile Entertainment

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Score: What if Army of Two was worse and had Swords and Shit?

Unless you’re in the Cult of Dragon Age – and will thereby accept any rushed, insipid cash cow for quality, you may have noticed that the list of great fantasy games has been short of late.  When I heard about Hunted: The Demon’s Forge I must admit to a certain amount of hesitant trepidation.  A good old fashioned fantasy hack n’ slash dressed in nice modern clothes held promise – as long as the relevant adjectives applied.  I try not to personally over-hype, but Playing with Bros has lifted a flawed cripple of a game into actually being fun before (Borderlands, et al), so who’s to say lightning can’t strike twice?  With due temperance my associate and I jumped in.

The list of great modern fantasy games maintains its current length. Sadly.

This realization hardened over the course of the first thirty minutes of our play through. What occurred was not the kind of enjoyment created by playing Gauntlet Legends or the kind of stupid fun I still have playing Diablo II.  It was just me and my friend looking at each other going “this is like Gears of War – but with orcs and shit.”  No, Dear Reader, being like Gears of War is not, in fact, something to be celebrated. I could finish the review here.

You are required to read no further. If you are in a hurry, simply skip to the closing paragraph and call it a day.  If you’d like an additional rant on just how unremarkable this game was – with exaggerated flourish, then by all means.

This mediocre pile of mush begins with a prophecy.  A hot but obviously evil dancing lady talks about something inane while you run through a demon tunnel.  After this nightmare, you, Stone Cold Steve Austin, wake up in a forest with a hot elf chick – your partner.  You’re mercenaries wandering through The Swamp to retrieve some Special Water from a Special Pond.  While in The Swamp collecting Special Water, you see a door reminiscent of the one in the demon tunnel from your dream/vision/prophecy. You are Stone Cold Steve Austin except with armor and a sword, and, as such, give approximately zero fucks about demon tunnels or their doors, so you kick that shit in. You meet the hot but obviously evil dancing lady.  She tells you about the plot rock and that you should touch it. The rock, that is. So, you’re stupid and made out of equal parts beef and metal – and let’s not forget that you are SCSA, so you can guess how many fucks you give about plot rocks. Unfortunately, your hot elf touches it instead and undead are now everywhere.  You run, then fight, then listen, then run and fight. Something happens, a forge, maybe a potion, etc. How quickly my interest was buried under a sediment of boring dung.

The two main characters would be much improved by being given motivation. Neither professes to be a hero; they’re mercenaries and huge “fans of money,” a fact that they are very careful to mention in most cutscenes right before engaging in spontaneous acts of unrewarded heroism. Every decision they make becomes harder and harder to explain in greater detail than ‘because otherwise it wouldn’t be a story.’ The writing is bad – but not campy bad where it could be enjoyably tongue-in-cheek like its betters Diablo 2 or Overlord.

Hunted: The Demon’s Forge also claims to take place in a dark fantasy setting.  The extent to which this game is wrong about what constitutes a dark fantasy setting is akin to someone thinking that a basketball is a dozen wicker containers woven into a sphere. There are elves and shit, and you’ll probably need to turn the gamma up, true, but this is a purely cosmetic checklist. There is no feeling of danger, the gore is tacked-on and meaningless, and you are an invincible meat parade marching through checkpoints rather than getting a feel for some oppressive, dark setting. The art style doesn’t even drag itself to ‘uninspired’ – instead, expiring just a bit past ‘vapid’. Even Dragon Age II, in the same way an ape might try to mimic human art by smearing shit on a wall, indiscriminately threw horns and hooks on everything (except the plot dohoho). Hunted doesn’t even get generic right.

The gameplay mostly involves killing enemies with a mix of melee and ranged combat.  Melee combat is clunky. There aren’t even any combos. You have light attack and heavy attack, the latter being too slow to be useful, and a block that, when timed right, staggers your enemy – allowing you to then hit him normally. Your friend will be playing the archer, so while you distract people with your shield, they will shoot one hundred arrows into enemies from chest high cover. They have one button for shooting.

There are spells, though. Here’s another chance for fun skipped over by Hunted. None are particularly interesting or fun. There’s some sort of tier based advancement system for them.  You buy the spell and can enhance it in three ways.  Every spell is always enhanced in the same three ways.  More damage, Less mana, and Bigger Radius/Range. It’s about as shallow as a talent based leveling system gets.

Some puzzling breaks up the monotonous combat.  The ranged player sets things on fire with arrows while the melee guy pushes rocks.  This same formula is repeated for every puzzle throughout the entire game.  I’d like to say the level design allows for a deceptive amount of exploration but I can’t.  The levels are so dark it leaves little actual exploring in favor of wandering aimlessly through the dark.  Not that any reward found in exploration would be beneficial since the character advancement is so damn trivial.

I feel at this point I’ve exhausted my ability to keep talking about a game so offensively boring and generic. This shit should not be excused.  The fantasy genre is struggling to find itself again – the last thing it needs is a game best described as Army of Two+Gears Of War+Orcs n’ shit.  It’s like swallowing a spider to catch the fly. The Dragon Age crowd will clearly like anything you tell them to like – you don’t have to cater to them, Bethesda/inXile. You don’t have to be afraid of making a good game. This isn’t really a bad game. Well, not a really bad game. It’s such an arid exercise in mediocrity that I can’t even sum it up with any conviction.

Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is at least an imitation of a game.

This game was reviewed on the PS3.