It has been three years since Crytek launched Hunt Showdown in Early Access on PC. The player base has steadily grown over the years, thanks in part to a Game Preview release on Xbox consoles in 2019 and a 1.0 release on PlayStation the year after.
Despite this, it is still a title that flies under a lot of shooter fans' radar. It is a shame because Hunt Showdown is my favourite FPS game on the market currently.
The Sweaty Swamps
One of the issues Hunt Showdown faces is that it is hard to pin down exactly what sort of game it is. Like the mystical bosses you are tasked with hunting down, Hunt is somewhat of a chimaera, blending a number of different genre types together. It is part survival horror, part supernatural boss rush, part battle royale, mixing a huge, open map set in the fetid swamps of the Louisiana bayou with AI and environmental hazards alongside up to twelve human players.
Play is split into two different modes. Sole Survivor has you entering the map alone with limited weaponry. You'll have to gather tools and weapons along the way while gathering information on the wellspring through the use of your dark sight. Interacting with four points first will grant you the wellspring, which if you can keep hold of for a minute or two will mean that you win the game and your hunter escapes. Beware though, because the minute you have hold of it the rest of the players on the map know your location and can see you when entering dark sight, even if you are within a building. The other mode, and where I have spent all my time, is Bounty Hunt.
Bounty Hunt for me is the stand-out. You can team up with one other person or two if you have more friends and aim to be the first to hunt, kill and banish the boss. The task is to explore the map, gathering clues on the location of one of the (now) four grotesque bosses, kill it, banish its corpse to the underworld from whence it came and then extract without any of the other players on the map stealing it from you.
It's tense and terrifying and utterly brilliant.
What Lurks In The Shadows
There is incredible attention to detail in everything that Hunt has to offer. Not just in the commitment to the time period with exquisite renders of period weaponry. The maps feel like hand-crafted spaces that actually exist. Every tree, structure and compound have been clearly, meticulously pored over. Lines of sight tested and refined, the shapes and silhouettes of objects placed in the map designed to give you pause. Is that the hat of another hunter there in the bushes, or is it the gnarled roots of a half-destroyed tree?
Horror plays a huge part in what makes Hunt Showdown so compelling. Something terrible has happened in the swamps. The zombified inhabitants stumble aimlessly until startled by noise, with a singular focus on that which has disturbed them.
Dealing with one or two is manageable, but attract the attention of more and you will start to run out of stamina. Some will deal bleed damage that won't stop until you stem it, others will poison you, which will not only sap your health, but make it impossible to heal for a short while, and another fast enemy will cause burn damage if you pierce its skin.
Failure to put it out in time it will mean that chunk of health is gone for the match unless you can get to the boss first and banish it, meaning sometimes it is better to crouch and creep.
Did You Hear That?
The sound design is exemplary. Fire a shot from your weapon and it can be heard right across the map. Spend some time in the bayou and soon you'll be able to recognise the distinct crack of a long rifle or the boom of a shotgun, and you'll be able to roughly pinpoint how far away the enemy who shot it is.
Stop moving for a moment and you'll hear the crack of a twig that someone, or something, just stepped on. Hunker down in a building and you'll hear the beams creak and groan as the wind moves through them. When another hunter is near, you'll hear their footsteps in the mud, or if they're being stealthy you might be able to faintly hear the shuffling of their crouched footsteps, the almost inaudible sound of their breath exhaling. It is exhilarating stuff.
Gun battles with other players can be fast, ferocious affairs. Each weapon has its own effective range for damage dealt, and it matters where you hit the enemy. A solid body shot with a Sparks LLR within its 250m effective range will leave your opponent with 1 HP and you with a four-second reload, time in which time your enemy or their partner could score a head shot on you. The calculations around risk in every encounter are constant.
There is a lot to learn, and this is perhaps the biggest barrier to new players. The skill curve is steep, which can be mitigated with in-game knowledge, but that takes time. Time to learn the weapons, time to learn the map and its locations, time to understand the visual and audio cues that help you make decisions. But, in my opinion, it is time well spent. For those that can brave what the bayou has to offer you will be hard-pressed to find another shooter that manages to get the blood pumping in quite the way Hunt Showdown does.
Hunt Showdown is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4 and PS5.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X with time spent on PlayStation 4 at launch