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Predator: Hunting Grounds review

Still better than the Adrien Brody movie.

Who hasn’t fantasized about being the Predator? Imagine it: You’re stalking your prey through the jungle, skipping effortlessly between branches to traverse the canopy. The four elite soldiers just ahead may be among the best that Earth has to offer, but that just makes them—how does the human saying go?—big fish in a small pond. They’re skilled at making small lumps of lead fly in the direction they want. You, on the other hand, you’ve trained since birth to conquer the galaxy’s deadliest and most cunning life forms with all manner of weaponry. You once wrestled a beast that had no name in any tongue, because none who’d seen it had lived long enough to invent one. You cut and cut until the fire left its eyes, not for the honor the kill would bring you, not for your clan, not even for your own survival. A reason would imply a choice. You don’t choose the hunt. You are the hunt.

It’s time now for you to cross above the humans so you can set up an ambush ahead. Just a few more branches and you’ll— Oh, wait, you, well, I guess you just missed the next branch and kind of fell. I mean, usually when you think about moving forward, your footwork is almost automatic, like breathing, but whatever. The element of surprise is gone—your prey is now pelting you, to barely significant effect, with their beloved little balls of lead—but at least you landed on your feet. All you need to do is hop onto the nearest tree trunk and you’ll be able to lose them again. You’re there now, trying to jump up, but it’s not working. Your legs won’t cooperate. Wait, shit, why can you only “leap” and “dismount” now? You’re not in a tree anymore. Okay, you think, let’s, uh, dismount from the ground… onto the ground. No, that didn’t do anything. Guess you’re leaping wildly across the undergrowth for no reason, then.

Great, that did it. You’re back in full control of your body again. Still being pelted with lead, though, and it’s actually starting to get a little annoying. You enable your cloak to go invisible, and it works. Kind of. Maybe there’s been a malfunction in the hardware, but as of recently you’re shimmering a lot and the humans can definitely see you if they pay the slightest attention, even if you’re standing still, which seems to defy the purpose somewhat. Still, you eventually manage to ditch them by leaping and zig-zagging and climbing trees, soaking up more damage along the way—not quite the stealthy, apex predator approach you’ve trained for. You find a place where you can dress your wounds before heading out again.

Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox

By the time you catch up with the soldiers, one of them has stopped and turned to the others. According to your carefully honed instincts, he’s about to speak. You decide to eavesdrop for a bit.

“Listen, guys,” the soldier carrying a lime green minigun says, “I know this is going to sound crazy, but… You guys play video games, right? Do our missions lately kind of feel like a PS2 game to any of you?”

“Huh?”

“Like, look: Our guns feel almost weightless when we shoot them. We can’t climb over any fences or ledges at chest height. And, I don’t want to be mean for no reason or anything, but I think these guerrillas we’re fighting might be, um, brain damaged. I saw one of them run into a wall earlier and then take the longest possible route to where he ended up. I haven’t seen any of them ever use any tactic that might minimize their chance of getting shot. They just kind of run towards us and then stand and shoot in the open.”

“No, no, totally. I get that. Plus I looked at the orders command gave us, and they definitely misspelled ‘guerrilla’ a bunch of times. Not every time, but a bunch of them, and that seems almost worse? And I keep looking at my gun’s ammo counter after I empty a mag, and sometimes it says negative zero. What is that?”

Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox;
via EGM

“I don’t want to pile on here, but all the shit we’re doing lately feels exactly the same, too. We just go wherever command points us, shoot any bad guys in the way, interact with whatever we need to interact with, and then sometimes stand next to something for a few seconds fighting off an incoming attack. And they just keep deploying us to the same three borderline indistinguishable patches of jungle. Even if something totally crazy happened right now, like an alien shows up and attacks us or something, I’d still be wondering why the mission we were originally on was so boring in the first place.”

“Okay, wow, that is so funny you said that, because I just watched that old movie Predator, which, and this is a weird thing to clarify, definitely exists in our universe for the purposes of our current conversation. Anyway, so much of what the soldiers did in that feels eerily similar to what we’re doing. We rub mud all over ourselves, we do muscley handshakes, we say things like ‘Get to the chopper,’ and ‘You ain’t got time to bleed.’ But what we’re doing feels like a really shallow version of those same ideas, and we don’t ever get to do any of the cool stuff from the end of the movie like setting elaborate traps and luring something into it.”

Up in the tree, you’ve heard enough. You’re certain if you let them, they could go on and on like this for a while longer, but you get the gist and it’s starting to feel kind of excessive. Time to pounce.

You employ what’s become your standard strategy of late. You jump toward a soldier that’s out of the sight of the rest, even slightly, and then start to wallop on him with your Combistick. When you knock him down, you rip out his skull to keep as a trophy and move onto the next target. If you’re taking too much fire, you can buy yourself a little time by using your Net Gun to temporarily take someone out of the fight, and if things get really bad you can run off to heal up and then circle back. Beyond that, you don’t need to get too creative.

You used to experiment more, testing out different combinations of weapons, but none of them killed as quickly, as reliably, or as effortlessly as the Combistick. You had to kill a ton of prey to even unlock it in the first place—literally hours and hours of hunting. You’re not sure if it’s wise of the Elders to give only the most experienced hunters the most powerful, easiest-to-use weapon.

Nearly every hunt you’ve been on lately has played out the same, usually with an unchallenging victory. Things have gotten so dull you’ve started intentionally letting a sole survivor escape and call in reinforcements, just to drag it out a bit more.

Today, you get the first three soldiers with little problem, but the fourth scampers off to the other side of the compound, where she slides under a pipe. Looks like you’re too big to fit under there yourself, so I guess her plan is to just hang out down there, forever, crouch-walking slowly back and forth so you can’t stab her. You remember a similar story you heard from one of your fellow hunters. In that case, the final prey had simply crawled under a stilted building and stopped moving at all, just slathering mud on his pathetic self over and over and over again so he would be rendered invisible to thermal vision, and even to the more powerful isolation pulse, which can usually reveal a target at any distance. The way you heard it, the prey was just trying to run out the clock, hoping the hunter would give up after a while. Forcing a stalemate, as the humans call it. Your species’ word for the concept roughly translates as “one of many examples of undercooked game design.”

Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox; via EGM

Before long, you give up on trying to jab the pipe-crawler and just blast her with a few shots from your shoulder-mounted Plasma Caster. She falls to the ground, guts spilling out, though she’s not dead yet. There’s no way she’ll be able to get back on her feet without help, and she’s all alone, so the hunt is effectively over. But you suppose it’s important to just go through the motions and actually finish her off. After, you stand around with nothing to do for eight or so awkward seconds until your mask display informs you that yes, you won, and you’re allowed to leave the hunting grounds.

Lately, your thoughts have started to drift toward minor heresy. You wonder, more and more, if there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with the hunt. Sometimes you’ll see a flicker of the fun, the tension, the excitement you’d hoped for, back when you were young on the homeworld and dreamed of tracking and killing. But the disappointments are too frequent—maybe 10 bad fights for every good one. Perhaps the outlook would improve with drastic changes to the rules, or tweaks to your weaponry, or different hunting grounds. Then again, maybe it’s already too late.

For now, all you can do is return for another hunt and hope it’s the rare good one, but who knows how long that’ll take. Usually you have to wait 5 or 10 or 15 Earth minutes to track down prey, and then when you do it’s all usually over in much less time than that. Three days ago, you waited 53 minutes for a hunt that lasted less than 4. There’s only so long you can spend shopping for new paint jobs for your armor and weapons, changing your outfit, and packing your hunting equipment before the boredom starts to set in. You know the delay is just because there are so many of your clanmates hunting on Earth these days, and there’s not enough prey to go around. The prey certainly don’t have to wait around long, but, then again, who would want to spend all their time being hunted? You do think about maybe stealing a human cellphone, though, just to kill time between hunts. You hear Quibi is… fine. There’s this show where Chrissy Teigen pretends to be a judge.

Imagine all that. Imagine being the Predator.

Header image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox

★★☆☆☆

On a superficial level, Predator: Hunting Grounds succeeds at translating elements of the original 1987 movie into a four-on-one multiplayer game, and the matchups are occasionally tense and thrilling. But shoddy game balance, sloppy design, frequent bugs, and significant technical shortcomings squander most of the potential.

Developer
IllFonic
Publisher
Sony Interactive Entertainment
ESRB
M - Mature
Release Date
04.24.2020
Predator: Hunting Grounds is available on PlayStation 4 and PC. Primary version played was for PS4 Pro. Code/hardware was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.

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