The original Predator is one of the most influential films from the 1980s. While it might not be a cinematic masterpiece, everything about it came together to create a perfect storm. I mean, it had it all, a tense setting, a cast of cool macho men, memorable one-liners, and an unforgettable monster that made the film a phenomenon. The film spawned several sequels and spin-offs, but the series has mostly avoided the realm of video games.
As a huge fan of Predator, I was admittedly stoked when I saw Predator: Hunting Grounds, an online multiplayer shooter being published by Sony. With IllFonic, the studio behind the fan-favorite Friday the 13th: The Game, developing, hopes were high for this new venture. However, like the early issues that have plagued the developer’s previous titles, Predator: Hunting Grounds seems to be suffering from a similar fate.
Predator: Hunting Grounds is a pure online multiplayer experience. Outside of a tutorial that should take less than ten minutes to finish, the game doesn’t have any sort of single-player experience. Surprisingly, there actually is a small amount of story to set up the reason you are being dropped in the jungle.
Each match sees a fireteam of four soldiers dropping into the jungle to take on one of a few different tasks. The tasks rotate, but they usually involve destroying something controlled by AI enemies and escaping. Depending on the objective, the fireteam will get a short debriefing along with updates from their commander as the match goes on. While not really a story, it was nice to see that some effort was put into giving context as to why the fireteam is doing what they’re doing.
These small pieces of story would be greater appreciated; however, if the voice acting featured in them wasn’t completely terrible. It sounds like whoever is voicing the team’s commander is trying their hardest to sound “badass,” which just comes off sounding goofy.
If you desire some more profound lore, there are several audio logs hidden throughout levels that are incredibly hard to find. They offer a bit of insight into the situation, but they don’t really add enough to the world to warrant all the trouble it takes to find them.
When beginning a game of Hunting Grounds, players are given a choice between playing as a human soldier in teams of four or a singular Predator. Let’s make one thing clear; playing as the Predator is way more fun than playing on the fireteam. However, chances are most players will spend the majority of their time playing as the fireteam due to the game’s load times.
When attempting to join a match as a fireteam member, the longest I ever had to wait was around two minutes. When trying to play as the Predator, however, there were numerous times where my wait would exceed 30 minutes. Other times, after five to ten minutes of waiting, I would be placed into a lobby with no other players indefinitely, being forced to start the entire process over again. These load times were, at times, enough to make me quit the game entirely.
IllFonic has stated they are aware of the issues with matchmaking and are working on fixing them. At the time of this review, the game has been updated once, though the incredibly long load times when trying to play as the Predator persist. Hopefully, this will be corrected over time, as it is one of the most significant issues plaguing the experience.
If you are lucky enough to be connected to a game, however, Predator: Hunting Grounds can be a ton of fun. As with any online game, each match can be as enjoyable as the people you play with. Some games as the Predator are spent aimlessly searching for the fireteam with little to no avail. Others, however, have been some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a multiplayer game.
The same is true when playing as the fireteam. I’ve played at least five games where the fireteam almost never even came into contact with the Predator. This might be fine if the AI enemies were more engaging. If you’ve ever played an FPS before, you will have no trouble taking down these enemies. They have some of the worst AI I’ve seen in a recent FPS and take minimal effort to take down. During most matches, this isn’t much of an issue as the main enemy is the Predator. If the Predator is nowhere to be found, however, all you are left with are the weak, stupid AI enemies that make the game feel like a generic, uninspired FPS.
Between the fireteam and their objectives lie two obstacles: hordes of mindless, easy-to-kill AI soldiers, and one much more intimidating player-controlled Predator. Similarly to the original film, the Predator simply serves as an unexpected obstacle to the fireteam, not their objective. However, killing the Predator will end the match, so if the fireteam would rather do that than deal with their actual goals, they can.
The Predator has only one objective: kill the entire fireteam and claim their skulls as trophies as one might expect, playing as the Predator is where Hunting Grounds is the most fun. The Predator has a range of tools at its disposal that grows as players level up. Initially, the Predator can use infrared vision to spot enemies, the ability to turn invisible, a ranged energy weapon, and a close-quarters blade.
The more time you spend in the game, the more powerful your Predator will become as you unlock more versatile weapons and skills. Your fireteam soldier will also unlock additional weapons and abilities, though this mainly allows for you to customize your playstyle rather than become more powerful.
Players can also heavily customize their Predator and fireteam soldier with cosmetic skins and accessories that can be found in loot boxes called “Field Lockers.” Field Lockers can be bought with in-game currency and are occasionally given for free as a reward for leveling up. Currently, there is no way to purchase in-game currency with real money, though this could be changed in the future.
Predator: Hunting Grounds handles loot boxes fantastically. Players are consistently rewarded with a steady flow of in-game currency for playing matches and can buy pretty much any cosmetic item they would want after playing a few matches. The in-game currency is also scattered throughout each of the maps, allowing for players to gain even more through exploration. Granted that IllFonics doesn’t add an over-the-top way to buy this currency with real money, I think this is one of the best loot box systems I’ve ever seen.
One thing that the game nails is giving off an authentic Predator vibe. Hunting Grounds features music that can really make you feel as if you are in a Predator film. The Predators themselves also look amazing, whether players decide to create a smaller male scout or a large female hunter. It’s clear that the team at IllFonics are huge fans of Predator, and their attention to detail in these aspects is much appreciated.
Though Predator: Hunting Grounds can be fun to play, there is a litany of bugs and strange gameplay quirks that hold it back. For instance, when playing as the fireteam, finding AI enemies glitching through walls or being unable to pick up items were constant occurrences.
When playing as the Predator, the parkour system continually gets in the way. Movement in the trees feels very stiff, and I could rarely go where I wanted to. Many times I couldn’t even get into the trees and, when I would, I would get stuck in the branch walking animation even when dropping to the ground. While these glitches weren’t enough to completely stop me from having fun, they were a constant thorn in my side.
Predator: Hunting Grounds is a game that still needs a lot of work. If you can make it past the sometimes unbearably long matchmaking times, it can be a ton of fun. Constant glitches and gameplay issues, however, hold it back from being reliably enjoyable. A little more time in the oven might make Hunting Grounds a must-play multiplayer experience, but, for now, it’s probably best to wait a while before picking it up.
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