Why was I addicted to such a bad game for an entire weekend?
Predator: Hunting Grounds is an asymmetric multiplayer game developed by Illfonic and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment for PS4 and PC, and it's based on the popular horror franchise. One player controls the Predator while four others control soldiers trying to complete mundane objectives. Yes, this is essentially the Friday the 13th game but based on the Predator cinematic universe instead (it's from the same developer).
A full release is scheduled for April 24, but Sony hosted a beta trial weekend from March 27 through Sunday to give players a taste of the game. That taste was quite a bitter one.
Anyone who played the beta can tell you the game's first major problem: Queue times are way too long. Illfonic claimed in a tweet that this is a beta-specific issue, but having to wait between 5 and 15 minutes just to play a single match is far too long for any multiplayer game that wants to sustain a player base.
Even if this glaring issue is fixed by launch time, Predator: Hunting Grounds still feels terrible to play, especially if you have to play as a regular human soldier and not the Predator.
From a technical standpoint, the game feels like a mess. The visuals look woefully out-of-date, like an early PS4 game at best. Shadows are jittery and aliasing (a rippling effect that makes for poor visuals) is prevalent, especially when playing in first-person mode. This beta build couldn't even handle the game's visuals, causing the framerate to drop to sub-30 FPS whenever the action got too intense. These technical problems hung over the beta, and seem a bit too deep-rooted to be fixed before the Predator: Hunting Grounds releases in April.
The game's premise seems loosely tied to the 2018 film, a more modern interpretation of the original movie, but that doesn't really matter: Before each match, players are given an overall objective like collecting water samples or taking down a drug ring. No matter what, these just involve going to the objective, holding a button to activate it, waiting as enemies swarm you enough to attract the Predator, and then exfiltrating without dying.
Everything you do as a soldier is painfully dull and blandly copies a myriad of first-person shooters before it. Predator: Hunting Grounds becomes boring no matter what vague mission is tied to your objectives. Fun gunplay could make up for this dull mission design if the gunplay weren't so simple.
All of the guns feel incredibly stiff and similar. An unlockable bonus gives increased accuracy when shooting from the hip. When you combine this perk with bad A.I. for human enemies, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Unlike the characters in other asymmetrical games like Evolve, each character class doesn't have unique abilities. Only the barely perceptible stats vary. Assault is balanced, Scout is slightly faster, and Support has more health and damage resistances (they're slightly tankier.)
Every match winds up feeling samey, even within the short length of this beta.
Playing as the Predator is a bit more fun (thank god), but the experience still feels janky.
Your main goal is to track and kill the four players on the enemy team while they complete the objective, which can either be super-easy if you get the jump on them or very hard if they have the right weapons or see you coming.
The Predator can't really distinguish between player-controlled characters or the A.I. enemies, so it's confusing at first. You do not get many useful tools until you level up significantly (which I did for some ungodly reason). They have a Plasma Caster for ranged attacks and wrist blades for close-up fights. Infrared vision helps to track enemies, and there's stealth cloaking. There are other perks that can be unlocked as well, but that represents the core Predator experience.
The hilariously named "Predkour" (Predator parkour) movement makes it fun to jump from tree to tree and stalk your prey, and the game's best moments come from when the Predator gets the drop on the player-controlled soldiers. You can tell that this is the area of the game where Illfonic put the most polish, but it doesn't feel robust enough. Playing as the Predator was the highlight of my time with the beta, but it's not enough to make up for the rest of the game's many shortcomings.
Fun with Friends
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that millions of people are stuck indoors currently due to the coronavirus pandemic, but actually playing Predator: Hunting Grounds with friends had a "so bad it's good" effect. Hopping on with three of my friends and messing around with the game felt like a fun video game experience. If a game is bad but you're having fun, is the game ... actually good?
My friends and I broke up the asymmetric gameplay by occasionally working with the Predator, and dedicated a lot of our chatter to pointing out the game's issues. Somehow that made the experience exponentially better. Have fun with a few friends in a goofy game was this beta's saving grace.
Something alchemical about the game kept me playing for many matches. I reached the mid-20s in levels after playing for several hours. Part of me hoped that the next unlock would somehow fix all of the deep-rooted problems I had with Predator: Hunting Grounds, and this dangling carrot was enough to keep me interested longer than I may have otherwise.
For anyone who enjoys the "so bad it's good" vibe inherent to so many horror movies out there, they might find something to enjoy in Predator: Hunting Grounds. But there aren't enough references to please hardcore Predator fans or hardcore FPS fans.
Sony-published games usually set high standards for video games, but the Predator: Hunting Grounds beta bucks that trend. Sony rarely dips its toes into the multiplayer scene, and the middling quality of Predator: Hunting Grounds shows why that is the case. This beta has problems that probably can't be fixed in a month, so it's best to avoid Predator: Hunting Grounds unless you want a new game to complain about with your friends.
Predator: Hunting Grounds will be released on April 24, 2020.
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