A few years ago developer Illfonic released an asymmetrical multiplayer game based on the Friday: The 13th license. The game was rough in a ton of areas but it had a certain charm to it that kept me coming back to it for hundreds of hours. There was just something fun about wiping out teenage councilors as Jason or teaming up to kill Jason if on the other side. Several years later and Illfonic is back again with another asymmetrical multiplayer game this time based on the Predator movie license. Sony helped them out this time as the publisher and while it’s in better shape at launch than Friday the 13th was many things still need improvement.
In Predator: Hunting Grounds it’s four fireteam players versus a Predator player in maps where the Predator has the advantage. Upon starting the game I jumped into the tutorial which lets you play as the Predator and teaches you some of the controls and gadgets you have at your disposal. Sadly there is no such tutorial for playing as the humans and while there are some screens in the extras menu that try to teach you some things a full blown tutorial would’ve been far more effective.
Once I finished that tutorial session up I jumped into quick play which lets you matchmake as a fireteam member, the Predator, or no preference. When I first played the game on Friday matchmaking times were a bit long but a patch has released since to improve them and now I can find a match in around 20 seconds as a fireteam member. If you want to play as the Predator you could still be waiting several minutes on the matchmaking which is in dire need of improvement. Another issue I have with getting into a match is the load screen leading to the lobby. I timed this on the PS4 Pro and it took around a minute every time to get to the lobby once a match was found. When a match is over you are kicked back to the main menu to find a new match. It’s strange why they can’t just put players in a lobby and have them come and go as Friday the 13th did.
When on the lobby screen players can change between their loadouts and vote on where to drop on the map from the available choices. If you want to edit your loadout you’ll have to do that on the main menu as the lobby doesn’t offer the option. The game currently lacks content as it only has 3 maps and the one game mode. While the maps do vary a bit between scenery they are all jungle like settings with houses and factory like buildings scattered about. When the match begins both teams have 15 minutes to complete their objective. If you’re playing as the fireteam you can win by killing the Predator or by completing all objectives and escaping via helicopter. The Predator wins by killing them all before the end of the match.
Fireteam objectives aren’t anything new as they mostly revolve around going to a location on the map and destroying objects, killing an AI enemy, or holding a button to interact with objects. Yes there are AI enemies on the map but they are pretty dumb. Many times they won’t even react to you until you are right up on them. They also die really fast and aren’t much of a problem unless a whole bunch of them swarm you which is rare. Most of the time there weren’t even enough enemies for each of us four to take out. I did enjoy playing on the fireteam though as you never know where the Predator might be. You can’t help but get nervous when you hear it snarling near by or hear the sound of its invisibility cloak activating. Seeing a branch move out of the corner of your eye is always unnerving as well. To help make yourself harder to find you can cover yourself in mud so the Predator’s thermal vision won’t pick you up. This only lasts so long though before you need to cover yourself again. When the Predator does find you though you have your arsenal at your disposal.
You can equip a primary gun like a assault rifle or sniper rifle along with a side arm like a pistol, shotgun, or mini-gun. You also have gear you can bring like health syringes or grenades but you only have so many of these and each gear takes up points. Only so many points can be spent so you have to pick what you bring. The perk system works the same way and gives you buffs like more health, increased damage to the Predator and so on. All gear and weapons are unlocked by leveling up and weapons can level up by using them. Doing so unlocks useful attachments like extended magazines and scopes. The first-person controls felt good enough to me while playing as the fireteam but they aren’t as responsive as a game like Call of Duty.
In my time playing I’ve been apart of fireteams that have been wiped out in minutes to teams that have wiped out the Predator with good communication. That said the game needs to be balanced more as some weapons feel useless and some Predator weapons are too strong. Why does my shotgun do less damage to the Predator than a Pistol does? If you do lose people on your team there is a way to respawn them. After around 30 seconds of someone being dead a location on the map will appear. If you go there you can activate a box that will respawn anyone who died. You just have to wait a short time for them to come back. You can also only do this one time per match so if someone dies after doing this they are gone for good. It’s a useful tool to give the humans more of a fighting chance but the countdown timer may need to be lengthened to give the Predator player a chance to kill the remaining humans before the others come back.
If you play as the Predator then you are playing in a third person perspective. Playing on this side is one of the best things about the game as it feels really good to control. Running through the trees and jumping between them is responsive and intuitive. You start off with only a few weapons at your disposal such as your heat vision, wrist blades, shoulder cannon, and cloaking device. As you level up you unlock more staple Predator weapons such as a bow, bear traps, nets, and the combistick. There are also three classes each with their pros and cons. The Berserker for example has more health and is stronger but is slower and loses energy faster. It can be tempting to go in and be aggressive as the Predator but doing so can get you killed quickly against a fireteam that is communicating. Instead you’ll want to make use of your gear and plan your shots.
If you can manage to get a fireteam member down you can rip out their spine to kill them and claim them as your trophy. If you take damage it’s best to run away and use one of your healing items but make sure to get far enough away. That’s because you’ll leave a green blood trail and if the humans follow you they can easily take you out while you are healing. The main problem I’m finding right now is that once players unlock the Berserker class and combistick weapons that is all they are using. This allows Predator players to go in and take out the entire team in a matter of minutes because the staff downs human players in a couple hits and the Berserker class has more health letting them withstand fire while doing so. Human players can parry the Predator’s attacks but the game does a poor job of telling you how. You basically have to press your melee button at the exact moment the Predator swings at you but the window is small and again the game doesn’t really teach players this. Again, that tutorial for the humans would’ve been useful.
Other things to keep in mind when playing as the Predator include the fact that your mask can be destroyed. If this happens you won’t be able to use your thermal vision anymore nor aim your shoulder cannon. If you do go down as the Predator you have one last chance to kill the humans and that’s by arming your self destruct device. This will kill anyone in the area so the humans have to run to escape before you blow up. They can also try to defuse the bomb by doing a matching symbol mini-game. While this may sound easy the Predator’s laughing can be unnerving more than you may think. If they do defuse the bomb they then just have to defend the Predator’s body from AI soldiers for a short time to finish the match.
When matches end you earn XP that levels you up and you also earn a currency that can be used on the in-game loot boxes. I already hit level 100 over the weekend which is max level so it doesn’t appear to take too long to level up. Don’t let the loot boxes scare you as they contain cosmetic items only and can’t be bought with real money as of now. The Predator has some cool customization options with different skin patterns, masks, locks, and colors. The humans also have similar things with different face items, hats, armor colors, and weapon colors. If you like a certain item and you don’t want to get it from a random box you can outfight buy it with the in-game currency.
That’s about it for the gameplay in the game but let’s talk about the look and performance. I’ve been playing on the PS4 Pro and the game looks OK but it won’t impress you. It has some texture and shadow pop-in problems and the framerate doesn’t hold steady at 30fps. Hopefully some of this can be improved in future patches along with the load and matchmaking times. The game has music that you’ll recognize from the movies and the sound effects are solid but not spectacular. Those interested in the trophy list will find over 40 of them but it will be a grind to earn the Platinum. A lot of them aren’t too bad but ones like getting 1000 spine claims as the Predator could take over a hundred hours.
I’ve been enjoying my time with Predator: Hunting Grounds but it leaves plenty of room for skepticism. For a $40 product it really lacks content right now and it needs further improvements in some key areas to be great. That said you can tell a lot of care went into making sure the Predator played great and that the game felt like the original movie. If you can get a good group together you can have a lot of fun with this one.
*Predator: Hunting Grounds is available now on PlayStation 4 and PC. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Game purchased by the reviewer.