Title: Predator: Hunting Grounds Released On: April 24, 2020 Genre: First/Third-Person Shooter, Asymmetrical Reviewed On: PS4 Also Available On: Windows PC Developer: IllFonic Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment MSRP: $39.99 USD/$49.99 CAD
It has been fifteen years since we’ve had a dedicated Predator game — Predator: Concrete Jungle — not counting mobile iterations, ten years since the last full game to feature the dreadlocked alien — Alien vs. Predator 2010 — so fans of the series have been anxiously awaiting a new opportunity to go up against or step into the armor of the legendary Predator. IllFonic’s Predator: Hunting Grounds affords players the ability to experience both sides of the conflict in a new take on a genre that’s risen in recent years.
Asymmetrical games are one of those genres that’s still yet to take extensive hold in the gaming industry at large, with the exception of a few notable titles. As a relatively new genre, we have been waiting for titles to break out of the molds that were set by this generation’s precursors — namely games like Evolve and Dead by Daylight — which have set the stage for developers to offer their own take on the four-versus-one gameplay.
Enter Predator: Hunting Grounds.
The new asymmetrical first/third person shooter from IllFonic and Sony Interactive Entertainment not only offers a substantially different take on the genre, but does it through reviving an element of pop culture that has been largely on the backburner for many years. While it suffers from several technical drawbacks, Predator: Hunting Grounds is an overall satisfying experience regardless of if you’re taking on objectives as the Fireteam, or taking on the Fireteam as Predator.
The overall premise is of the game is relatively simple: the Fireteam, a group of four elite soldiers who can equip a multitude of weapons, gear and perks, must work together to accomplish a set of three objectives before exfiltrating the densely wooded jungle filled with armed guerilla forces bent on stopping you.
Oh…and an otherworldly beast stalking you from the treetops.
Playing as the Predator challenges the player to track down the Fireteam through the jungle by using your special thermal optic visor and sound-magnification, and then eradicating them with a diverse array of weaponry before they can complete their objectives and extract via helicopter. And it feels absolutely thrilling. Stalking through the trees, jumping from branch to branch and pouncing on an unaware Fireteam just long enough to cause some chaos before ascending back into the canopy and activating optical camouflage. It’s quite unlike any other multiplayer experience I’ve had, and when you execute it perfectly it feels so good.
You don’t have to approach playing as the Hunter stealthily, and I had a lot of fun experimenting with different loadouts to see what worked best for me. Depending on your chosen playstyle and loadout, there are a wealth of ways that you can go about hunting and dismantling the Fireteam, but the game definitely functions at its best when you adopt a stealthy approach. Once you have knocked an enemy out, it’s possible to claim their skull as your trophy through a brutal execution and reduce the Fireteam’s numbers. But you have to plan your attack wisely, or you’ll drop into a barrage of bullets and instant death.
For Predator, traversal is absolutely key to your success. As the Predator you have the ability to leap from treetop to treetop, giving you not only an excellent vantage point of the jungle floor below, but the perfect stage from which to launch surprise attacks on unsuspecting prey utilizing your optical camouflage. Your first job in every match is to actually locate the Fireteam, which can be done through a combination of visual and audio cues which are given to you through your optical thermal visor. If you make a lot of noise on your approach from the treetops however, the Fireteam can easily spot you from shaking tree branches and falling leaves, so it’s always wise to plan a stealthy approach when possible. The key is to get an enemy on their own, or to somehow break up the team, because even with your power-advantage it’s impossible to sustain coordinated fire from an entire team for more than a few seconds.
Luckily you have more than a few gadgets to augment your assault against the humans. As many will remember from the movies, Predators have an absolute arsenal of weaponry and gadgets, all of which you can unlock and outfit yourself with, in addition to three classes which trade up mobility, defensive, and offensive capabilities. If you end up against a coordinated Fireteam that manages you take you down, you can activate your self-destruct as a last resort and attempt to take them out with you.
Remember: if Predator doesn’t win, no one survives.
Playing as the Fireteam on the other hand means sticking together, as venturing out on your own is just asking to be picked off by the Hunter. While Predator plays in third-person, you operate your squad member from a first-person perspective, adding additional weight to the asymmetrical gameplay structure. Compared to the relative creative way that the player controls Predator, in contrast the Fireteam plays like a fairly generic first-person shooter. It hasn’t been given the polish that we’ve come to expect from FPS games in 2020, and next to the unique Predator system it winds up feeling a bit lackluster. This isn’t to say that the overarching gameplay as the humans wasn’t still fun; just that the actual gunplay mechanics themselves almost feel like they could use a little tightening up.
This side of the gameplay is also not nearly as strategic or in-depth as playing as the Predator, because all of your objectives are fairly straightforward. Find X, kill Y, and don’t die to Z. The Fireteam has a set of three rotating objectives that they have to accomplish within the time limit, which will take them in a zigzag across a vast portion of the map. These are usually related to finding items, activating a system of sorts, or killing some NPCs. Sometimes all three in tandem. That being said, there are other ways that the Fireteam can complete the match without completing their objectives, such as by killing the Predator and not allowing them to self-destruct. It’s not an easy feat to accomplish, but you get additional XP and a quick exfil if you’re able to thwart the Hunter’s final strategy.
The Fireteam has their work cut out for them. In addition to fending off Predator, there are mobs of NPC baddies hanging out at all of the major objective areas, which can attack either the Fireteam or Predator, but are much more of a pain for the Fireteam. Players can be revived if they get knocked down, unless the Predator manages to claim them first. This temporarily knocks the player out of the game until one of the surviving players can reach a reinforcement area to call them back in.
Your character also has a wealth of weapons and equipment that they can bring into the jungle to compliment your chosen playstyle, as well as several classes to supplement this which give bonuses to health, speed, or gear, as well as passive boosts to aspects like accuracy or damage. These help to add some variety to how you can outfit your character and switch up your playstyle, but doesn’t change the strategy nearly as much as switching up Predator’s loadout.
Regardless of which side you decide to play on, it’s an entertaining game loop for sure. That is, when the game lets you play. Matchmaking times have gotten better since the most recent patch, but there can still be substantial delays in the online matchmaking, especially if you want to play as the Hunter. I’m not usually one to gripe too much about this when a game has first launched, because there are a lot of factors that can lead to increased load times, such as a larger-than-expected player base or unexpected server issues. This being said, my first attempts to play took me between 2 to 20 minutes to load into a match; on the shorter end when I wanted to play as Fireteam, and substantially longer when I chose to be Predator.
With the recent patch, I am into most Fireteam games within 1-2 minutes, with Predator games still typically taking 6-10 minutes to find a match. Once you are connected there is no guarantee the match will actually start though, as I’ve had several with Predator where Fireteam members quit out or didn’t fully populate, and left me a lonely Predator with no one to hunt; or in one instance a lone Fireteam member facing off against the Predator. If the Fireteam spawns without a full team, it puts them at a substantial disadvantage, and the game seems to have difficulty populating half-full lobbies after players leave. On the positive side, matchmaking has been steadily improving since launch, and it is one of the factors which can be consistently improved upon. I am hopeful that we will see additional improvements in matchmaking with future updates.
Once you have loaded into a match, regardless of which side you are playing on, you have to hit the ground running. With a fifteen minute timer counting down each match, it’s a race against both the clock and your enemy to complete your objective. From the dozens of matches that I played, I still have a hard time determining who really has the advantage in Predator: Hunting Grounds, which I think speaks highly to IllFonic’s ability to balance both sides of the hunt. While one side may be able to gain an advantage in certain scenarios — Predator does better when they can separate and surprise the Fireteam, and the Fireteam does better when they have cover and stick together — the game is all about capitalizing on these moments to turn the tide of battle in your direction.
The biggest issue plaguing almost every single asymmetrical game is the difficulty in balancing a one-versus-four system. You can’t make the hunter too strong otherwise the “good guys” will always be up against an insurmountable task, but they still have to be powerful enough to be able to take on a coordinated team with some stealth and proper execution. The inability to manage this balance has been the critical factor that most asymmetrical games struggled with on launch, and even killed off one of the first games of the genre. But rest assured it is not an issue that Predator: Hunting Grounds is facing.
I won just as many games with Predator as I lost, and lost just as many games with the Fireteam as I won. There was never an instance where I felt that the game or its systems were to blame for a loss; every failure was directly linked to an error that I made during the match. This means when you are playing with a Fireteam you have to have faith in your teammates to perform highly in their roles, as a lack of cohesion in the Fireteam is the best advantage you can possibly give the Predator. When the Fireteam operates as a team however, it becomes increasingly difficult for the Hunter to be able to find an opening.
When playing as the Predator, the slightest error in judgement can cost you the game, or at the very least your one second chance that you are afforded. As the Hunter you must be much more measured and calculating in your actions, which definitely makes it the harder side to play as. I lost numerous matches because I dropped down a split second too late, or accidentally outed myself in the trees when the energy for my camouflage failed or I moved just a bit too quickly.
There is a very substantial gap between the strategy needed to play as the Fireteam, and that needed to be successful as a Predator.
There is a fairly standard leveling and progression system, with both Predator and the Fireteam unlocking new weapons, gear, and perks for either side as you level up your main profile. It’s one of those progression systems that actively entices you to play more, because you can see the unlockable rewards that you’ll obtain each level. In a move that seems very 2018 however, IllFonic and SIE decided to include “loot boxes” filled with cosmetics as the reward for leveling up. These are the standard fare, which reward the player with a common, rare, or exotic cosmetic item to change the appearance of your character or their weaponry, but which offer absolutely no change to the actual gameplay.
I was fairly skeptical at first seeing lootboxes making a resurgence here, but I didn’t find them to be detrimental to the overall game, through locking integral upgrades into a RNG system. Since you unlock actual character upgrades and new weaponry through regular progression, the addition of lootboxes felt more like icing on the cake. I get a new weapon and Perk for hitting level 10, and then I also get a few random cosmetics. Win-win in my opinion. You can also unlock cosmetics in the customization menus by spending some of the in-game currency, Veritanium, which you collect throughout the map and for completing matches.
I found the inclusion of a number of Predator puns for things that really didn’t need to be ‘punified’ both hilarious and slightly off-putting. As a new father I’m all for bad puns, but these felt more like Senior Chang inserting his name into random words in Community. Predkour? Predlocks? I think the fine folks over at IllFonic need some Preducation on being punny.
Technical missteps and bad puns aside, I had, and will continue to have, a really good time playing Predator: Hunting Grounds. I was not able to play any games with a full Fireteam of friends working together in a Party, so I greatly am looking forward to enticing some friends with the game to try and execute a flawless Fireteam run. Playing as Predator was definitely the highlight of the entire experience, and the team at IllFonic did a superb job making stalking through the treetops feel like it was ripped right out of the movies.
The core underlying principles behind Predator: Hunting Grounds‘ asymmetrical system are all solidly executed, and made fighting on both sides of the hunt feel exhilarating and impactful. While there is a substantial strategic gap between operating as the Fireteam or the Predator, this luckily doesn’t translate to an actual advantage to either side; it just requires a vastly different approach depending on which side of the hunt you are on.
For anyone looking to try a different approach to the 4v1 gameplay structure, I can’t recommend Predator: Hunting Grounds enough. IllFonic has broken free of the mold that the asymmetrical genre was stuck in, and showed that there is a lot of room left for growth.
Final Score: 8/10
Predator: Hunting Grounds is a wonderful evolution of the asymmetrical genre, which balances both sides of the hunt while offering varying degrees of strategy.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.