The multiplayer landscape has shifted dramatically over the past few years. With advancements in technology, developers have pushed their games to be bigger – both in map size and player numbers – and, in the case of Rainbow Six Siege, more densely packed with tactical possibilities.
Now, thanks to the record-shattering popularity of the battle royale genre, companies are scrambling to produce the genre’s next hit. These titles offer unique and memorable multiplayer experiences, but for all the chaos and watercooler moments they catalyse, a certain intimacy is lost – enter Hunt: Showdown.
Crytek’s PvPvE game tasks teams of hunters with tracking down a boss, slaying it, collecting the associated bounty, and then escaping. The only way you can win is by securing one of two bounties irrespective of whether you killed the monstrous boss or not – players are even encouraged to kill each other for possession of the prize. Therefore, everything and everyone is an enemy looking to bite, scratch, bludgeon, or blast you in half.
Despite offering a large map, Hunt: Showdown hosts ten-player matches, each contender either playing alone or teaming up with an ally. The rest of the level is populated by various AI-controlled enemies. There is rarely a moment of downtime in all of this, as you will usually find yourself face-to-face with something hideous.
Crytek’s decision to scale down the number of participating players allowed them to craft a multiplayer experience that feels more personal than most online competitions. Unlike battle royale games, you are not just a faceless, nameless soldier dropped into a massive map but a hired hunter that you stick with you across runs – survive, and your hunter will level up, gaining skills with each success. But if you die, both the hunter and their gear are lost. This adds real stakes to the game which the throwaway matches of battle royale games cannot currently match.
This might sound like a sadistic mechanic but it is this severity that makes Hunt: Showdown’s multiplayer so memorable. Even the firearms reinforce this sense of weight and purpose. Unlike other FPS titles, Hunt: Showdown requires you to go through an additional step to use the iron sights on your guns – right clicking to aim, and then pressing Shift to look down the sights. This extra mechanic forces you to consider for longer when and where to pull the trigger: weighing up whether it’s worth hiding, watching other players duke it out, or conserving your ammo and waiting for a better opportunity to steal the bounty. It is a game that encourages slowness and being covert.
In contrast, the start of a battle royale game is a mad rush to obtain the best weapons and attachments as the loot is randomized and spread across an enormous map. As a result, combat is quick, messy, and often in your face. Only in the final parts of a match, when the player numbers near single figures, do any real tactics truly come into play – and even then everyone is being chased inwards by the shrinking playzone.
Given the growing number of battle royale games – Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Radical Heights, Paladins: Battlegrounds are just some of the latest – it is imperative that developers don’t ignore online modes or game types that can deliver an enclosed experience. The smaller demands of these types of multiplayer games can allow for more freedom to experiment with unique design choices. Hunt: Showdown is proof of this and by going against the grain Crytek have carved their own niche among the competition.
Even though the battle royale genre can be a lotof fun, ultimately it is restricted in how it can grow or otherwise be changed. There is always loot you have to manually obtain, a dull mid-game, and a sense of endless grinding. The resulting repetition and wide margin for losing is mentally fatiguing and grows increasingly stale with each cycle. The slower pace and condensed maps of Hunt: Showdown breed longer, more tense matches that can be wildly unpredictable from minute to minute as more methodical approaches to taking the bounty and escaping with it are able to flourish.
Do you wait for your foes to kill the boss before swooping in to steal the bounty? Or do turn on a generator to cause a ruckus that will attract the undead? Hunt: Showdown keeps you on your toes with a unique mix of terror and opportunity that the battle royale format simply cannot accommodate.
There is no doubt that battle royale games are the hottest thing in gaming right now. However, with the genre’s rise will come its inevitable oversaturation, so we should be careful not to overlook the multiplayer games that offer something a little different.