When I think of four player cooperative online multiplayer horror shooters, I really don’t think of much except for maybe Left 4 Dead, but that’s about it. Maybe Killing Floor would be good to include in that sub-genre as well, but suffice to say, it’s a short list. Well, well, what if I told you that there’s a four player cooperative online multiplayer third-person horror shooter that also happens to be free-to-play?
Yeah I didn’t believe it either, but it’s true, there does exist such a thing. The best part? It looks awesome. Remember Crytek? Most famous for their series of Crysis games and their beautiful CryEngine 3 which has powered some of the most gorgeous games to date. These guys are behind this wholly unique and intriguing concept, but the game goes far beyond treading new genre ground. This little gem holds the potential to be a truly great experience. Join me as we dive into HUNT: Horrors of the Gilded Age.
Hunt Together. Die Alone.
Those are the first words on the game’s page. A nice slogan, paired with a picture that instantly calls to mind the likes of Left 4 Dead. We’ve got four characters from left to right: a gunslinger cowboy with a hatchet in one hand and a revolved in the other, a steampunk esque lady with a crossbow, tight fitting leather outfit, and loads of bullets lining her waist, A tall fella’ with a melee weapon, a cross on his forehead, and what seems to be flamethrower, and finally we’ve got a top hat wearing, monocle sporting, molotov wielding gentlemen with a fine coat.
That’s your cast ladies and gentlemen. A rag-tag group if I ever saw one. What is this strange world they inhabit though? Well, the game’s world takes place in the 1800’s, as the industrial revolution, or the “Machine Age” as it is called, is on the horizon. The world is set to explode with prosperity, but something lurks in the shadows. Quote, “monstrous horrors once thought to be myth are rising and threatening to emerge from the globe’s murkiest recesses.”
And right about there, you have my attention. You play as one of the people who knows the truth. People who “are willing to step beyond the brink of what is seen and stand against the encroaching darkness.” Apparently, our heroes are setting out to face “twisted contortions of evil” according to the game’s website. That’s the setup, but the real treats are still to come.
More than a Simple Co-op Shooter, Way More
The game’s director, David Adams, was quick to separate this game from the obvious Left 4 Dead comparisons by saying, “Other than being 4-player co-op, it’s actually a drastically different game than Left 4 Dead.” As the lore suggests, the game is set in the late 1800’s. Released gameplay shows the four players assaulting an area in the Louisiana Bayou.
The footage shows them moving stealthily through tall grass towards a haphazard village. When push comes to shove, the combat is visceral and exciting. Through the footage the players fought some nasty cajuns, fought a swamp full of zombies, and finished by fighting a sinister witch. Not bad for a day’s work if you ask me.
The footage also showed that each of the four players were quite unique. The cowboy I mentioned earlier was sporting a powerful shotgun, and two silver revolvers. The top hat fellow used voodoo magic and occult powers to fight off the enemies. The big guy went nuts with his flamethrower in the forest. Each of the characters were able to use ranged axes and knives to keep their distance from the enemies. Crytek USA is developing the game, and they are stressing that the level of customization will be the game’s major selling point when creating your character.
“If you want to make Sherlock Holmes, or a gunslinger from the Old West, or a witch hunter from Eastern Europe, you have the costume choices, you have the weapon choices, you have the skill choices to do it,” Adams said when discussing the game.
Developers with Talent and Experience
Many of the developers working at Crytek USA previously worked on the Darksiders series. I want to take a moment to recall the tragic fall of that game’s publisher THQ, and how these individuals are prime candidates to make this game truly extraordinary. Darksiders was the perfect clone of the Legend of Zelda series, and Darksiders II added a loot system and customization that made the first one blush with embarrassment.
There’s something to be said about using another game’s formula or ideas, but there’s a fine line between copy something and paying homage to it. Darksiders, and its fantastic sequel, paid homage to Zelda. They took the concepts of dungeons, boss encounters, and mild puzzle-solving, and did their own thing with it. I can respect that, and many other gamers did as well.
The developer of Darksiders, Vigil Games, was shut down during the bankruptcy of THQ. The founder of Crytek, Cevat Yerli showed an interest in purchasing the Austin-based studio, but ultimately declined. His reasoning was that the products did not fit their business strategy. Even so, after the studio closed, Crytek brought on David Adams to lead Crytek USA, saying that his leadership skills would make him a great asset. In turn, Crytek also hired many of the former employees from Vigil, bringing at least a small part of the team back together.
The team wanted to make a spiritual successor to the Darksiders series, and with co-op being discussed in the days of the game’s production, this was their first goal. The vision was in place, and the team set to work on HUNT: Horrors of the Gilded Age with the goal of crafting a world that defied typical shooters. Adams remarked that he and his team have experience with creating varied monster types. Adams himself designed 18 of the bosses in Darksiders II, so he alone has the experience to go on.
Since this team knows how to pay homage to a concept, and grow upon it, I think the obvious comparisons to Left 4 Dead can stop here. Yes, the idea is the same in regards to gameplay, but the RPG elements, the customization, and the setting are completely unique. After THQ went bankrupt many franchises were sold off to various companies, and while Crytek didn’t buy the rights to Darksiders, having many members of the team behind it is good enough for me.
Other Unique Features to Make the Game Stand out
The game has been in development for about a year now, and has a little ways to go. The latest footage does not have the customization systems in place, nor does the team feel comfortable with sharing exactly how many types of skills will be showcased upon the game’s release. That doesn’t meant that there isn’t any information on other elements of the game however.
The first in this line of features, are procedurally generated maps. This term encompasses the concept that while textures, enemies, and buildings may stay the same, the layout, positioning, number, and spread of enemies will be randomized each time you play. Many dungeon crawlers use this system to keep things interesting, and for a cooperative shooter like this one, the inclusion of procedurally generated areas is a smart choice, especially if players are expected to play them multiple times before progressing.
HUNT: Horrors of the Gilded Age, is also poised to have some gnarly boss creatures. Ben Gabbard, the game’s producer spoke on this, referencing his work on Darksiders. “We did a lot of creatures in Darksiders, a lot of bosses in Darksiders. We wanted to play to that strength, but always incorporate the co-op element.” At the very least, the creatures and bosses will be uniquely designed and visually appealing, or grotesque depending on how you look at it.
Adams stressed in his explanation of the game, that this is built from the ground up for North American gamers. His reason being that “We live in North America, it’s built with our tastes.” Not exactly sure what that means, but I guess I can rule out the Final Fantasy androgynous heroes, and the high pitched teenage girls who claim to be twenty-something. That’s fine, I like JRPGs as much as the next guy, but a little horror based cooperative shoot-em-up is always good.
The largest problem with free-to-play titles is that the game’s content is hidden behind paywalls. In many cases, free-to-play simply means “extended demo until you pay up for extra content”, but not in this case. Crytek USA stressed that they wanted this to have the same feel and scope as a AAA release. The model for payment was designed to provide extra benefits, but nothing crucial to the game experience. Players can purchase cosmetic accessories or experience buffs with real money.
“From a development point of view, our philosophy is we’re going to make the games that normally someone would have paid $60 for, because that’s the experience that we want to create. And we’re going to give that away for free. There’s no artificial gates or time limits on your ability to play the game,” Adams said.
Recent Developments and Future Plans
As of July 30th, 2014, Crytek announced plans to restructure their company. Development of HUNT: Horrors of the Gilded Age would be shifted to Crytek Frankfurt and Crytek USA unfortunately is ceasing to operate as a studio. Much of the staff, including David Adams, left the company after controversial late wage payments. While I don’t like to end articles on a low note, it is worth noting the shift. That doesn’t mean the vision is gone though, and with over a year of work done on the game, that vision will remain intact going into the release.
I for one wish David Adams, and the talented individuals who worked on this game the best of luck in their future endeavors. The gaming industry is a tough mistress, but she can be something else when she wants to be. HUNT: Horrors of the Gilded Age is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and hopefully the most well structured free-to-play games we’ve seen thus far. All I know is that I’m going to be a total voodoo Sherlock Holmes with a monocle. Oh yes, that will do nicely.
Crytek plans to prove it, with a beta towards the end of 2014 on PC, and a full release on PS4 and Xbox One (sorry, blasphemy, I know). What do you think of this game? Will you sign up for the beta on PC to try it out? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 9/11/2014