Asymmetrical multiplayer is having a bit of a comeback. With developers and publishers seemingly scared off after the collapse of Evolve at the start of this console generation, it seems enough time has now passed for lessons from that game’s failure to be learnt and a whole new wave of asymmetrical multiplayer games is upon us.
Today we’re looking at the newest entry, Predator: Hunting Grounds. Based on the eponymous film franchise, it sets a small, four person squad of soldiers against AI enemies, and more importantly, a human-controlled Predator in a large jungle map.
But this isn’t a simple hunt and chase for either the Predator or fireteam. Squads aren’t there just to take down the Predator, in fact that’s not even the main objective they’re given. They are instead tasked with a variety of goals, from investigating a contaminated water source, taking out a Guerilla Captain to picking up enemy intel. This is usually just going to a marked point on a map and pressing square, though sometimes you have to search around a bit first before you can press it.
Squads move from objective to objective across the map, pausing at each one to gather information or fight off waves of AI enemies. This setup encourages players to stick together rather than spread out across the map and be easily picked off by the Predator. I found myself often sprinting from objective to objective, and while there are some side missions for bonus content, the squads I found myself in preferred just to get the mission over with rather than risk going after these bonuses.
If you’re fast, the mission can be over in about 10 minutes, though these will feel tense and full of action. In particular, each mission is capped off with a firefight against waves of enemies while you wait for your chopper to arrive and save you. These are often fraught as you may be running low on ammo, health, grenades and medkits. It was in these moments that the Predator player usually took advantage of the fact that fireteams are rooted to one spot to take out his revenge. There is a marked sense of relief when you manage to escape in firefights like these, even if not all of your teammates make it out with you.
As a squadmate, you play in first-person, which, combined with the relatively low FOV (at least on PS4), gives you a cramped view of the world, making you quite nervous about what you can’t see and if the Predator is hiding just out of sight. Your aim is to never encounter the Predator, completing your tasks before it can know where you are.
For the Predator, your role is much more simple, though arguably much more difficult. You must search for the squad as they make their way to the various objectives, and take them down before they can get to you. To help you with this challenge you have a number of weapons and abilities that give you a huge degree of mobility across the map. You have your heat-based vision to easily spot enemies in the dense jungle environment, the ability to quickly run through trees and an arsenal that complements a stealthy, fast-paced combat style.
The Predator is actually quite weak when faced with the entire firepower of a squad at once, so you must time your approach well, and take full advantage of the treeline and your abilities. Simply running straight at a squad is unlikely to work out for you, so you must play tactically if you are to survive. You must use every advantage afforded to you to survive, in turn making a match feel much more like a slow hunt than a 1v4 deathmatch. To help with this you play in third person, which gives you a better sense of your environment.
Playing through missions as either Predator or a squadmate will net you some loot box rewards and some experience points. These can be simple shaders or skins for your weapons, or they can change the weapon such as by moving from iron sights to red dot sights. Leveling up will allow you to access more weaponry and abilities, and so the game opens up the more you play. It is a system that keeps things fresh, which is welcome for a game that starts with only very limited abilities.
You can also customise your class after playing through a few levels, and I wish these were unlocked from the start. For the Predator, having unlocked abilities significantly changes your game play, so the threat difference between a low level Predator and a higher one can be significant.
Predator: Hunting Grounds supports crossplay between console and PC, and this helped to keep queue times short. I rarely waited all that long to get into a match, though if you want to be the Predator, then it will take a bit longer for you to find a match.
The game looks pretty nice for a PS4 game, at least on PS4 Pro, but unfortunately performance was another story. Especially during gunfights with lots of enemies the framerate on my PS4 Pro chugged, though we need to wait for the Digital Foundry analysis to get the full story. The noise from my launch PS4 Pro was astounding, this game is clearly pushing it to its limits.
One other frustration is that the game will let you play with only one other squadmate. This puts you at a significant disadvantage against the Predator compared to a full squad, so much so that it should be its own game mode with different variables and expectations for the smaller number of players.
And it may be a COVID-19 related network issue, but playing with two other players with over 300ms of lag was not a worthwhile experience.
And this is on a 250/25 fibre connection so I doubt it was my end making things worse.
My biggest issue with the game though, is that even with a discounted launch price there simply isn’t enough content to keep my attention for more than a few hours. I enjoyed my time with the game more than I thought I would, but there’s only one real game mode and just three maps, which all are pretty hard to distinguish from one another. There definitely is something to be said for a focused experience, but more is needed if this game is going to survive to embed itself into the gaming landscape. The gameplay is good, but the gunplay is only alright, so the power fantasy of either being or taking down the Predator has a lot of weight to carry, one that needs more to keep it sustainable.