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Hunter - The reckoning
Title : Hunter
Platform : XBox

Okay, picture the scene:

You instinctively clutch the rosewood cross around your neck, as you look up and down the quiet street. Something feels quite wrong tonight, but then you've always felt a sense of disquiet in this sleepy, plain little town called Ashcroft. No, 'sleepy' isn't quite the word. This feeling isn't a quiet, lazy tranquillity - it has purpose like a metronome breathing between the solid click of each swing, beating out the time until whatever is obscured behind the town's thin veil of blandness finally seeps through. You have a strange, comforting certainty that whatever it is, it will try to choke and consume you.

You wait.

It's the smell that hits you before you hear the rhythmic sound of resistant flesh scrapping along the tarmac of the main street - a mix of grassy earth, maggots and sickly sweet flesh festering and melting away flapping skin, exposing bone beneath.

You unsheath your crusader sword and face the lolling figures making steady progress towards you and can almost taste the aching hunger in every set of bulging eyes and taut clawing hands.

A biblical verse emerges in your rapidly clouding mind from your youthful seminary days: "Even in heaven there are angels wielding barbarous weapons."

As you slice through the chest of the first lunging undead, metal releasing spurting blood that covers and slowly congeals on your sword arm, you know that sometimes God releases barbarous angels to roam the earth for The Reckoning.


I so wanted this game to do justice to its origins - as in my personal opinion, the creators, White Wolf, can be attributed with creating the coolest tabletop roleplay system, Vampire: The Masquerade (one of the few paper roleplay games that you could find on the shelves of Virgin stores). It's an engaging world of darkness populated by incredibly well crafted supernatural characters battling for power through manipulation, subterfuge and stark brutality.

Its popularity inevitably spawned a pretty good RPG conversion to the PC that was quite well received, although polygon counts could never compare to the vivid imagination of the human mind.

Understandably, rumours of an X-Box title called Hunter: The Reckoning (H:TR) based on the formidable hunters of the elusive Kindred and all undead was an exciting prospect for the hordes of pale-faced fans in black knitted jumpers.


     

Regrettably, only a handful of games live up to the hype lovingly nurtured before launch and, sadly, this game falls soundly on top of the growing heap of games that exist to squeeze more money out of a popular franchise. Anyone expecting another engaging RPG will be miserably disappointed to find that it's a 3D action adventure and a weak one at that.

It actually reminds me a lot of an old Dungeons & Dragons RPG arcade game I used to play at least seven years ago. That is, that your chosen character gains experience points by killing everything in sight, so that your character's stats and arsenal of spells gradually develop as you progress. The combat system is pretty similar as well, although in H:TR's case you pay 45 quid up front to get mauled every two minutes by silly odds rather than shove two months pocket money in a slot to continue. H:TR's setting is, however, far from a fantasy world, and firmly entrenched in the horror tradition of Jonathan King et al, being set in small town America in a drab little place called Ashcroft, which can only boast a penitentiary as its focal point.

The game utilises the creed (or character classes in disguise) system, taken directly from the White Wolf game. There are four characters with their respective creeds to choose from - Spenser the brawny and no brainer archetype, a man seeking revenge for the past (Avenger); Samantha Alexander, a woman born with the genetic urge to 'protect and serve', she's the obligatory cop (Defender); Kassandra Cheyung, a rich kid who seeks redemption for being so god-damn wealthy through personal sacrifices (Martyr); and finally, you've got the warrior priest character with a suitably Latin name, Father Esteban Cortez, who must devote his life to getting up close and personal with the demonic hordes of hell (Judge). Each character, as you might expect, has stats and spells (or edges as White Wolf calls them), which gradually advance with experience and the edges reflect the chosen creed.

Control of your character is actually very good, the left thumbstick controls movement of your character and the right allows 360 degree targeting, so in theory you can easily attack multiple targets. In principle it ought to make for satisfying combat, but the melee attack combos are incredibly limited and restrictive making for an odd balance of good movement and combos that force you to take unnecessary damage. So when surrounded by zombies you must choose either to break out and run around with your projectile weapon slowly picking them off (which usually takes three shots out of your max six or eight to kill one zombie before reloading with your standard projectile weapon) or simply wade in with a blade and hope that when you activate a powerful combo that the surrounding zombies are in the right place to get hit by its preset moves. Surprisingly, the zombies get pretty damn agile when within striking range and as they spurt the same red stuff as your character you can often find your health has ebbed away after being surrounded.

     

The only saving graces are health and conviction (which charges your edge powers) gems dropped by fallen enemies and the numerous weapons you can pickup that do more damage, like chainsaws, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, mini-guns or my personal favourite the bull-pup assault rifle - stops all known undead in their tracks.

If you're hoping for a branching storyline with nice little subplots then forget it, all RPG elements stop when it comes to the story line. In fact, it's so linear I had to wonder why they even bothered with a story and instead simply started each level with the instructions 'You are at A, please go to B. Oh and this time pick up X number (more than the last level) of object type Z on your way.'

Anyone who saw the promo video for this game will also feel a little cheated as for most of the game you won't be able to zoom in as close as the video suggests. Mind you, the close up camera is pretty useless when you're surrounded (again) by twenty odd undead. Most of the time you'll have to have the camera panned out so you can see what you're doing.

A linear path ought to have ensured some consistency in what your character can do, but no, apparently you can jump into an open skip, but not over the bonnet of a car (although this can vary from car to car). Iron railings with zombies slouching on the other side are, apparently, capable of blocking a spray of machine gun bullets. You can also shatter windows, but not touch lampposts and water hydrants, although your blade will slice through them like butter.

Combat is dull and repetitive. It seems to work on the principle that people who play console games aren't going to notice that you're doing the same thing for hours on end - so kill one of the many zombies around and another will form from the dust nearby and instantly lunge for you; kill one stone golem and expect to have to kill another and another and ANOTHER (in fact, five or six in succession will plop from the sky to be dispatched in the same manner). Throw in some really irritating spider- like zombies called 'skimmers' that chase you, blowing up on contact and causing stupid damage and the fact that running around only spawns more and more zombies, and you can imagine how much fun I had reviewing this game.

Amusingly, the level loading pages provide helpful hints and details about the making of the game, including one that proudly states: 'It took 70,000 man hours to make this game'. I could speculate that if they'd spent 80,000 hours they might have been on to something, as there are signs that it could have been a hell of lot better; possibly banning multiplayer Halo at work in the process could have helped or maybe it was just simply that the HR department misunderstood the phrase 'programming monkey'.

It should be clear by now that this game is crap, if not, well then maybe you're enjoy this lifeless eternally-respawning zombie fest (I've probably never going to get another game to review again from Virgin Interactive for saying it, but there's no point writing a game review if you're gonna turn it into a brown-nosing exercise). Yes, you can play it, there are no major design flaws, but why bother as you'd only be perpetuating the belief that playing videogames are an utter waste of valuable time, which could be better utilised reading a 'jolly good historical novel'. Unfortunately in this case I'm sad to say they'd be right.

A disappointing score of 3/10.
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