Intentional or not, a lot of video game protagonists are probably based on the Predator. This is an angry, 80s space alien designed with the sole purpose of looking extremely cool to a thirteen-year-old. It's such a shame, then, that when the Pred does make the leap to what should be its home world of video games, what we get is yet another naff, underbaked and dated effort like Predator: Hunting Grounds.
It doesn't have to be this way! Developer Illfonic has some history in adapting iconic bad guys into asymmetrical multiplayer games, because the studio did the exact same with Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th: The Game. You'd hope that, even if Friday the 13th was more than a little B-movie, it could at least be built on and learned from when it comes to something as ripe for adaptation as the Predator.
And, buried in the jungle mud, Predator: Hunting Grounds does have some nice ideas. Its sole game mode - asymmetrical multiplayer, pitching one player as the Predator against several others as semi-defenseless grunts - has a premise that's decent enough, but is just lacking in execution. Playing as the Predator is always a cool idea. And playing as a grunt, especially with a friend, can be a good laugh for a little while, too, one of you shrieking as the Pred decloaks right on top of the other, another frantically emptying a clip into a bush when it pops off a few shoulder cannon pew pews from some vague direction in the trees.
Moments like these, teasing out recognisable nods to the films, suggest Predator: Hunting Grounds needn't be that bad at all. The Predator's movement through the trees while cloaked - when you do manage to get a shimmery glimpse - is nicely done for instance. Hard to track, hard to hit, weirdly euphoric when you clip it and manage to spill some of that iconic green blood, and terrifying when it roars after healing.
You can cover yourself in mud to hide from its heat vision, which is simple and silly but something I absolutely love, because that's what 80s movies are all about. Reviving eviscerated allies involves heading to a reinforcement point marked on your map with a little bicep-bulging handshake icon - another memified wink at the camera - and the Predator's own skills feel quite nicely pared back, in a way. Heat vision only picks up enemies in the close- to middle-distance, so the start of most rounds as the Pred feels like a deliberately hands-off stealth game where you're forced to track your play using actual intuition, instead of following arrows on the UI.
The Predator itself is the highlight, unsurprisingly, stealing the show regardless of the side you're playing on. But that also means it's obviously better to play as than against, as evidenced by the fact it takes an absolute age to get a game if you want to give it a try. The executions you can perform to gain "trophies" are on point - including special longer ones that force your victim to watch a gruesome, protracted cutscene of their spine being ripped out, in the vein of Mortal Kombat - even if they play on the later Predator movies' puerile reliance on gore. The sound effects are ace. All the beows and pews and gargled purrs are wonderfully exaggerated, and everything the Predator does is louder than it should be. A blunt way of adding oomph to your sound design, sure, but this is a fairly blunt piece of 80s action flick source material, after all, so it works!
But that's really where the good stuff ends. To dive into the mode itself - again, the mode - most of your time will be spent playing as a marine, where your task is to get to the chopper (we're pushing it with references now). But first you have to fight your way through waves of gormless grunts, for some reason, that stand around the odd generic jungle military camp doing nothing. You'll have to defuse something, or interact with some laptop or other doodad, and then you go to another part of the jungle to an identically bland military camp and do it again - and then if you're lucky it's probably back the other way once more. It is indescribably lame, a cycle of banality playing out on just the three indiscernible maps, serving absolutely no purpose other than to give your squad something to fiddle with while they wait to be murdered from behind and sent back to the lobby.
The Predator's also hamstrung by some shonky controls. The tree-hopping Predkour system (real name!) is a little uneven, mostly letting you glide quite satisfyingly from one red-highlighted branch to another but, occasionally, also causing you to furiously spiral back up, down and around the same bit of tree trunk over and over like a big invisible squirrel on crack, which feels a bit less cool. You'll spend much of your time as the Predator invisible, which is cool, but this also consumes energy, of which you have a limited amount, and while shooting your pew pews and doing big leaps consume energy too, forcing you into what should be a clever tradeoff as you try to position yourself for the kill, it's not that clever in practice. Landing a hit with your shoulder cannon - or indeed any weapon, on either team - is bizarrely difficult against moving targets and usually just gives away your position, and so is rarely worth it when compared to just landing next to a squad and mashing melee for a while.
Then there's the inevitable, insufferable progression system, its menus ripped clumsily and unceremoniously from Call of Duty - perks, attachments, and little orange "new gear" menu notifications and all. There are loot boxes, of course, which you're showered with after every round. So far I've unlocked some Uncommon ski goggles and a Rare knitted beanie for my commando to wear in the tropical jungle, and some Epic Predlocks! (Predlocks are what the Predator's hair is called, but as far as I could tell equipping my new Epic ones just made them look marginally more brown). I could also attach an Exotic-tier bobcat skull to my Predator's backside, if I were feeling fresh - and lucky enough to win one from a crate.
Ultimately though, Predator: Hunting Grounds' weakness isn't the cluster of little pet peeves, it's the fact that there is very, very little game here, and there's very little fun to be found within it. At best it boils down to some goofy laughs with friends, or some limited time as the Predator spent playing with your food. Which is true to form, in fairness. But the best Predators only collect trophies from prey that are worth their time, and Hunting Grounds is absolutely not.
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