Local cooperative is trying to go the way of the dinosaur. Every time I see a first-person shooter that has a healthy online multiplayer and no local cooperative, I moan and reminisce about the days of Goldeneye 007. I loved sitting with three friends on a couch and going crazy with sniper rifles and perimeter mines. While online multiplayer is awesome, its popularity has made some developers forget there are those of us with friends who live in our same zip codes.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge came along with the tag line, “Co-op. Perfected.” This is because the game stresses cooperative gameplay similar to Army of Two, but set in a dark fantasy world. Unfortunately, a few nice ideas and a focus on cooperative play are badly hampered by boring execution.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge puts you in the shoes of either a bald, arachnophobic, sword-slinging human named Caddoc or an Elf with a penchant for violence and a gift with the bow and arrow named Elara. They are a pair of mercenaries that have obviously worked together for a long time. They initially go chasing after a mysterious artifact after Caddoc has a strange vision about it, but then it all gets out of hand.
Hunted is a third-person hack-and-slash game for the most part. Caddoc favors a sword and shield while Elara favors her bow and arrow. Both have secondary weapons, however. Elara also has a sword and shield while Caddoc has a crossbow. The secondary weapons don’t get upgrades very often, though. This means you really want to use Caddoc for melee and Elara for range. You can’t just switch between the characters willy-nilly, but only a dozen or so times in each chapter when you find glowing blue crystals.
So now you know the vast majority of the gameplay in Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. Elara shoots things and Caddoc hits them. That’s not to say that’s all there is. Caddoc and Elara can both learn magic. They can each learn a total of six spells. They both learn the same six spells, by the way. These six spells can be used either offensively or as a power-up for your partner and are upgraded in a very linear fashion by collecting crystals throughout the game. The only other things to break up the gameplay are some rudimentary puzzles. Elara can light her arrows on fire and Caddoc can push large objects. These are used in tandem to discover hidden areas or special weapons, but none of the puzzles ever prove a challenge.
There is a saving grace once or twice per chapter with the Sleg. The Sleg is a glowing drink that temporarily gives you unlimited magic and makes you nearly invincible. This drink comes at a price, however, as characters in the game tell you from the beginning. Not to give too much away, but the ending will change based on your choice to drink or not drink the dreaded Sleg. Drinking it sure is fun, though, as enemies fall by the dozens to your drug-induced fury.
Outside of the normal gameplay, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge features The Crucible, which is a surprisingly deep map editor for creating and sharing customs maps and challenges with the online community. Weapons drops, power-ups, waves of enemies, layouts, and even map themes can be customized. Different customizations are unlocked by collecting gold throughout the campaign or by playing Crucible levels. I found the only drawback to The Crucible is what there is to do with the finished levels: all you can do is play through them with the monotonous gameplay mechanics Hunted features.
Now we’re on to the presentation. If you thought I was mean on the gamplay, just wait. Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is ugly. The color palate is bland and dark, making it sometimes difficult to discern the skeletons or other baddies you're fighting from the pieces of cover or backgrounds they’re standing near. The character skins seem nearly as rudimentary as the wireframes they’re stretched over. The game also seems to repeat the same bad guys as well as the same textures over and over and over again. New enemies are only introduced about once per chapter (of which there are only six) and then thrown at you again and again until you’re blue in the face.
I did say how much I love local cooperative play in a game, right? Well, the online cooperative works fine in Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, but when you try to play locally, it splits the screen into two 16:9 boxes, leaving ample black emptiness on both sides of the screen, wasting tons of screen real estate. Combine that with a dark and low-contrast color palette, and the local cooperative mode is downright unplayable. I had a friend over and we gave up after 15 minutes of not being able to tell the difference between the enemies and the background. What’s worse, the rendering quality of the game actually lowers when in splitscreen.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge sounds good, at least. The voice actors are rather good and the banter between Caddoc and Elara is amusing. They definitely have their own characters that rib each other as much as they work together and watch each others’ backs. Along with The Crucible, this is something inXile Entertainment really got right here. Caddoc really doesn’t like the giant spiders that you frequently encounter and Elara is constantly calling Caddoc an old man, despite her being significantly older than him (she is an elf, after all). This banter never gets old, either. The music in Hunted is good, if very sparse.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge does itself a huge favor in the value category. Even though it won’t change the experience much, you can play through it while constantly switching between characters or you can stick with one or the other all the way through. You can play cooperatively online or locally (if you have a TV the size of Texas), and The Crucible can easily provide uncountable hours of play. If only they had made all those hours more exciting when you decide to play through those custom-designed maps.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge had me excited for a great cooperative fantasy game that I could play with my friends that all grew up playing Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. What I got was an 8-10 hour snoozefest in a dark, dingy, uninspired fantasy world. If you want that great cooperative fantasy game, look elsewhere.