Poor Desmond. He’s fabulously wealthy and lives in an expansive ocean side mansion in Miami Beach. His daddy — who looks like a doughy Tom Selleck (in other words, Tom Selleck) — doesn’t love him and his super-hawt fiance is unfaithful. To top it off, he loses an underground, Fight Club-style bare hand brawl — right in front of his disappointed dad! — to a dude with mysteriously glowing eyes. It’s enough to make a young man drive his expensive sports car right off a bridge and into the Atlantic. And then, wake up in hell. One part Devil May Cry and one part Dante’s Inferno with a nod to Dark Souls, Devil’s Hunt would like to unseat The Witcher as “best novel-inspired third-person action game from a Polish developer.” CD Projekt Red can rest easy.
As a premise, the story of someone caught between the forces of heaven and hell, struggling with the desire for revenge and longing for redemption, isn’t terrible, and in the hands of a developer with deeper pockets and talent bench, Devil’s Hunt might have been spectacular. Much of what bedevils (no pun intended) the game lies in the area of production values — bland writing or worse, desultory voice acting and dead-eyed facial animation — but it isn’t helped by simplistic action and a cutscene to game play ratio that hovers around 10:1.
After committing suicide — the ultimate sin — Desmond finds himself in hell, doing the bidding of Lucifer both on Earth and in the realms of the afterlife as he both atones for his life and visits retribution upon the evil folk. The vast majority of his foes are humanoid demons of one ilk or another, and it’s immediately clear that the game’s stable of enemies is unfortunately limited. As the game progresses, Desmond becomes more powerful, adding a host of demonic powers to supplement his fist-based attacks. Despite his growing repertory of spells, Devil’s Hunt’s combat is incredibly repetitive, predictable and dull. There is no lock on, and Desmond’s block move is timed to a flashing icon which always seems to appear a little too late. The game’s bosses are particularly disappointing and unimaginative. Desmond’s dodge is not an elegant roll but a quick slide. Other than health, the only other meter is a gradually filling “rage” bar which allows Desmond to change into demon form for a short period.
Devil’s Hunt takes place in some well-designed environments but movement in general is a problem. Desmond can only climb or drop (or teleport) at designated spots, making travel through the levels extremely linear and restrictive. I guess that’s fine as there is little to do in the world anyway, other than use magic to open doors and pick up random scraps of paper that I guess somehow tie in to the narrative. Occasionally, Desmond will find a random soul sitting around on a table somewhere. You know, next to the car keys and wallet, where you normally keep your soul.
The game’s marketing brags about its nearly two hours of cutscenes. They’re a real mixed bag, with some decent character models married to terrible facial animations and a solid story idea wedded to some really awful writing that has axle-breaking plot holes and embarrassingly bad attempts at dry wit. Still, and kind of inexplicably, I rarely skipped through these long narrative sections, in part to follow the character arcs and also because I was in no hurry to get back to the dull combat.
Sometimes people deride big-budget games as conservative, safe products, focus-tested and drained of imagination. But also, a bigger budget allows for quality writing, ruthless editors and designers with the chops to pull off a high concept. In addition to a spectacularly unlikable antihero protagonist, Devil’s Hunt has combat that sometimes feels like an afterthought and endless cutscenes that desperately need the help of better writers and designers. I liked its story, and a better executed Devil’s Hunt could give Devil May Cry or that other Polish novel-based game a run for its money.