Are we in the second wave of battle royale games? I think we must be. Games like Super Animal Royale and now, Hunt: Showdown, are taking the genre in new directions and trying fresh approaches and mechanics. Bravo, I say. In the case of Hunt: Showdown, a unique setting and gameplay elements help distinguish the title from the crowded field. Although it would benefit from variety, it just might be an option to consider if you’re tired of Fortnite and its kin.
About as far from a military shooter as you can get, Hunt: Showdown takes place in the swamps and bayous of an alternative history, late 19th century America, one that has been overtaken by all manner of zombie-like creatures and other monsters. Ranging from garden-variety undead to much more powerful demonic mutants, the supernatural foes are only one element you face. Because this is a battle royale, you are also squaring off against 11 other players (playing solo or as teams up to three), all seeking three hidden environmental clues that will ultimately lead to a bounty, a mini-boss to kill and extraction from the map and victory. Unlike most games in the genre, the final goal is not necessarily to kill everyone else but to escape. That might be a slightly simplified description of the game’s two modes, but let’s face it, it comes down to survive or die. It always does.
Hunt: Showdown is a challenging game that requires patience, thought, luck and planning. Weapons are slow to reload, cumbersome and mostly variants on 19th century handguns, rifles and bows, with an assortment of melee weapons and some fanciful modifications. As in many survival focused games, the early hours — including the tutorial — are rough going, with your character being very weak and the two featured maps unfamiliar. But in time you learn the good cover spots and become attuned to the weaknesses of the mutants and the favorite hiding places of your opponents. No matter how many hours you sink into the game, however, it can go south in a matter of moments and after level 11, death is permanent and you lose the character you have lovingly developed.
Aesthetically, Hunt: Showdown has a bit of a haunted, monster-infested Red Dead Redemption vibe, and its southern gothic maps are detailed, atmospheric, creepy as hell and well built for their purpose. Everything is a bit de-saturated and looks worn out, with excellent lighting that adds to the tension. The creature design is nicely horrific, too, though the human ghouls and zombies are a bit familiar to those seen in other games. Hunt: Showdown has spare music but what’s there is very good, especially the title/loading screen theme, simple and evocative.
Hunt: Showdown doesn’t try to do a lot of things beyond its core mission, and the challenging gameplay and limited selection of maps — though they are expansive and interesting — might be a barrier to long-term enjoyment. Assuming the developers keep infusing the game with content, Hunt: Showdown is a fresh take on the genre that has already become a bit stale.