During Tokyo Game Show 2019, we got a chance to play an early preview of the next offering from Illfonic, known for their previous title Friday the 13th: The Game.
While the thought of an asymmetrical multiplayer game was not new at all thanks to titles like Evolve and Dead by Daylight, Predator: Hunting Grounds sounded like a fantastic idea because of the standout IP it was using – that of the Predator.
On paper, the concept was sound. As the Predator, you stalk an elite group of soldiers named only as the fireteam and try to eliminate them by all means necessary before they, well, get to the choppa.
The final result, sadly, could not live up to the potential.
Patience is a virtue and you’ll need lots of it
For starters, it is never a good thing to be greeted by a notice that highlights matchmaking issues in a multiplayer game. Whether it was due to a server problem or due to a lack of players, the life of a multiplayer game hugely depends on effective matchmaking.
Based on our playthrough, it took us an average of 5-7 minutes to get into a match. 5 minutes in matchmaking feels like a lifetime, especially when a full match only takes around maybe 10-15 minutes on average. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and queue for less than a minute, but often times you’ll be on your way to browsing that next subreddit because of how long matchmaking can take.
The longest time we’ve had to endure was around 10 minutes. Well, 9 minutes and 42 seconds to be quite exact, and this was just us getting into a lobby that wasn’t even filled with players yet. Matchmaking alone is a huge hurdle to get by, but Illfonic have acknowledged the problem and are working towards getting that figured out.
You’ll be given a choice on whether you want to queue up as part of the fireteam or as the Predator. It’s not hard to figure out how many players would want to take on the role of the legendary hunter, so expect massively long wait times if you’re choosing that option.
Whichever side you end up on, you’ll be greeted with customization options that sadly don’t do much for the game as a whole. Firearm skins look very basic and uninspired, with the highest tier of unlocks resulting in a simple pearlescent paint job that is just not creatively appealing at all. Some firearms have decent designs (as seen below), but overall the skins lack oomph.
Even the accessories that you unlock are rather drab – from simple bonnets to balaclavas and even to cowboy hats – there are quite a number of options and paint jobs but none of them are visually exciting. Nothing that would make you say “I want that!”
On the flipside, in-game currency is quite easy to earn, and within a couple of hours of gameplay you’ll be able to farm enough money to purchase 1 piece of the high-priced accessory and 2-3 mid-cost pieces. Considering that a $39.99 game should be worth your time, you’d realistically be able to purchase most of what you want… The big question, which we’ll get to in a bit, is how long you’ll want to keep playing the game.
Similar to various other titles, every level you gain will award you with what the game calls Field Lockers, loot boxes basically. Pray that RNG is by your side and you’ll be getting the loot for free instead of spending your hard earned currency. We’ve noticed that the field lockers are quite generous, allowing us to sometimes get 3 pieces of purple loot in a single box.
Part of the the charm of opening loot boxes is how rewarding the act makes you feel, apart from the rewards of course. Sad to say that even this could use a lot of improvement. Opening loot boxes does not feel as special as it should, resulting in a chore that you sometimes just want to finish up so you can return to waiting for 5 more minutes.
Class is dismissed
Jumping in as a member of the fireteam, you’ll be playing as one of four members, each with different weapon loadouts and classes that are broken down into either Assault, Recon, Scout, or Support. These classes are very deceiving, since all members are able to equip the same weapons and the same perks, rendering the actual purpose of the class to be useless. There are tiny differences in some stats like speed and total HP but is negligible enough to ignore. Badly put, classes do not really matter as much as we’d have wanted them to.
One thing that could distinguish you from other players are perks, which are basically talents that improve various facets of your character. If you want to level faster, there’s a perk called “Efficient” that allows more XP from all sources, if you want to take less damage from the predator you’ll want to equip the “OWLF Trained” perk, and so on. You can equip up to a total of 3, but each perk has a cost that will limit what sort of combinations you’ll want to have. Not all perks are particularly useful and you’ll end up having the same perks as other players for the most part and this is a function of the classes not having an impact on the game.
Weapons and their corresponding attachments are locked behind proficiency levels, basically having you use them to level up. As you level up the pieces of equipment you have, you’ll be able to unlock new sights, barrel mods, magazine mods and… that’s basically it. None of the usual grips or grenade launcher attachments or the like.
New weapons, on the other hand, are locked behind player levels, which you’ll naturally get while playing through the game. Overall progression is quite fast, as we ended up with our character reaching level 20-ish by the time our first session was over.
Hunt or be hunted
Congratulations, you’ve finally cleared the matchmaking lobby and now it’s time to hop into an actual match. Given the nature of asymmetrical games, matches could end very quickly, sometimes faster than your actual matchmaking wait time.
While we can imagine that the PC version (Yes there is crossplay) should have no hiccups with the gameplay depending on your hardware, Predator: Hunting Grounds on the PS4 Pro is surprisingly very rough. Don’t get me wrong, it’s playable, but for something that doesn’t look as good as similar FPS titles like Apex Legends or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Predator: Hunting Grounds struggles to maintain a steady frame rate throughout the match.
The game is also graphically sub-par that it feels like a very early PS4 game, maybe even a PS3 game if we’re being brutally honest. It feels that Illfonic kind of went all in on the Predator, making his character model and animations as good as can be, leaving the rest of the game behind as a result.
Gunfight is also not as crisp as other shooters out there. Gunfire is not satisfying and there isn’t much of a difference across the weapons to merit numerous loadouts.
There are a number of missions in the game that will require you to just do a small number of things – destroy an item, activate a console, defend a point, or retrieve an item. Every match you go through will have you accomplish this paltry list of generic goals before you can finally call in the chopper for extraction, which is basically how the fireteam wins the match, apart from actually killing the Predator. There may be different stories and scenarios behind the objectives, like stopping the production of counterfeit bills for example, but you’ll be repeating the same laundry list over and over again throughout all of your matches, which can get really boring after a while. Couple that with all matches being set in well-lit jungles and you’ve got a recipe for burnout within the first few hours.
The Predator isn’t your only enemy in the game. You’ll also get treated to AI that frankly, do not really pose a threat to you. The AI could use a lot of work and they’ll just pop up from out of nowhere to try and stop you from achieving your objective. It’s not wise to ignore them though, since they could still overwhelm you with numbers, but they’re pushovers for the most part and act as mere distractions for the real star of the show.
Predator power, or the lack of
For something that seems so intimidating, with all of the tools like cloaking and high tech weaponry, you’d expect the Predator to simply slice through the competition. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, while the Predator offers an exciting style that can be fun to play when you actually get the chance, it is actually very hard to win as the Predator.
The Predator utilizes a system called “Predkour”, or Predator Parkour (I cringe a little bit everytime I say the word), wherein you can navigate from treetop to treetop, just like the Predator would in the movies. If anything, props to Illfonic for getting this part of the game right. The feeling of controlling the Predator is great and while the controls are a little janky, jumping from tree to tree while stalking your prey is translated nicely by the game.
Being a 1v4 game, the Predator does have an advantage stat-wise. It is stronger, boasts of more HP, faster… just all-around better than a single member of the fireteam. With this in mind, you’ll want to be picking off the opponents one by one, trying to divide them the best you can as they move around completing their objectives. This is easier said than done because the Predator is plagued with balance issues that make it very hard for him to win a match if the fireteam sticks together.
In fact, it is almost impossible to win a match if the fireteam knows what they are doing, which is basically to just stick together. Fundamentally, the levels do not have objectives that require the fireteam to split into groups, which makes the job of the Predator that much harder.
The Predator is also not as invincible as you think, and simply rushing your way into the fireteam almost always means certain death. You can run away and heal yourself, which has an absurdly long cast time, or just as you’re about to die you can self destruct and just take everyone with you.
More than anything, you’ll need to use your wits to succeed as the Predator. Sometimes, the fireteam throws you a bone and they decide to just go their own separate ways, but don’t expect this to happen too often.
Similar to the fireteam, the Predator has his own set of weapons and perks to unlock, allowing you to change up your style as you see fit. I’ve found the most success when I tailored my playstyle to keep away from the fireteam, blasting them from afar with charged shots. It didn’t always work, but it got me a few wins here and there by being a pussy about confrontations.
If by some chance you face success as the Predator, you can treat yourself to his signature gruesome killer moves that pays homage to the film.
It would be totally unfair to disregard the game, because it does have its high points. If you’re lucky enough to get matched with players that actually know what they are doing, the whole duration of the match can be an intense and exciting affair. Between the fireteam not knowing where the Predator is and where he will strike next, it becomes a game of cat and mouse on steroids, which feels very good.
If and when you get a chance to get matched up with a good Predator player, it becomes a sight to see as he leaps across branches and rooftops, cloaking and moving like the wind to avoid direct engagement.
Sadly, the nature of the game lends itself to the fact that your enjoyment is highly dependent on the players you get matched with, which often times can be a very frustrating 10-15 minutes. As a fireteam member, I remember a couple of matches that we breezed through without any Predator sighting. Why? I’m guessing it’s as simple as him not finding us. There were also a couple of times that we got matched into a game with no Predator, essentially turning the game into a PVE session.
On the flipside, you’ll sometimes get lucky as the Predator and go into a match with just 2 fireteam members, which is basically a sure win for all intents and purposes. It’s small (and avoidable) matchmaking hiccups like these that really put a damper on the whole experience and just when you think that Predator: Hunting Grounds is slowly picking up the pace, the game just gets derailed by various issues left and right that make it such a tough sell.
What we liked:
- Predator gameplay mechanics
- Signature Predator finishing moves
- Getting into a match with skilled players is a joy
What we didn’t like:
- Severe balance issues
- Unstable frame rate
- Sub-par graphics
- Useless fireteam classes
- Uninspired cosmetic choices
- Matchmaking wait time
Verdict: Ignore it… For now.
Predator: Hunting Grounds raised a lot of questions from us dating back to Tokyo Game Show 2019. It was full of potential, but also posed questionable design decisions that sadly made its way into the final product. At its current state, it’s hard to recommend playing the game especially at $39.99, which sounds like highway robbery to be quite honest.
A lot of games have been delayed recently and this would have probably benefited from a delay due to the absurd lack of polish that the game still needs. The overall lack of content, lack of variety in the levels, balance and technical issues… these could have been solved if the game had been given more time.
While a lot of our complaints can be fixed with patches, we’ll play it again and maybe reconsider when that time comes, but for now, Predator: Hunting Grounds is something we can cover in mud just like the fireteam keeping away from the Predator.
Predator: Hunting Grounds was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publisher.