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Predator: Hunting Grounds Public Beta Impressions

Predator: Hunting Grounds is based on the 1987 hit Predator. This movie keeps on giving, even more than 30 years later after its release. The scifi action thriller, which features an impossibly buff ragtag team of military special forces go face-to-face with an alien warrior, is still respected and lauded to this very day for numerous reasons. Its action is delightfully over-the-top. The practical effects of the Predator are impressive. The combination of action, humor, and haunting suspense have left an unforgettable mark on the conscious of pop culture. Of course, no one will ever forget the legendary one-liners, called out by Dutch, played by the legendary action-man himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There have been video games themed to Predator, dating back to the NES and being featured on various platforms, including the Atari Jaguar and early 2000’s PC’s. The last appearances of Predator in video games include 2010’s Alien vs Predator and a special multiplayer mode in 2017’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Now, developer Illfonic is ready to jump right into the thick of danger with the upcoming release of the newest game to don the Predator name, Predator: Hunting Grounds. The public trial, which took place on the weekend of March 27th, was the first look into the dynamics of this asymmetrical multiplayer game. For me, it was my second time playing, having first experienced Predator: Hunting Grounds in Seattle during PAX WEST 2019. At PAX WEST, I only had a brief moment with the game, playing as the Predator against a team of exhibitors. Thanks to the public trial, I had a better opportunity to experience Predator: Hunting Grounds. After several hours with the gameit was shaping to be a strong and enjoyable asymmetrical multiplayer game. Though, like Dutch in the final act of the movie, Predator: Hunting Grounds will need to adapt quickly to overcome a crowded market place.

Predator: Hunting Grounds puts 5 players in a 4v1 asymmetrical combat design, where four players are part of a special operations fireteam, and one player gets to be a Predator. For the fireteam, players work as a team to accomplish the maps’ multiple objectives. Similar to games such as Helldivers, the fireteam fights random enemy combatants across the map, primarily enemy soldiers the US government would like to see eliminated. The fireteam consists of several different classes, each with their attributes, along with access to a variety of firearms and tactical options. The goal for the fireteam is to complete the various objectives scattered throughout the map, then get to the chopper for extraction.

For the Predator, the true victory is in the thrill of the hunt. Armed with cutting-edge extraterrestrial tools and weaponry, the Predator takes to the trees to stalk prey and eliminate targets when they least expect it. The Predator uses advanced imaging sensors to track targets, including the famous thermal vision. Additionally, the Predator uses the classic optic camouflage and can utilize this stealth to remain nearly invisible, and strike its targets with speed. For the beta, the Predator is armed with the wrist blades and shoulder-mounted plasma cannon. The goal of the Predator is to eliminate the special operations team, even if it means sacrificing itself with the explosive wrist computer.

Playing as the Predator takes some getting used to. There are many more systems and play mechanics in use with the Predator, from movement to combat. As a Predator, relying on stealth action is essential. The Predator is not built for a stand-up fight and can easily be slain in a hail of bullets. The advantage is stay above the enemy and strike when least expect it. Fortunately, the controls are intuitive and properly displayed in Predator: Hunting Grounds. As the Predator, climbable surfaces are highlighted in red, and just like the movie, the Predator ascends and maneuvers through the trees with ease. The most important aspect of the Predator is separating and isolating targets, then taking them down with extreme lethality.

Once the controls are learned, playing as the Predator in Predator: Hunting Grounds is incredibly rewarding and constantly filled with a combination of tension and great reward. In several matches I played, there was a mixture of fear and excitement, stalking the enemy players, finding a means to isolate them, and then using the advantage of the chaos of combat to swoop in and take them down. Each moment, my heart was in my throat and I was doubly careful not to expose myself to enemy fire. On several occasions, I was successful in not just downing an enemy player but turning them into a hunter’s prize. When a player is downed, the Predator can either perform a quick kill or a full execution. If players want the big prize, they will want to perform an execution. Performing a full execution claims the player as an enemy trophy, and like the movie, the players’ skull and spine are ripped out of the body, much to the horror of the surviving fireteam members.  There is a chance for the enemy fireteam to resurrect a player at a reinforcement point spawned on the map, making the race to eliminate the enemy fireteam that much more intense.

While the Predator can take a good deal of damage, the Predator is not a frontline soldier, and direct combat is not recommended. The shoulder cannon is useful but does not have auto-aiming. The wrist blades are effective at greatly damaging enemy soldiers, but are recommended to be used when an enemy soldier is worn down. Should the Predator be wounded in combat, the Predator can heal itself with the advanced alien tools from the movie. Additionally, a second wind exists for the Predator, slowing down time and allowing the Predator to escape a hostile situation. However, second wind also allowing players to sacrifice themselves with self-destruct. If players are quick enough, they may arm the wrist-computer to eliminate the enemy team in a small nuclear blast. Should they choose to stay in the hunt, they may choose not to arm the computer. My time as the Predator was incredibly exciting and unforgettable, filled with moments plucked straight out of the movies.

I had some time to play as the fireteam as well, and after several missions, the fireteam plays in a familiar but enjoyable way. As a soldier, Predator: Hunting Grounds becomes a traditional first-person shooter, with an emphasis on clustering together and staying tight-knit. Separating from the group and going solo is a dangerous tactic, leaving you wide-open for an ambush from enemy soldiers or a Predator. Throughout the map, various objectives need to be achieved, from collecting data to tampering with computers to securing supplies and eliminating personnel. The enemy soldiers, which consist of drug runners and Russians, will stop at nothing to eliminate you. The chaos of a firefight is intense, but it may also be the perfect cover for the Predator to eliminate you and your team. In addition to primary objectives, optimal drop pods will appear, allowing players to accomplish bonus objectives.

Engaging in firefights is quick and responsive, and the controls allow for quick access to grenades, healing items, and secondary weapons. For the beta, the enemies were generic, sporting assault rifles and shotguns, but were numerous and smart enough to be dangerous.  However, the soldiers would appear and engage and not employ any kind of advanced tactics to stop you. The biggest threat is the constant unease of the Predator, which can ambush the team at any moment and easily eliminate a member of the team. Ammunition is plentiful, but not infinite, and recklessly spraying bullets leads to disaster. Being a member of the fireteam lead to great moments, including perforating a Predator, and even being the only soldier to successfully escape to the chopper and complete the mission, much to the frustration of the Predator.

As for presentation, Predator: Hunting Grounds was understandably rough, given that this was a public trial and the game has not yet been completed. However,  the choices it presents are promising. The sound effects of the Predator are sampled straight from the vaults of 20th Century Fox, meaning that the hallmark sounds of the Predator, from the bone-chilling roar to the sounds of the visor changes, are appropriately sampled and implanted in Predator: Hunting Grounds. The music distinctly feels like the first film, and the banter among soldiers and the commander overseeing your operation feels appropriate to the feel of the first film.

Predator: Hunting Grounds certainly lays the foundation of a fantastic asymmetrical multiplayer experience, but where it needs to improve is in variety. More weapons, more enemies, more levels, and more objective variety. While Predator: Hunting Grounds was in open public beta, I couldn’t help but feel a large degree of repetition. Additionally, smaller improvements would go a long way, such as a wider map and wider areas for the Predator to traverse. Predator: Hunting Grounds certainly hints at a larger selection of customizable options, including the lethal smart disc and using a female Predator. Predator: Hunting Grounds will contain more firearms then the beta and the infamous minigun used in the original is featured as a pre-order bonus, but it is unclear that other weapons, including the M16A2 rifle Dutch wields, will make an appearance.

Predator: Hunting Grounds shows a lot of promise. I had a blast each time I dropped into the game. Whether I was ripping skulls out of unsuspecting soldiers or getting to the chopper on a razor’s edge, Predator: Hunting Grounds is shaping to be another strong online experience from Illfonic. There will be hurdles to overcome, especially when competing with other online multiplayer games. The biggest struggle will be the constant support of new content and items, as well as maps, including the possibility of changing gameplay styles for future content. Though, after playing the public trial of Predator: Hunting Grounds, Illfonic certainly has another solid title on their hands. For those itching for a new online experience, I encourage everyone to “stick around!”

Predator: Hunting Grounds launches on 4/24/20 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Epic Games Store.

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