Hunted: The Demon's Forge Preview (Xbox360)

Co-operative games, according to Inxile’s Matt Findley, should be about making people work together, exploring possible combinations and seeing how exciting things can get when two or more people use their characters’ powers at once. So we were sent down into the depths of a London hotel where various pods had Hunted: The Demon’s Forge running, linked together so the assembled journalistic throng could see just whether Inxile’s vision for a wonderful two-player experience had come to fruition, or whether all the previous talk had been just so much hot air.

E'lara's armour leaves very little to the imagination...
Initially it was a solo experience, just so we could get to grips with some of the mechanics. Controlling either the muscle-bound Caddoc or the elven beauty E’lara, who incidentally doesn’t seem to bearing any underwear bar a pair of leather flaps, it’s immediately obvious the gameplay doesn’t depart from your usual hack-and-slash affair.

Interestingly, both characters can effectively wield the same weapons, although Caddoc is better with the sword and E’lara is handier with the bow. Both can use spells too, once the ability to purchase new abilities has been unlocked. They’re meant to be mutually compatible, combining together to maximise damage and defence, but it was impossible to tell exactly how well the spell system works with the limited amount of play we had with it.

Essentially, we were limited to the bow and the blade, but that was fun enough. On a personal level, it was more fun to hang back and take foes out with a well-placed arrow through the neck, so it’s good to see that there are two distinctive play styles available for those who prefer either this cautious approach or the wading in with a melee weapon one.

Once we’d got used to the controls and played through the prologue, seeing the beginning of the main story and meeting Lucy Lawless (she plays Seraphine, a mysterious leather-clad siren), it’s time to get together and hopefully feel alright, in a co-op sense.

Headphones were donned, mics checked and it was on into the first of two levels set in a besieged town. Your correspondent chose E’lara, mainly because of the aforementioned cautious play style, but also because it’s much nicer in a third person game to stare at the rear of a sassy female than a sweaty brute with a bald head.

My comrade informs me our mission is to help the mayor of Dyfed (isn’t that in Wales? - Ed) and also see off a ridiculously over-sized siege tower that’s lumbering towards the centre of town. Picking our way through the waves of grotesque monsters attacking us, we both use the in-game cover system to pick off enemy archers before my buddy wades in as Caddoc to finish the stragglers off.

When he gets overwhelmed and goes down, the customary revive can be performed from a distance, E’lara tossing a revive potion unerringly across the level. Generally it was me doing this, as the melee character will usually be the one taking damage and being forced to the ground.
“Ouch!” screamed Caddoc as E'lara accidentally sliced his foot off
Picking our way through the battlefield, we reached our target, firing a mounted ballista at the approaching tower and toppling it to the ground. While I manned the device, my ally had to work to keep the enemy from killing me. From there, the next part of our journey took us into a dungeon and, eventually, right into perhaps the biggest issue we might have with Hunted: checkpoints.

This second section features an area that is meant to symbolise one of the strengths Inxile sees in Hunted, the desire to get players exploring, working together to solve riddles and find treasure and loot. There’s plenty of the stuff lying around, but only the truly adventurous will find the hidden wealth.

In this dungeon, we found the optional task of finding four runes which would uncover a hidden mystery, so naturally we went off exploring. After a good deal of time spent searching for the runes, we were accosted by a glowing skeletal enemy and were killed.

Restarting at the last checkpoint meant going all the way back to the start of the level. An issue that might crop up with Hunted then is that people don’t ever bother with exploration because one mistake will mean a long trudge back over previously played areas, something nobody ever likes to do. Unless they’re mad.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like this will be something that changes between now and release, but there’s always hope. It would be a shame for the game to be spoiled by something as easily fixed as bad checkpointing.

Otherwise Hunted looks like it’ll be a solid slasher with a heavy emphasis on co-op. It’s definitely going to be challenging, as our foray into the game was met by a number of deaths and frantic revival potion tossing. In fact, I was in the process of tossing one off (boom-tish - Ed) when I was slain in unceremonious fashion.

While one player uses the placed weapon, the other needs to provide adequate protection

A few questions do remain unanswered, however. Will the magic system work to promote cooperation? Will later levels require more than just covering each other a bit in terms of co-op puzzling? While the signs are encouraging to an extent, it’ll take more than a couple of early levels to be able to tell properly.

Most Anticipated Feature: The Co-op elements are where most of this game's fun-factor is going to come from.