Hunted: The Demon's Forge Review (Xbox360)

“A Dungeon Crawl for the Gears Age”. That’s the quote emblazoned on the back of Hunted: The Demon Forge’s box, referencing Epic Games’ blockbuster Gears of War franchise.

So, to address the quote’s implication, is this really “Gears of Warcraft”?

Well, yes and no. While Hunted might take many cues from the Gears series, most notably its third person combat and cover system, it can’t hope to match Epic’s series in terms of execution and polish.

Meet Caddoc and E’lara, our mostly generic protagonists

The visual presentation is one of the worst offenders in this respect. Everything has a fuzzy, poorly defined outline almost as if the game isn’t running in 720p. Animation looks distinctly dated more often than not, particularly the wooden facial motions. Throw in some inconsistent texturing that ranges from good to downright awful and graphical pop-in and the result is a product that looks like it needed a few more months of polish before release.

Conversely the sound is good and the voice acting better. The cast consists of a handful of well-established talent including Lucy Lawless, better known as Xena: Warrior Princess and Laura Bailey, a prolific anime and video game actor perhaps best known for playing Chun-Li in the Street Fighter series.

While the performances are solid they can’t do much to save the pedestrian characters and underdeveloped world. The game drops you (and potentially a partner) into the boots of Caddoc and E’lara, two mercenaries inhabiting a Tolkien derived fantasy world. Caddoc is a burly bald man who specialises in melee combat while E’lara is a scantily lad elf huntress who prefers fighting with bow and arrows.

Off the bat we aren’t given any back-story for our protagonists or a background for the world itself. Our heroes become slightly more fleshed out, moving away from their obvious characters clichés over the course of the game but not all that much. The world on the other hand (which I don’t remember being named at any point) remains by the numbers throughout; expect to be fighting orcs, skeletons and minotaur throughout many typical brown-looking environments.

With some persistence you will gather some lore titbits through glorified audio logs, however these can only be heard fully by standing over fallen corpses or hanging around in menus for minutes on end. When you can’t present your audio logs in a way that at least equals 2007’s Bioshock, you know your game has problems.

Even official screenshots can’t hide the game’s inconsistent graphics

The campaign opens with Caddoc having a nightmare which ends with the white-skinned Seraphine (played by Lawless) calling out to him. The dream turns out to be prophetic as he and E’lara (played by Bailey) almost immediately bump into the mysterious woman in real life. After a series of events our dynamic duo eventually though begrudgingly ends up working for Seraphine. Her ultimate motives are shrouded in mystery but she’ll lead our heroes down a long twisting path filled with plenty of killing nasties and rescuing prisoners.

The plot, while decently paced, ultimately isn’t anything to write home about. Its multiple endings will probably leave you with a bad taste in your mouth too; it pulls the rug out from under you in a manner similar to Fable III, demanding that you play the entire campaign again to choose the alternative option in an essentially binary decision.

The actual game play of Hunted is pretty solid. If you’ve played Gears of War or any of its imitators you’ll know largely what to expect; a third-person perspective, hiding behind cover and gory deaths. Even the controls are similar.

The fantasy setting does demand some substantial differences, however. The split between melee and ranged combat demands different tactics in battle as does an old school reliance on health, mana and potions. Both characters also have access to weapon-specific skills as well as magic spells which Seraphine can upgrade for you through a simple tech tree. Each character can wield the same magic spells though both Caddoc and E’lara have exclusive skills that can be earned and upgraded relating to their primary weapons.

Combined with the decent range of loot in the game, this combat customisation elevates the experience somewhat. The actual feel of the fighting could be tighter and more visceral but aside from the sound department it’s perhaps Hunted’s best feature.

Talking of strong suits, outside of the campaign is the game’s other mode called The Crucible. It’s hardly been mentioned in the other reviews I’ve read but it may be the single most ambitious part of the game. It’s part Gears of Wars’ Horde and Halo: Reach’s Forge, being a highly customisable dungeon creator where you take on waves of oncoming enemies.

Hunted borrows many things from Gears of War including its garish colour palette

It skirts the line between complexity and simplicity well. Each created level is represented by a simple grid on which you drop in a series of rooms that connect in a linear fashion. Each of these has a whole host of variables that can be quickly customised such as appearance, design, enemy types, enemy amounts and player weapon load-outs. A host of premade Crucible maps come with the game whilst your own creations can be shared online and played with others. It does, however, lack a copy room function that would have sped up dungeon construction considerably.

Sadly, this great mode feels somewhat wasted given the severity of the game’s problems and that’s really a running theme throughout. Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a missed opportunity that often shows hints of being a high quality product but it doesn’t really deliver on its promises. With its derivative world and characters, it’s at best a guilty pleasure but probably isn’t worth your time unless you can find it at a bargain bin price.

Game advertisements by <a href="" target="_blank">Game Advertising Online</a> require iframes.