Its 1987 and America’s greatest weapon, a collection of testosterone, biceps and one-liners that border on the divine, are absolutely buggered. In a humid jungle, a creature is hunting the almighty assemblage of action stars, picking them off one at a time and in increasingly gruesome fashion until only one man remains.
Predator remains to this day a one-shot wonder that defies conventional logic. That original setup of hunters and prey, badasses forced into a corner when the metaphorical bigger fish in the lake comes calling, has been often repeated over the last couple of years and outside of the criminally underrated Predators, never properly replicated again. The same could be said for Predator video games as well, as solo efforts to translate the jungle terror of the original film into a tense video game experience have never truly succeeded on that front.
For those diehard fans of all things Yautja, Predator: Hunting Grounds emerged as the latest hope to reverse that trend. Cleverly positioned as an asymmetric game of Player versus Player versus cannon fodder AI, the blend of tension and action that developer Illfonic promised was just what true believers were after. Finally, a good Predator game!
Predator: Hunting Grounds…is not that game. At least, not yet.
There’s a lot that Hunting Grounds faithfully replicates from Predator, including the concept of it being a good idea on paper with a poor execution on PlayStation 4 and PC. The core loop of Hunting Grounds is a solid one: A game kicks off with five players, one of whom who’ll be bouncing through trees as the surprisingly agile intergalactic hunter. Illfonic’s Predator admittedly plays well, damn well even. Using a combination of gadgets, skills and brutality, Predator players need to juggle these elements into a style of play that prioritises a tight balance of risk and reward gameplay.
As powerful as the Predator may be, he (or she!) can only take so much abuse before its game over. A cunning Predator knows exactly when to strike, economically utilising its strength and arsenal to constantly harass the opposition and pick them off one at a time. Active cloaking that bends light around the fearsome warrior, a shoulder-mounted cannon and various other brutal hunting gadgets all combine with Predkour agility (I crap thee not this is an actual term in the game) to create the deadliest hunter in the cosmos.
On the hunted side of the spectrum, are you and three other meatbags armed to the teeth with enough military ordinance to lay siege to Leningrad. Soldiers have a tougher challenge on their hands, as not only do they need to accomplish a set of objectives before they can cheese it out of a warzone, but they need to deal with local militia hellbent on perforating their skull with high velocity lead.
The overall objective is to stay alive, get the job done and not have your skull ripped out through your ribcage while you’re being hunted. Thanks to some phenomenal sound design, you’re acutely aware of the Predator whenever its in your general vicinity, the hum of its heat vision and the audio splash of its cannon dialling up the tension to nerve-wracking levels as you find yourself engaged in fight or flight mechanics.
It is possible for a tightly co-ordinated team of grunts to take down a Predator, while the Hunter himself can still have the last laugh by taking everyone with him when he self-destructs at the very last second. It all sounds good…and then it all goes to hell.
Predator: Hunting Grounds is best described as a fantastic idea with terrible technical execution. You can forgive a game for looking like one ugly mother-lover, but Hunting Grounds lacks any of the polish that you’d usually find in a completed title. To call it a beta version of a full game would be a compliment, because at least those iterations don’t come off as rougher than sandpaper toilet paper in the mechanical department.
There’s a number of issues plaguing Hunting Grounds, ranging from basic user interface quality control that would make a graphic designer choke, occasionally sticky controls (one instance had me doing a standing Pirouette) and weapons with no real logic to their power and range. The core basics are there in working condition, but there’s an unmistakeable lack of fine-tuning that permeates throughout the entire game, stinking up the joint.
This filters down to the gameplay, which gets chaotic during the best of times and is littered with ideas that simply don’t make sense. As a soldier of fortune, you’re tasked with three core objectives that usually follow a set routine: Go here, shoot that, defend this and exfiltrate to a nearby choppah. I mean chopper.
It’s a solid system, one that allows for a Predator player to track you down and spend some time terrorising your party, but when you’ve got objectives that require you to find the tiniest of objects hidden in a map or you’re slapped with an army of enemy troops who have somehow mastered the art of teleportation, then it’s a frustrating experience.
Worse still, is how Predator: Hunting Grounds is a game where you spend more time in a lobby waiting for other players than you do actually playing the game. It’s not uncommon to sit for a good 5-10 minutes waiting for a party to fill up, with one such notable instance being when I spent a good 20 minutes chatting to Gareth from NAG while waiting for a game to start. With crossplay for PlayStation 4 and PC, you’d expect a healthy slice of players to be ready to rumble at any given time, but that’s not the case.
Arnie help you if you’re planning to do a quick session as the Predator, because not even a machete thrown by the world’s most famous vegan action movie star will convince you to stick around for an intolerably long waiting time. And yet the game gets even worse still, thanks to its mechanics never being properly explained to players. Aside from a brief Predator tutorial level that only addresses the very basics of movement and combat, you’re pretty much left to fend for yourself and learn the ropes without any guidance.
There’s a number of tips and tricks players can make use of to get the most out of Predator: Hunting Grounds, but unless you’re ready to read pages of text you’ll never know about them. Slathering mud all over your soldier, using the Predator vision to ping loud hotspots and using a last resort self-destruct system are all part of the package, if you’re willing to invest time and effort into learning about these systems.
Which I genuinely want to do. Beneath all of the bugs, sloppy execution and technical mishaps, there is a game that I want to play more of. There’s a passion project that nails what it means to be the Predator, to be hunted by a menace from beyond the stars. There’s an authenticity in the game that is unfortunately undone by having the Predator theme on an eternal loop and only giving players a handful of maps to experience (Jungle, more Jungle and even more jungle but like with a trainyard).
It’s encouraging to see how Predator: Hunting Grounds handles cosmetics and monetisation, generously doling out experience points and loot chests while still taking a step backwards and allowing for duplicate items in each crate. There’s a progression system which is well thought out, encouraging enough play to feel valuable when you earn credits and use them to unlock rad extras for your chosen warrior, while also thankfully steering clear of the system feeling like a live service grind.
When all the stars align, the pieces begin moving and the action heats up, Predator: Hunting Grounds has the potential to be the definitive take on a cult classic slice of cinema action. There’s room for improvement, growth and more Predator puns in Hunting Grounds. I just don’t know if I want to suffer through a game which clearly wasn’t ready for launch, to reach that promised land.
Last Updated: May 5, 2020