With the rise of cooperative based games like Overcooked, Grand Theft Auto V (which is still going strong all these years later), Destiny 2 and The Division 2, a strange genre has emerged in the form of competitive co-op. Games where, as a single player or a team, you work to accomplish an objective set against another (or many other) players or teams. One could argue that all of the games I mentioned previously are competitive co-op, and that’s fine, but in my mind, you have to have more of an objective than “kill all other players.” Left 4 Dead capitalized on this genre perfectly, with one team of four survivors facing off against four “special” infected players in a race to the finish across five levels. In the last few years, there have been a lot of games released in the same vein; Dead By Daylight has pitted unarmed teams against a singular killer, as does Friday the 13th (fun fact; I forgot that Evolve attempted to do the “One vs Four” long before Dead by Daylight). Deceit has a group of six players solving puzzles, four of whom are innocent with two being infected that can turn on the healthy survivors at any moment. However, one game has stood out to me among this new wave of competitive co op, and that game sticks you firmly in a zombie infested bayou.
Hunt Showdown is like if you realized Southern Gothic, filled it with blood thirsty players and said “track these things”. The game takes place in Louisiana circa the late 1800s. You play as a hunter in one of two modes; Quickplay or Bounty Hunt. Quickplay has you play as a random hunter to search for a Wellspring and defend it from other players trying to do the same thing. Bounty Hunt has you playing as a hired hunter (more on that in a bit) gunning for one (or two) of three boss monsters; The Butcher, The Spider or The Assassin. Your goal is to gather clues in a large map to pinpoint a monster’s location, fight it, and then attempt to banish it to collect the bounty on its head. After all that is said and done, you must then make it to an exit and get out alive. Hunt establishes its own identity, however, by making the setting and presentation unique.
First off, you must have a roster of hired hunters to play the Bounty Hunt mode. You can either buy hunters via money earned in game, or by winning Quickplay matches and carrying the surviving hunters over to Bounty Hunt. These hunters all start off with basic perks and usually very basic weapons (unless you managed to grab, say, a Sparks rifle in Quickplay and live). As you earn more money on hunts, you can buy weapons and equipment from the shop. Better weapons can be unlocked for purchase by leveling your bloodline (a stand in term for the player’s account) or by picking them up from other players and completing a hunt while carrying them. If your hunter dies, they are dead forever, and the gear they were carrying is lost with them. This puts added pressure on the player to do well and play at a measured pace; you can just run in guns blazing sure, but that will get you killed most of the time, costing you a hunter, his gear, and any of his equipment. A pseudo-permadeath system like this encourages patient and smart play, rewarding measured aggression and patience over barbaric plays and straightforward approaches.
The game is absolutely littered with enemies in between all of your objectives. You’re not just dealing with your boss targets or clues; you’re also dealing with the people that have been affected by some virus. “The Louisiana Event,” in short, is the source of the mutations in people living in the Bayou. These mutations are creating everything from your standard infected folks and mutated dogs, to things like Immolators; beings who are on fire all the time and charge at the slightest provocation. Each of these enemies has different attack patterns, behavior and weaknesses. These common enemies keep players on their toes while on the trail of bounties, because while they are easy to kill, they also provide key feedback to everyone in the game; sound.
The soundscape is one of the most central aspects of the game, hands down. While out and about on a hunt, part of being cautious is being quiet. The world is full of things that make noise when triggered, such as water and branches. Crows, dogs, chickens, and ducks all exist in the map and have a certain amount of noise that alerts them, causing them to cry out and become a beacon for nearby infected/players. Gun’s aren’t absent from this rule either. Each weapon in the game has a certain sound depending how far away you are from it. The relatively small Winfield rifles carry for a bit, but aren’t too loud (relatively). The mighty Nitro Express, however, can be heard clearly up to 1000 meters. Some areas of the game have broken glass on the ground, causing your footsteps to crunch and make yourself known. Other buildings have hanging cans, bottles or horseshoes, isolating your position in a house to a pack of roaming zombies, or to keen players tailing you for a kill.
So, you’ve stalked your prey, avoided the horrifying Hives and finally arrived at its lair. What ensues is an intense fight to bring the creature down as fast as possible. The boss monsters all move and attack in different patterns, and possess different weaknesses as well. The Spider, being exactly what it’s name implies, is a large, fast arachnid that hits like a truck. The Butcher is almost akin to a wrecking ball, charging you relentlessly while lighting everything around you on fire. The Assassin is otherworldly, striking from the shadows, creating clones of itself, and disorienting the player by using one of the cooler screen effects I have ever seen. All of these boss monsters take a lot of punishment, so it’s up to the player to bring the right tools for the job.
Fortunately, those tools are amazingly designed and realized in the CryEngine. As I said before, the sound of these weapons is on point, but that wouldn’t matter much if they didn’t “feel” right. Weapons feel heavy, with revolvers being single-action cannons, and rifles blowing your (and everyone else’s) eardrums out. Older weapons in games have this punchy quality about them that makes me smile every time I use them. Gunfights in this game are quick and deadly; the arsenal reflects this quite well. At the lower tiers of weapons are the Winfield lever-action rifles and Caldwell revolvers, while the higher end of things sees players using the Sparks rifle (think of it as a sniper’s ultimate tool), the Mosin Nagant rifle, the LeMatt pistol (a personal favorite; nine shots AND a shotgun barrel in a tidy package!), and the Bomb Lance, which is exactly what it sounds like. A plethora of equipment exists, from decoys and alarm mines to the barbed-wire-meets-a-jack-in-the-box Concertina Bomb (also a favorite). There are more creative solutions to killing things like the Hive bomb (bees in a jar) and the liquid fire bomb (works especially well on water). However, players have a limited inventory space, and so cannot carry all of this around like Doomguy; you can carry either one Large and one Small weapon, or two Medium weapons in your loadout, with equipment being limited to six slots depending on the kind. There are even ways around that, however.
Perks, while not necessary in a game like this (at least to someone like me) allow players to customize their hunters to tailor their specific needs. Want your hunter to be able to fan that fancy belt pistol? Fanning perk. Want to make sure those crows and dogs aren’t alerted as easily? Beastface perk. Hate reloading your automatics and losing a bullet in the process? Bulletgrubber. There exists perks for every build out there, as even the more aggressive players can turn their hunter into a bringer of death with the right perk loadout. Even if perks really aren’t your thing, the design team did make some pretty interesting art for the perks themselves, so at the very least there is that.
If this was strictly a solo experience, this game would be pretty fun; I can’t think of another game off of the top of my head that dives into this setting so well (if there is, please let me know). However, while dealing with everything I listed above, I have also hinted at having to deal with other players in your game. Player controlled hunters will be stalking the same prey in teams of one to three, and this creates a tension that only competitive co-op games can really give. During the course of a round in Hunt, you constantly competing with other players to get the bounty’s location and secure the kill. You have to work together with your partner to remain quiet, vigilant, and deadly. I’ve been on single-bounty maps just this last week which have ended in every player in the server (usually 10–12) congregating onto the boss location and having an earth shattering firefight. Bodies strewn about the place, me and my partner picked up the bounty and left, shaken up from what had been a very intense experience. Ultimately, the game scratches an itch I never knew I had, and with more and more players joining Hunt’s weird Southern world, I can hardly take a break to even write articles like this without thinking about jumping back into the Bayou.