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Hunt: Showdown Closed Alpha Impressions

Poorna Shankar Posted:
Columns The RPG Files 0

Full disclosure: Closed Alpha codes were provided to us by PR for purposes of writing this impressions piece.

Hunt: Showdown’s concept had me intrigued ever since I first got wind about it last year. You and a partner are Hunters tasked to hunt down a monster in a hauntingly beautiful map by following clues using your Dark Sight (think Arkham Asylum Detective Mode). Along the way, you’ll have to avoid gloriously grotesque creatures who are all trying to kill you. In short, find monster. Kill monster. Banish monster. Evacuate.

The twist? Other teams of two are trying to do the same. They can kill you, thus eliminating their player threat. Or, they can find the clues before you, get to the monster, kill it, trigger the beacon that notifies other players of their presence, and wait till other Hunters approach them and take them out. Or, they can stalk you and wait for you to lead them to the monster, and then proceed to take you out. You get the gist. Conceptually, the game is setting itself up for some pretty interesting two and a half dimensional chess.

That being said, I’ve had the opportunity now to play a few hours of this closed alpha with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford. We streamed a chunk of our gameplay, which you can view here, along with playing in our down time. This impressions piece, then, will be an amalgam of my experiences from streaming and from playing “offline,” including after a patch.

Keep in mind, Hunt: Showdown is very much an alpha. The purpose of alphas (usually) is to test stability, gather data, and iterate on learnings. It is expected, then, for alphas to be rough in nature.

Before I dive in, it’s worth noting the PC hardware I’m playing on so that my experience below is grounded in some context. My current rig sports an overclocked i7 6700k, 16 GB DDR4 3200 MHz RAM, an overlocked GTX 1080 Ti, and several Samsung SSDs. At the time of playing the alpha, I was running Nvidia driver 390.77. I’m also running this on a 1440p 144 Hz Gsync monitor. So suffice it to say, it’s a reasonable assumption that my PC should be able to brute-force its way through any potential issues as it has in past alphas. Well…

I have played many alphas, and the alpha for Hunt: Showdown is by far the roughest I’ve played. Before everyone starts yelling, “But alphas are supposed to be rough,” yes, I know. But it’s not unreasonable for alphas have some modicum of stability to them. After all, this is code the developers deemed fit to be released in order to be tested by other players.

As expected, the graphics options are extremely limited. You can really only change your resolution, Fullscreen/Windowed options, toggle Vsync, and toggle Motion Blur. While the alpha does seem to support supersampling, when I tried pushing the resolution to 3840 x 2160 in Fullscreen mode, the resolution didn’t take. So for purposes of streaming, I pushed to 1080p in Windowed mode, while playing in 1440p Fullscreen when not streaming.

Performance in the alpha is perhaps the most inconsistent I’ve seen in any alpha I played. While streaming with OBS, I experienced massive fluctuations in both framerates and frametimes. (As a quick aside in case you’re unsure, framerate is the average number of frames you see in any second, whereas frametime describes how evenly or unevenly those frames are delivered. So if you want a smooth 60fps, you’ll want each frame delivered 16.66 milliseconds apart. Conversely, your framerate readout could say 60fps, but some of those frames could be delivered slower or faster than 16.66 milliseconds, resulting in the “judder” many players feel.)

I saw framerates go as high as 70fps, but then tank down to 35fps. There are a few reasons why this could happen:

  1. Very obviously, this is an alpha and thus, sports unoptimized code.
  2. Playing at 1080p with the hardware I have means that the CPU becomes the bottleneck as it strains to deliver data fast enough for the GPU to render, thus causing stuttering in frametimes and consequently, framerates.
  3. I was running OBS which does depend upon CPU, placing further strain on the CPU, compounding the issue from my previous point.

However, I tested this in my monitor’s native resolution, 1440p, without OBS running, and after the game had been patched, and I still experienced mass fluctuations in framerates and frametimes. This leads me to believe that, given my three points above, the first and most likely could be the correct one.

Visually, it’s CryEngine, in my opinion, the best renderer in the market right now. As such, its potential for beautiful graphics are there. Again, being an alpha, the notion of beautiful photorealistic graphics is more of a promise of things to come rather than a delivery at this point in development. This is evidenced by clear graphical oddities and glitches, such as screen space reflections in water literally disappearing as you’re looking at them without changing your camera angle, or global illumination just refusing to stream. This isn’t a knock or a complaint, mind you. This is just an observation.

So rather than focus on pure graphics, I’ll talk about the visual design, which I genuinely love so far. Of course, as with everything in an alpha, these are subject to change. But from what I’ve played, I love. I love the dark pseudo-gothic-western art style. Its Dark-Souls-meets-Crysis aesthetic really works for me. I love the creature design, which, while not being on the same wonderfully isane level of a Dark Souls or a Bloodborne, maintains a glorious grotesquery all the same.

With respect to gameplay, you start by first recruiting a Hunter with the in-game currency, Dollars. Each Hunter comes with its own loadout, consisting of a primary gun, secondary gun, tool, and consumable. Personally, I found the Winfield Primary and Romero Shotgun Secondary to be the ideal combo. Each time you play and bring back your Hunter alive, your Bloodline Rank (player level) and your Hunter Level improve. Bloodline Rank improvements unlock guns, while Hunter Level improvements seem to unlock Traits, like more Health bar slots.

Remember, your Hunter improves only if you bring it back alive, meaning, if you quit or your game crashes, that’s it. Your Hunter is gone and you’ll have to recruit a new one, starting with a new Hunter Level. However, the weapon and equipment purchases you made are not lost. So even though your Hunter dies, the upgrades that you, the Player, bought are still with you. You can use these upgrades to apply to new Hunters you purchase. Again, all of this is completely subject to change.

How’s gunplay? It’s almost maddeningly counter-intuitive. Almost every first person shooter has pretty standard controls. Left mouse button to shoot. Right mouse button to aim down sights. Not in Hunt: Showdown. Left mouse button is melee, most often assigned to the F key in other first person shooters. If you want to shoot in this game, you need to hold right mouse button to bring up your gun to a normal hip fire position, and then you can shoot from the hip. To aim down sights, you’ll need to hold right mouse button + hold left shift + click left mouse button. No first person shooter should require three buttons to competently aim and fire your gun. This is something I legitimately hope gets changed.

What makes this even more insane is that Crytek is the studio that made Crysis, arguably the first person shooter that put Crytek and CryEngine on the map, while simultaneously melting GPUs everywhere. Crysis, despite its ambitious scale and revolutionary tech, still had intuitive and competent shooting mechanics. How can the same studio make such a counterintuitive control scheme for Hunt: Showdown, a game which relies on player reaction seemingly more than Crysis?

When it works — when I can successfully invite Bradford to a match, when matchmaking can actually select a map, when the map actually loads, and when we don’t get server errors — the concept does work. It strikes a good balance between PVE and PVP for me. On the night we streamed, we managed to follow all clues, kill the monster, banish it, and fend off other players whilst doing so. It was genuinely exhilarating. Upon getting to the evac point, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was high tension and just bloody good fun. However, this was the only match we played were we didn’t run into some sort of issue over the course of two hours of streaming. And therein lies the issue right now.

Foundationally, the concept is there. It’s just missing the scaffolding around it to hold it together. Unfortunately, even with two days of downtime to improve servers and a patch, we saw no tangible improvement. Matches still took up to five minutes to load, only for the first game to serve up an error.

In my opinion, this game isn’t ready for alpha. Like I stated above, this is by far the roughest alpha I’ve played. I really do believe the game needs to be taken offline for some time for the server stability and general optimization to be worked on even further, perhaps in internal testing. Again, alphas are meant to test the game’s technical underpinnings based on player experience, but even still, I’m not sure how much useful feedback we can provide if we can’t even get into matches to have said experiences.

So, will the game be good? Will it be worth buying? It depends. The honest answer is we just don’t know yet. I hope Crytek improves server stability and general client optimization so that we can go back, play more, and provide actionable feedback. I for one hope the final game lives up to the concept.


Poorna Shankar