Hunted: The Demon's Forge

[GDC 2010] Co-Op, InXile-Style

Hunted: The Demon's Forge brings the dungeon crawl back with an interesting take in online co-op. We take our first peek.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: March 15, 2010
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It's pretty clear that the Unreal Engine is being tapped to offer more than your normal raft of claustrophobic corridors (though there are those) and crumbling ruins (ditto). At a few points, we got a peek at some absolutely gorgeous vistas -- including one where a lumbering beast strode through off in the distance, offering a bit of foreshadowing about possible boss clashes later on down the line. At one point, a statue is toppled, causing a chain reaction of crumbling pillars that crushed an enemy manning a ballista and illustrating that things are hardly static in this world.

It also gave the dev team a chance to really hammer home the idea of co-op at a distance; if a partner goes down, they can be revived up close and personal, of course, but that same revival potion can also be hucked from surprisingly far across the level. Along with long-distance spells and even enemies that respond better to melee vs. ranged attacks, it's pretty obvious the whole idea of distance is being used in more than just the odd one-off staircase or archway.

Should one opt to head online to replace the AI-controlled buddy (sorry, no local co-op/split screen for you), that narrative offers some interesting options. Since the story is obviously rather linear (though there are a few side areas that we'll get to in a second), joining someone else's game can put you significantly ahead of or behind your own course through the game if you've been playing things solo. In this case, all the power-ups (done by crystals rather than XP, remember) that you apply to your character can be claimed when you exit, pulling them out of your game. Sure, you'll be stuck back where you were when you joined a buddy, but you'll be far more powerful too. The only catch? Those crystals you looted while playing in the other person's game will be gone from yours. Can't have players being too overpowered, now.

Though Hunted doesn't have a firm release date yet ("when it's done" is an increasingly rare target, but InXile is happily touting that as the only benchmark for when the game will hit shelves), what we saw running on an Xbox 360 ran surprisingly well -- often upwards of 60 frames a second -- which shouldn't be terribly surprising given that engine's cozy nature with the 360 hardware. Even still, the game is being developed for a simultaneous PS3/360 launch... whenever that actually happens to be.

UE3 really is being plied toward creating some impressive and varied areas, though. There's a lot of detail without everything looking like it's coated in slime; corpses sway lazily as they hang from chains heading into one corridor, while a far-off light spills a decidedly non-bloomy glow over the open areas down in one part of the dungeon's ruins. Puzzles, broken up into a 40/40/20 split of easy, slightly difficult and ultra-rewarding-but-tough dot the various snaking passageways. The one instance we were shown was a simple two-person effort that had Caddoc standing on a switch to open the eyelid of a statue, at which point while E'lana used a burning brazier to light one of her arrows on fire and thwip it into the waiting eye socket.

The puzzles are meant to lead to better spoils, which in turn can mean more powerful equipment or spells down the line, so there's an appreciable reward for sussing out some of the puzzles in the game. The skull was rather passively tucked into the world, so it would appear that actually finding these little side paths is part of the puzzle in and of itself.

Hunted: The Demon's Force definitely has some promise going for it. The idea that the dungeon crawler has sort of fallen by the wayside isn't really marketing speak; there just aren't a lot of romps through caverns and catacombs these days, and if InXile and publishing partner Bethesda can lock down the bits of humor and exposition while keeping the creativity of the level design up, this could definitely spell the rebirth of one of the oldest of the old-school adventure types. We'll be keeping an eye on this one, and when we hear (and play) more, you'll be the first to know.
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