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2021 was the year I fell in love with Hunt: Showdown


I hope this isn't the first time someone has told you that you should really try out Hunt: Showdown. My coworker Jacob said as much on this website nearly a year ago, and at the time, I didn't listen. It's one of those games that you always hear is good but sounds too hard or complicated to get into. Hunt can be pretty tough, but it's also fun, rewarding, and produces incredibly tense firefights with guns that look and sound absurdly good.

I played over 180 hours of Hunt in the back half of 2021. Most of those hours were with one or two friends, largely during unforgivably late hours on a work night. Hunt is so excellent, it's the reason I've mostly hung up my most-played game of all time: Rainbow Six Siege.

Along with Escape From Tarkov, Hunt is in a burgeoning PvPvE genre that doesn't have a name yet (I think “raid games” would be a good fit). You might recognize the format from Battlefield 2042's Hazard Zone mode—it borrows a lot of ideas from Hunt. It's not free-to-play, but does get frequent discounts on its $40 price tag (it's only $20 right now). Here's the gist:

  • It’s sort of like a battle royale, but no circle forces players in a single direction
  • Loadouts are purchased with in-game money before matchmaking. You can bring two guns, some medkits, and other side gadgets
  • While it has some looting, extra guns are rare unless you kill another player and steal their stuff
  • You can fight other players, but your main goal is to find monsters, kill them, and extract with bounty tokens to score lots of XP and money
  • Players can extract at designated boats and carriages at any point in a match. Maximum match time is 1 hour

Crossfire

My favorite part of Hunt is its 19th century guns that range from Wild West classics like the Colt Single Action Army revolver to absurd weapons that somehow actually existed, like the whaler's Bomb Lance, which is one part spear, one part dynamite slingshot. It's also neat to use famously bad guns that almost never show up in videogames, like the Lemat: a revolver that's also a shotgun. One of  my favorites is the Specter, a peculiar shotgun loaded from the top that riffs on one of the first pump shotguns made in real life, the Spencer 1882. An early shotgun with a strange action is a detail that may only be interesting if you've watched too many Forgotten Weapons videos, but it's clear Crytek has a genuine affinity for cool guns from history.

Because everything in Hunt is a one-shot kill to the head, and everyone's holding a breech-loading rifle from the Civil War or a six-shooter that takes 15 seconds to reload, you end up with a lot of stealthy encounters that erupt into scrappy duels. Gunfights are messy. There's a lot of missing on both sides as players are desperate to line up their shots without standing still for too long. Like in battle royale games, there's a layer of strategy to picking the right fights and approaching compounds from the best angle, but the lack of a circle means you're not forced into unfavorable conditions by a layer of randomness. 

Guns are what ultimately decide most fights, but in a similar spirit to Rainbow Six Siege, I love how a cheap last-minute gadget purchase (like barbed wire traps or a Mason jar full of angry bees) can turn the tide of a showdown.

Here's a recent example of an encounter that could've only happened in Hunt:

The other day in a match, a friend and I were searching a lumber mill when he suddenly dropped dead from a crossbow bolt. My friend didn't hear where the shot came from, but his death screen revealed that his killer was only a few meters away. I was outside the building where it happened, wondering how I should approach this hunkered-down crossbowman. I had a pair of revolvers that fare well up close, but strolling into a building someone is defending is always a risk in Hunt—I could be walking into tripwires or bear traps.

I decided to sneak around, staying crouched and being careful not to step on broken glass or disturb hanging tin cans. After a few minutes, I'd snuck up to the second floor and could hear the crossbow man's footsteps below me. I figure I'd have the best chance of landing my shots if I get this guy to walk into me instead of the opposite, so I pulled out a bag of blank fire decoys and lobbed a bullet out of a nearby window. As it landed on the road, it perfectly mimicked the sound of a gunshot. The sudden commotion motivated the crossbow foe to crouch-walk up the stairs next to me to investigate. I was waiting at the ideal angle as he entered my view, and one shot to the noggin brought him down. It was the kind of play that you want to proudly display on the fridge. 

Little victories are hard-earned in Hunt, in part because its format lets you decide what a victory is. Hunting down a boss, killing it, and leaving with its bounty is a great boon, but that doesn't always happen.

Sometimes, opposing players kill a boss first and quickly escape. Other times our squad has gotten into a fight early on, barely won, and decided to retreat immediately instead of chancing into another with fewer medkits. One time, we got at least four matches' worth of fun out of one 40-minute Alamo-style standoff against a squad of snipers trained on our windows (they killed us). Another time, a squad of better players picked me off, and my friend negotiated a truce with them over voice chat. We escaped with our lives. A few times, we've even killed every player on the server.

When enjoyed with friends, Hunt is one of those games that seems to magically manufacture special moments. I don't think I'll ever forget the night we were stuck between two squads on a bridge and I got this unlikely headshot with a pistol, or the night my friend and I spotted an enemy and we miraculously shot him at the exact same time.

Unsung praise

Like Jacob a year ago, I have now become that guy who passionately wants to tell more people about Hunt. Its player base is a drop in the bucket compared to battle royale juggernauts like Apex Legends or Call of Duty: Warzone, and yet, it's way better than both of them.

That's fine—by all accounts, Hunt is a continued success for Crytek. Three years of updates have added new guns, tools, bosses, and maps. In 2021, it enjoyed a new high of 32,000 concurrent players. If it were a battle royale game with 60-150 players per match, numbers that low would likely mean annoyingly long queue times, but Hunt fits all of the thrills of battle royale in an economical 12-player lobby.

I think a lot about Hunt's modest popularity. In an age when one popular Twitch streamer can rocket obscure multiplayer games into instant fame, it's weird that Hunt hasn't had its time in the sun. It happened for Apex this year and for Tarkov (Hunt's closest neighbor) last year, so why not Hunt? The old-timey guns may be the culprit, or perhaps its dreary art style puts off players.

Maybe Hunt is just too weird to catch on in a big way, and I'm starting to believe that's for the best. Right now, Hunt's community is a relatively small bunch that quietly enjoys the game and posts cool fan art on Reddit. Cheaters are rare, and toxicity is low. An explosion of players would definitely change that, and I'm not convinced that the theoretical benefits of popularity (adding more cosmetics and guns, I suppose?) are worth it.

So yes, go play Hunt! Tell your friends! You can be that cool person that plays the weird cowboy game with zombies. Just maybe don't tell everyone you know. 

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