Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Predator: Hunting Grounds is a solid idea saddled with a weak AI, repetitive gameplay, slow progression, and uneven matchmaking. It’s a flawed and uneven game that still somehow manages to be amusing.
In this asymmetrical multiplayer shooter, players take on the roles of the Predator or members of a four-person squad of soldiers, called the Fireteam. The Fireteam’s goal is to complete mission objectives, stay alive, and GET TO THA CHOPPA in order to evacuate. The Predator’s job is to hunt down and wipe out the Fireteam. Thematically and aesthetically, it mirrors the original 1980s Predator movie, down to the extremely macho post-match handshakes. But when the game goes wrong, it can feel like a bad version of Call of Duty.
Matchmaker, matchmaker, find me a Predator
The first and most glaring issue is the matchmaking. If you want to play as the Predator, get ready to wait anywhere from four to eight minutes to get into a match. Matches only last 10-15 minutes at most, and if either side is outmatched, it can end even faster, and then you’re back in the queue. A weekend patch sped things up a little, but I was still watching mulitple Tik Toks between each match.
It’s 2020. This is a multiplayer-only game. And these problems were mentioned by beta players a month ago. There’s no reason for matchmaking to be this broken on release. P:HG’s devs, Illfonic, worked on Evolve, which released years ago and didn’t have issues like this.
There are also a lot of other small glitches that are really frustrating. Sometimes my right click ADS glitched out. Sometimes I left clicked but my character didn’t shoot. Sometimes text boxes would flicker, making them hard to read. The glitches in Predator: Hunting Grounds makes it feel like it was rushed out the door.
The world’s stupidest soldiers
Once you get into a match, you’ll find that the enemy AI is primitive. They never take cover, never flee, and have no grenades to throw at you. Their only job is to die to your gunfire - and that is pretty much all they do.
At one point, five of them lined up like dominos and I shotgunned each one down. Each guy watched the dude in front of him catch lead poisoning, and thought “Cool, my turn!” and just stood there. The original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare had better enemy AI.
Due to this garbage AI, huge gameplay opportunities are lost. As the Predator, I tried to rile up the AI enemies to encourage them to call in reinforcements and make life hard for the fire team. I can spook them, but it doesn’t change their patrol patterns. They don’t alert other outposts. They don’t go searching the wider jungle for me, so I can’t lead AI enemies to the Fireteam. I can pick them off for XP, but they’re worth nothing compared to taking down the Fireteam, and they’re so stupid that it’s not an interesting gameplay option.
As the Fireteam, going loud in order to complete mission objectives has no downside. All the AI enemy can do is activate an alarm, which only brings a small number of brain dead AI soldiers to the base. Given that matches are on a timer, there’s no reason to go slow. The Predator might hear your gunshots, but they can find you using their isolation tracker anyway.
The mission objectives themselves are repetitive. Every objective is handled by running into a small military outpost and gunning everyone down. Then you find the right place (usually a computer) and hold down the use button until a meter fills. Maybe you kill a few guys and take a package off their corpse. Other times, you wait for a timer to tick down. You accomplish 2-3 objectives per mission, so after about 10 matches, you’ve seen every objective the game has to offer.
Predator: Hunting Grounds suffers from the fact that it’s extremely hard to balance a 4v1 game, especially one that requires or allows one side to kill the other. Currently, it’s way too easy for the Fireteam to complete their mission objectives and escape. But it’s not fun to do so. Playing as the Predator presents a more unique experience, but then you’re vastly outmatched by the Fireteam.
The Predator’s arsenal is unimpressive at best. You can’t fire the plasma caster on the run, and ADSing with it takes a year and a day, meaning that the plasma caster is pretty much useless up close. The plasma caster projectile does a ton of damage, but it’s so slow that you can easily strafe out of the way.
The plasma caster also has a highly visible laser sight that gives away your position. I’m willing to accept that; it’s on-theme with the movies. But I can’t tell you how many times I had a soldier in my sights and my plasma caster blast hit a thin branch instead of my target. The SUN is plasma. The Predator has a SUN GUN. Why isn’t my plasma blast melting through foliage!?
This might seem small but it’s incredibly annoying: there is no way to tell if you have your cloak active while your heat vision is activated. The combination of these abilities are the core of the Predator’s minimal edge on the Fireteam. The fact that it’s difficult to use both together effectively is ridiculous.
The game never explains the Predator tracking system. Playing on PC, when you first enter the map instance, you need to activate your heat vision by hitting V and then activate your isolation tracker with X. Then rotate. This will create pinkish blips in your field of view which represent members of the Fireteam. Without this ability, finding the Fireteam is hard, especially for new people who haven’t memorized the maps yet
The Predator has no way to control the pace of the match. A smart Fireteam will constantly be sprinting towards objectives, attempting to complete them and exfiltrate as soon as possible, putting the Predator under constant time pressure.
As the Predator, you stalk the team, firing plasma bolts from afar and then fading into the jungle. The tension of enduring / causing this sense of “Oh god, he’s out there somewhere!” is a lot of fun.
This falls apart once the Predator closes in on the Fireteam and attempts to take them out. You get the full array of Predator gizmos you see in the movies - a plasma caster, a net gun, a sword, wrist razors, a bow etc. but you do the vast majority of your damage close up. The melee combat basically consists of flailing wildly at a member of the Fireteam while they back up and shoot at you.
Like the game’s AI, P:HG ignores the last 15 years of design innovation in video game melee combat. I can’t lock onto an enemy so I’m always facing them. So, if you initiate a combo with your sword, you could end up swinging at the empty air as the Fireteam blasts you. I often found myself flailing and rotating my camera to keep a retreating enemy in front of me.
The Predator has no stealth takedown that works on the Fireteam (it works on the AI enemies, but a one-legged aardvark could kill a whole battalion of those). I sort of understand why; if the Predator could just leap out of the trees and take someone down, playing as the Fireteam would be nigh impossible. Did I mention that these kinds of games are hard to balance?
This is exacerbated by the fact that the Fireteam never has a reason to split up. An even semi-coordinated team of four can absolutely house a single Predator. Mission objectives are simple and close together, so even if a soldier splits off from the group to accomplish them, they won’t be isolated enough for the Predator to take them down. The Predator also has no decent area-of-effect weapons, which would give the Fireteam an incentive to spread out. The plasma caster does a little bit of AoE but the vast majority of damage is dealt via direct hits.
It would be great if every match had two Predator players. It would double the number of available Predator player slots, immediately improving matchmaking. The Predators could start in different parts of the map, and would compete to see who could kill the most Fireteam members.
All these complaints aside, the game can still be a gas to play. When you’re exfiltrating, you have to stand in THA CHOPPA zone and wait for it to show up. Meanwhile, AI Private Pyle and his 15 dumbest friends rush you.
The Predator gets a map beacon revealing your location, turning a simple situation into pure mayhem. And then even if you manage to handle the Predator, they’ll try to blow themselves up. You can dash out of the blast zone, or you can try to disarm the bomb by matching symbols on the Predator’s wrist computer.
If you manage to disarm it, then waves of soldiers will try to destroy the Predator body and you have to defend it (this happens whether it’s the exfil phase of the mission or not). And it’s great to watch the Fireteam screw up and die in your atomic blast if you’re a Predator. The game occasionally creates wild, stupid situations that feel a lot like an 80s action movie, but that’s not enough to sustain a multiplayer game for a long period of time.