As a child of the late 90’s, I have never seen Predator. In fact, I have never seen any Predator film. I know of them like I know about Xenomorphs, but both of these movie franchises fall into categories I’m not too crazy about: Alien is a space film, and Predator is a war film. Now, before I turn you away completely, let me say I respect these films for what they are. I think the monsters are absolutely badass in terms of design, presentation, and their respective skill sets. But I’ve always found myself partial to the Predators, possibly because I find their dedication to rules honorable, or their hunting techniques captivating. I’m not entirely sure, but when I saw there was a game coming out about them, I was instantly intrigued. Furthermore, when I saw it was bringing back the 4v1 format that was so popular a few years back (looking at you, Evolve), I knew this was too good to be true. So this weekend, during the free trial period, I dove into the world of Predators and found myself absolutely falling in love with the game. So much so, that here I am writing an informal preview just to get it off my chest.

Predator: Hunting Grounds cuts to the chase, no pun intended, fairly quickly. Matchmaking is simple, and surprisingly I didn’t have to wait long at all to find a match, ever. Players can choose to either join a quick match, which will randomly assign you on a team, or through the matchmaking menu players can choose to either be strictly a soldier, or strictly a Predator. I enjoyed that freedom to choose, however I did not discriminate, so I stuck to quick joining. My first match dropped me in as a soldier, following a cutscene aboard a helicopter in which the silent heroes dropped into the jungle with smug looks on their faces, ready for a big manly mission to… shoot things in the jungle. As I took control of my character, I quickly saw this was standard FPS procedure. You’re given a primary weapon, secondary weapon, and some special items ranging from grenades to adrenaline shots that restore health. The game does a good job of making you feel like a group of lone soldiers in the jungle. You’re fairly under-equipped in terms of ammo and supplies, and when downed you can only revive players for so long before they die, and must be revived back at the beginning of the level – I’ll return to this later.

Following my fellow soldiers into the jungle, we soon encountered AI enemies. This was a surprise to me, as I had thought we were here to hunt the Predator alone. I had played the game’s tutorial level, but that only taught me Predator controls, which in turn only taught me how to slaughter humans mercilessly; I knew nothing about being a soldier. Imagine my surprise when a voice-over prompted my team to search for objectives including, but not limited to: finding a computer, protecting the computer as it uploads data, getting to the helicopter, protecting the LZ, and boarding said helicopter. As I was blowing away enemies of varying strength and collecting hidden jewels to increase my XP, I found myself wondering where this freaking Predator was. Then it happened, I watched as an unknown force would swoop from the trees, wipe out a couple enemies, and leave a trail of green as it vanished back into the foliage. It was then that I realized just how incredible this game could be.

In this first round, I personally didn’t make it to the end. Two of my teammates were killed, which prompted my last remaining teammate to head back to the beginning of the level and revive them. As this was lost on a newbie like me, I just thought I had been abandoned, so I held out the objective until I, too, was gunned down by enemies and left for dead. I’m not sure if you’re only given one revive or my teammates just hated me, but I watched and waited until the end to see my team leave and the Predator scream at our chopper as we flew away. This action was, to put it simply, mind-blowing. I’ve played my fair share of shooters and not one has left me feeling like a lone badass holding off waves of enemies in such a way as this. If the Predator had appeared at this moment, I would’ve been dead a lot sooner (and possibly saved in the revive), but I believe he was too busy with the others to notice me left behind. That, or the map size confused him, as it confused me in later matches. The leading downfall of Predator: Hunting Grounds is its map size. Initially, it’s awesome because it keeps the Predator at bay and makes each objective feel like a level in itself. But while playing as the Predator, or even a soldier on his way to revive teammates, the map size can lead to confusion and frustration, especially when up against a 15-minute timer per round.

In later forays as a soldier, I made it to the helicopter. This isn’t to say I made it out of the jungle, however, but I’ll get to that in a second. The whole time, I was so surprised to see how well teams work together even without using headsets. I never talked with my teammates once, yet we still managed to get things done and complete our objectives. Four-player squads vs. AI enemies and one giant tank make for some tight-knit strategy, I guess. But as I was saying about the helicopter, probably the craziest thing about each round is the final rush to escape. Think of it as heading to a Dark Zone extraction in The Division. Players sprint to that LZ, wait for the ropes to drop, and hold on just a few seconds to escape. But all the while, just like in The Division, you’re being hunted – and this enemy is a lot more terrifying. The Predator is a tank with skills up the wazoo. They can turn invisible, utilize heat vision, shoot with ranged missiles, and even stealth kill from behind in one swift motion if you’re not careful. These beasts are hefty, yes, but they also scare easy when aggro’d by four armed soldiers. What I’m getting at is that final battle at the helicopter can make or break your squad. Working together can take a Predator down in seconds, but running wild without watching your back can mean the death of at least half your squad, which still earns a win, albeit with less rewards. These exciting moments help Predator: Hunting Grounds feel like an even meatier package.

If you were listening back there, I mentioned rewards. Hunting Grounds offers customization options in the form of, you guessed it, loot boxes! Thankfully these rewards are easy to earn, but aren’t they all these days? “Why not just spend real-life money on them?” developers ask. That’s entirely up to you, and I’m not going to get into my thoughts on microtransactions here. But what I will say is that the customization options help you do everything from be a more supportive team member with new grenades and supplies, to standing apart from your brothers with clothing options and weapon skins, to even brandishing your Predator in armor and dreadlocks of varying rarities to instill fear among your enemies, er, prey. Every round also earns you points, as does uncovering duplicates in the loot boxes, and these points can be used to unlock even more customization options. There are plenty of unlockables in this game, which will keep players diving in again and again. I’m not going to openly admit that I played until like 2 AM just to unlock a badass helmet for my Predator, but if I did, I think that would be a testament to just how chock-full this game is with rewarding items, no?

Speaking of the Predator, I’m sure you’d like to hear about how it feels to take control of the jungle’s fiercest creature. Simply put, it feels pretty damn good. Probably the most satisfying feature is the inclusion of “Predkour,” which is the free-running movement used to traverse the treetops and spy on unsuspecting prey. As I said before, meandering the open jungle can be confusing and overwhelming, but Predkour makes this a bit easier, especially when using heat vision. Nothing felt better than the moment I saw movement through my lens after screwing around in the trees for five precious minutes, and knowing the game had officially begun. Once that happens, it’s truly a satisfying feeling as you acknowledge you have full control of the playing field now – you just have to be smart about it. Predators can’t just run in blades blazing. A Predator’s health isn’t infinite, and even as you retreat to heal among the trees, invisible, your green blood leaves a trail behind that could ultimately seal your fate if the soldiers choose to follow. This is one of the coolest things about Predator: Hunting Grounds – the freedom to choose your objective. If the Predator is dumb and can’t find you, or chooses not to attack for some time, soldiers can get a lot done and complete the mission, if they’re quick about it. But one of my favorite matches involved tracking the Predator along the tree line, hunting it down until it’s dead, and protecting its corpse from AI enemies until it was retrieved by the military. This resulted in a glorious cutscene involving one meme-worthy handshake, and plenty of rewards for a job well done.

But a smart Predator won’t fall victim to such foolish antics. Being a good Predator requires taking your time and scoping from the trees for just the right moment. One of my favorite kills came from watching the soldiers enter a warehouse together, and as a straggler ran in the opposite direction, I followed quietly behind him, invisible, before attacking from behind and gutting him. To add insult to injury, Predators can take trophies for extra points and customization, which results in a beautiful animation where the Predator tears the entire spinal column from its victim. This takes time, however, so make sure nobody is around before basking in your kill. Playing as a Predator is one of the most heart-pounding experiences I’ve ever had in a game. Being able to outwit opponents, slam down to murder their friend, and escape to the trees left me nearly out of breath every time. The only downside is the amount of energy given to Predators, which can be rapidly depleted if using things like heat vision and invisibility in tandem. Drained energy makes Predators sluggish, and takes away their powers for a short while. But once things are back, the killing machine is on the prowl once again, and let me tell you, being on the Predator’s side of a helicopter escape is just as satisfying as it is from the soldiers’ point of view.

Predator: Hunting Grounds supplied me with experiences I’d never had in any other video game. I couldn’t believe a small, $40, multiplayer-only indie left me feeling the way I was at the end of every match. The craziest thing for me, personally, was the fact that I had no problem with a lack of campaign. The Predator tutorial showed me a glimpse at what a campaign could be, but even without it, I’m at peace with the concept of “The Predator’s only goal is to hunt.” Would I have liked some objectives for the Predator in matches? Sure. But to be honest, finding the soldiers is an objective in itself for the first half of every round. Again, this is the fault of the open maps, but I think with smaller maps, it wouldn’t be fair to the soldiers. So overall, I wouldn’t suggest this get fixed in any way; I’m sure it will get easier with time. Fortunately, time is all I want to put into Predator: Hunting Grounds. I can see myself pouring tons of hours into this one, and with a release date of April 24, I won’t have to wait long to do so. In the meantime, I may just finally watch a Predator movie for research. Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: