In my opinion, sequels are really hard to develop. Gamers expect the same style of gameplay but require an enhanced weapons system, improved graphics and sound, more characters as well as new features that they think developers forgot to add in during the first game’s development process. On the other hand, developers have to deal with the same development time period but they have to produce another game with a similarly long storyline, but with new features. But the developers of Hunter: The Reckoning Redeemer, in my opinion, did a pretty good job with the game.
Wizards of the Coast may be the leading pen-and-paper publisher, with its Dungeons and Dragons franchise being adapted again and again for console and PC games.
But White Wolf is not far behind. Think Vampire: The Masquerade. Next on the list would be Hunter: the Reckoning. A success on the Xbox and GameCube, The Redeemer is Vivendi Universal Games’s third attempt at Gothic gameplay based on the World of Darkness series. (The second is Hunter: The Reckoning Wayward which was released solely on the PS2)
The story takes place ten years after the original Hunter: The Reckoning in the same sleepy town of Ashcroft. The original hunters are back in town, along with a new addition – Kaylie Winter. An eighteen year old redeemer, she was the girl whose parents got brutally murdered by a giant teddy bear in the original story. For the past 10 years, she has been training under Father Esteban Cortez, honing her fighting and deductive skills.
The game opens with an introduction to Genefex, a large corporation which has basically revitalized the sleepy town. They have bought over the prison grounds and converted it to hold their corporate offices. To add more twist to a storyline which is by itself very complex, the corporate CEO, Lucien happens to be a hunter himself. And so the hunt begins…
The game is basically a hack-and-slash game. You kill monsters in sight while trying your best to rescue victims. The Redeemer offers a top down view of gameplay and the camera work has been greatly improved since the last game. Players are now able to zoom in and zoom out during game play using the directional pad.
Players are also given the ability to enable blood, a feature I think would be most welcomed by concerned parents. Friendly fire can also be adjusted, much to the pleasure of players who take pride in killing their own partners.
Players are allowed to choose from five playable characters at the start of the game, namely – the Redeemer, the Avenger, the Defender, the Martyr and the Judge. There are also two locked characters who can be unlocked for maximum fun. A new feature in this game is the use of zombie cards. When enough monsters are killed, a zombie card would appear. If you pick up three cards of the same kind, you will be able to unlock a monster which you can play as. In the demonstration I saw, there were 6 locked monsters, although Vivendi Universal Games hinted at the possibility of some hidden creatures.
Each playable character has unique weapons, edges and supernatural abilities. The Redeemer can switch between her guns and swords, while still using her edge ability. Character stats are also unique. Each character differs in his strength, speed, stamina, melee, accuracy, conviction and edges. This allows for a very flexible way of playing and actually increases replayability. The more you use a type of attack, the faster it will be for you to improve your level of that kind of attack. That allows for a lot of options. You can choose to focus on one type of attack or focus on all three which includes melee, ranged and edge attack.
Kaylie, the Redeemer specializes in fighting with her sword, similar to Kassandra, who is better known as the Martyr. Wyatt is the Avenger who can thwart off enemies with his large axe and swinging attacks. Samanta wields a katana and she is known better as the Defender. Finally we have Father Esteban Cortez, the Judge, who is Kaylie’s teacher and he has been the only Hunter in Ashcroft for the past ten years. He uses a broadsword and crossbar to destroy everything evil being in his path. To add to the replay value of the game, players are allowed to reuse their characters in new games.
There is an obvious lack of guidance in the game. Instructions are scarce and unclear and without a map, results in plenty of aimless walking about. I spent a whole lot of time aimlessly walking about in the second Act, having killed all enemies in sight and having no where else to go.
The controls are very flexible and easy to master. Players can switch between configurations but the default configuration is, in my opinion, the easiest one to master. The left thumbstick allows for character movement while the right thumbstick allows for aiming, which will come useful when using guns. Players can jump using their left trigger and use their weapon or edge using the right trigger. The X button can be used to select weapons and the B button is used to enable special weapons. Camera zoom can be adjusted using the directional pad.
Hack-and-Slash games have evolved a lot through the years. Players used to attack using the same old move, but in recent times, combo attacks have been introduced in this genre of games. By performing a series of actions simultaneously, players will be able to execute combo attacks. The combo moves you can execute in the game is in fact unlimited, with examples being uppercuts, diving attacks, 360 degrees sweeps, running attack and jumping attacks.
Each hunter starts the game with one Edge at its lowest level of power. As the game advances, you get to choose up to three Edges and each Edge can increase up to the third level. You have Edges that sends creatures into frenzies, rains energy down on monsters and my favorite – Demand, which will basically enable the player to attack at great speeds and do additional damage.
Although Xbox LIVE is still in the far horizon for Singapore gamers, I thought it would still be informative to include LIVE features in my review. The Redeemer allows for downloadable updates and contents through Xbox live, which happens to be another new feature added to the sequel. Players (after Xbox LIVE is introduced) will get to download alternate skins, cheats, weapons and even characters. Alas, the single most disappointing point about this game is that there will not be any online multiplayer games. Xbox LIVE stops at downloadable contents, in other words, for a multiplayer game, you would have to invite your friends over to your house.
In my opinion, graphics cannot be measured by the amount of frames per second, the texture or basically anything to do with technical details. It should actually be measured by how well it blends with gameplay and how realistic a feel it gives to players. The designers of the game, who happens to be Bill Sullivan and Lewis L.Harris II the last time I checked, did a very good job portraying the feel of the locations and time of the year. The snow falling down during gameplay is not only realistic, it is so good, I feel that it has added a fourth dimension to the overall gameplay. Christmas ornaments can be seen decorated on trees during Christmas holidays. It is these minute details that make an already brilliant game excellent.
Sound effects are fairly well. The guns sound realistic and you can even hear body parts tearing away from the undead monsters. The game supports Dolby Digital 5.1 which essentially means a surround sound environment. The voice-acting is a little disappointing though, a feature I hope can be improved on in future releases. The lack of voice-acting is a real disappointment though.
Gothic is a style that emphasizes on the mysterious, the grotesque and the desolate. These three rules define the very elements of what White Wolf’s Hunter RPG game is now famous for. Its creatures have to be hideous, often disgusting and atrocious in looks. While playing, you have the feeling of being alone and isolated, while a certain cloud of uncertainty surrounds your opponent. If the game is to be as successful as the movie, in my opinion, it has to have the above elements. That distinct gothic feel simply has to be in it.
Hunter: The Reckoning Redeemer does inculcate certain degrees of the gothic style, although I feel that it just is not enough. Locked in my own room playing the game alone in the middle of the night would not raise goose bumps on my skin. The lack of graphic details in the undead monsters only serves to make them normal monsters in a game. The ultimate gameplay would result in my hands trembling when I want to attack.
But this idealization of mine is just the framework I think all games in the horror genre should be based on. It may sound too creepy but I think it would provide the ultimate gaming experience for gamers out there. I am still waiting for the game that will implement such a system, though.
The game is not going to rock the gaming scene. But it improved on a solid base and the end product is a fun Hack-and-Slash game which will nevertheless bring enjoyment to most gamers.