Let’s face it: The idea of playing a game with all the pumped-up, alien abilities of a Predator, in a world with a full cinematic vibe and underscored music, is kind of appealing. And true fans of the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger action classic will be doubly stoked about the new Sony release of Predator: Hunting Grounds.
But what exactly does Sony do with all its sci-fi movie panache? Let’s take a quick look.
Put simply, Hunting Grounds is a pure online multiplayer experience. You can’t really even call it an “adventure” since there’s not much of anything resembling a storyline. This is a game that lets you play as either a group of human soldiers attempting to fulfill a given physical objective in some heavily jungled area of the world or play as a single Predator. The Predator’s goal is much more straightforward: kill all of the human fireteam members and claim their skulls and backbones as trophies.
And … repeat.
Now, I will admit that there is a certain coolness to the initial Hunting Grounds gameplay. It’s obvious in the game’s short tutorial that the gamemakers have captured a great sense of movie-ness here. The swirling musical score is perfect. The Predator ticking and gurgling sounds are all spot on. And the alien’s tree branch-leaping mechanics and special abilities are uniquely fun and exciting right out of the gate.
The Predators can be decked out with a variety of cosmetic skins in either male or female forms (always covered in armor). You gain other skins and accessories as rewards or as in-game purchases from field lockers. And Predators start off with the ability to turn invisible; to spot a foe’s body heat with infrared vision; and have access to a powerful, long-range energy weapon as well as a gauntlet-encased, Wolverine-like set of close-quarter blades. Those abilities and deadly weapons grow more powerful and versatile as players level up.
Past all those preliminary oooh and ahhh-worthy tree-leaping mechanics, though, the game itself can quickly feel fairly mundane. And, of course, it’s incredibly bloody.
When getting started, the first thing you notice is the amount of time it takes while you wait in a virtual line. If you want to join as a member of the first-person shooter human team, it’ll usually mean a wait of five or more minutes to gather the multiplayer group. If you want to be the Predator, however, you can expect to often cool your scaley heels for a half hour or more. (No need to guess why.)
And without a real story mode to play through, the hunt is, well, a pretty one-dimensional, bang-bang-hack-squish hunt. If you’re with an equally skilled group of players, the frenetic cat and mouse gameplay can stretch on for a while. And if you’re with friends it can feel a bit more team-like and challenging. Otherwise it’s all over fairly quickly.
Hunting Grounds also puts a heavy premium on the intensely gory kill. In fact, it feels as if bloody spurting and spraying is the only “entertainment” this game can muster. Impaling characters with arrows and spears, lopping off heads with blades or energy blasts, bursting foes into goopy chunks, examining skinned corpses lying in a pool of their own gore, watching frisbee-like razor blades slice through leg muscles and sinew: those are the sought-after goals here. And jamming gauntlet blades repeatedly into a foe’s back and forcefully ripping out his skull and backbone with a splanchnic gush becomes an oft-repeated norm.
Frankly, the idea and movie-like promise of this game far exceed the messy and mundane end product. And what you do get—including the inclusion of f-and s-words in the mission dialogue—definitely isn’t for kids.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.