Hunter: the Reckoning Wayward
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: High Voltage
Release Date: August 20, 2003
Pre-order 'HUNTER: The Reckoning Wayward': PlayStation 2
Firstly, it out-Gauntleted Gauntlet. In groups of up to four players, you got to go into the near-abandoned, zombie-haunted town of Ashcroft and shoot, stab, hack, or fry anything that committed the cardinal sin of not being you. It took a lot of the flavor of Gauntlet Legends and forced them onto a modern template, where a biker, a cop, a raver, and a priest are chosen and gifted by unknowable forces to clean out a haunted prison.
If you think about it, the main characters of the game are a lot like Gauntlet's, if you ignore their racial balance. (This is the single most multiethnic cast ever.) The Avenger's a big muscled guy with an axe who's only really comfortable if he's mixing it up in melee; the Judge folds like a lawn chair if the monsters catch him, but he can do some serious damage with magic and missile weapons; the Martyr's almost as fragile as the Judge, but can run circles around almost anything else in the game; and the Defender's good in a fight owing to how hard it is to kill her. The similarities are uncanny, really.
Secondly, for my money, the best thing that ever happened to Hunter was being adapted to video games. The tabletop RPG isn't the worst I've ever seen, but it's a slapped-together mess. Playing a lot of Hunter the video game accomplishes an impossible task, in that it makes me curious to read more of the RPG.
Thirdly, it was one of the more faithful adaptations of the arcade experience I've ever seen on a home console. Hunter: the Reckoning wanted you dead on a level that was almost unfair. It started hard and got harder, even if you went in with a full crew, as the slow and stupid armies of zombies were gradually replaced by vampires with machine guns, kamikaze explosive spiders, fleshy abominations beyond description, poison-spewing giant rats, and angry, energy-tossing spirits with uncannily good aim. Play on the higher difficulty levels, and you shouldn't be surprised if the last few bosses can lay you out with one shot.
A game like that probably demanded a sequel sooner or later, and now we're getting two. Redeemer, the X-Box sequel, is coming out in October; in the meantime, PS2 owners have their chance to return to Ashcroft.
It's been two years since "Deuce" Wyatt, Samantha Alexander, Kassandra Cheyung, and Father Esteban Cortez thought they exorcised the mad spirits in Ashcroft Penitentiary. An e-mail message via Hunter.net, the BBS through which the hunters of the world communicate, tells them otherwise.
Apparently, two Waywards—hunters who have become slightly unhinged as a result of the struggle against the supernatural—revisited Ashcroft, and what they've found is enough for them to want to call in the cavalry. When the hunters reunite and head back into Ashcroft, they find the Waywards' hideout empty, but plenty of clues as to where they might've gone, and quite a few zombies still wandering the streets. Ashcroft, despite the events of the first game, is still cursed, and you're going to have to find out why.
Wayward takes the basic template of the first game and tweaks it. The previous game was an arcade brawler on rails; one level followed another, with little choice in the matter. In Wayward, the Hunters are holed up in Joshua's Hotel, from which they plan their attacks on the monster population. You start with two missions to choose from, and as you complete those and find maps hidden within them, more and more levels open up.
When you choose to undertake one of the missions, you can find out more information about it with the Circle button, and then figure out which Hunter is best suited to the task. For instance, Deuce is better off in a mission that involves breaking things or killing monsters, while an early level that involves outrunning a speeding subway train is clearly Kassandra's job. While an active Hunter earns more experience than an inactive one, they all do gain nearly the same amount of points; if you've been ignoring the Defender for most of the game, and then find that you need her at the end, she won't be a zero-XP bullet sponge as she would have been in the first game. If she's still not doing well, you can even take her back into past levels and improve her skills a bit. There's a fifth Hunter to unlock as you progress, the Wayward of the game's title, and messing around with his new Edges and skills adds another couple of hours of playtime.
The hub itself may be my favorite new addition to the game. As you defeat bosses and unlock secrets, they'll appear within the hub. A trophy from a downed boss comes with a free cheat code, for example, and killing enough monsters of a certain type will unlock their 3D polygon model, accessible from the hotel room's entertainment center. While finding the secrets seems irritatingly random—I still have no idea why I've unlocked three of the main hunters' polygon models, but not Kassandra's—tracking them all down can take hours.
Then there's the gameplay, which should provide you with many times the RDA of zombie killing. Wayward makes the horrible mistake of not including support for the Multitap, so it's limited to only two players. The intensity level has dwindled as a direct result. The one-player mode in the first game was kind of like crowd-surfing on the undead; I have a distinct memory of rounding a corner in the first level, and seeing thirty zombies bum's-rushing my hapless Defender. In Wayward, it's much less crowded unless you crank the difficulty.
The game compensates by giving almost all enemies the ability to teleport in right on top of you, which leads to the occasional cheap hit when a zombie (or a "rot," in the game's parlance) spawns right next to you, already attacking. You won't always be swarmed, per se; the large crowds of opponents have dwindled to a steady flow. It doesn't help that one of the aforementioned "tweaks" was removing any player control over the camera, so you're more or less at the mercy of the game, especially in later levels when zombies acquire shotguns.
Wayward is still quite an improvement on the original, don't get me wrong. There's a shortage of quality beat-'em-ups on the PS2, especially ones that flawlessly incorporate firearms, and Wayward will go a long way towards remedying that.