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October 2021


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Coffee Stain Publishing
Developer: Easy Trigger Games
Release Date: May 12, 2020


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PS4 Review - 'Huntdown'

by Redmond Carolipio on Sept. 15, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Challenge yourselves in this 1980s hard-boiled co-op arcade shooter as you run, jump and take cover in mayhem streets of the future.

It's not enough to merely say Huntdown dips into the pool of '80s and '90s action nostalgia. This is full immersion, a baptism in a vat of boiling cheese where one-liners, bullets and pieces of every goofy bad guy trope bob up and down amidst the bubbles. It is the kind of game one could conceive at 3 a.m. after a marathon of "Robocop," "Rambo: First Blood Part II," "The Warriors," and maybe some "Last Action Hero" before flipping to "Blade Runner" (because you're feeling sci-fi fancy) or deciding to play Contra for a few hours and sprinkle in a little Technocop (yeah, what do you know about Technocop, eh?) before a slice of stale pizza and bed.

I'm not saying that's what Easy Trigger Games did in the creation of this experience, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was at least part of the brainstorming process. This 16-bit-like, 2D side-scroller achieves the monumental task of re-conjuring the energy of a whole entertainment era for a handful of glorious hours, where you'll chuckle, laugh, stress out, yell, think about throwing your controller, and repeat the cycle until the end. This is not about open-world exploration and unlocking hidden parts of your soul; this is waking up the echoes of where many of us used to be as gamers, when all we wanted to do was run around, kill bad guys and head to the next level.

There is more story than that, or at least an attempt at one: You're a bounty hunter in the futuristic 21st century, where society has been taken over by massive corporations and classic "street gangs" are locked in feuds with authorities and each other. The reason being a bounty hunter is a big deal is that you're beholden to — dramatic pause — no one. As one (or two, if you're playing co-op) of three bounty hunters, you're basically hired to clean up things on the streets, which means bounties on various gangs and their leaders. The bounty hunters are a cyborg with a steel jaw (John Sawyer), a gun-wielding Foxy Brown/Angela Davis-esque hybrid (Anna Conda), and a recon droid (Mow Man). All of them have different kinds of guns and throwing weapons, but I found all of them to be equally effective.

The game's blissfully linear breakdown consists of four major levels broken down into smaller chunks, where you encounter a wide range of gun fodder enemies, several minibosses, and eventually the major boss of that level. You'll travel through the suburbs, the underground, the industrial area and eventually downtown.

The game's tone and aesthetic might have you think the only way to play is to simply run and gun, shooting until you win. The diversity of combat suggests that to be only partially true. While you'll shoot plenty of people and pick up all kinds of guns ranging from grenade launchers to sniper rifles, there's also a wide selection of throwables. Instead of grenades, you'll also pick up things like remote explosives, cluster bombs or throwing stars. I even picked up a deployable sentry turret. You can also pick up hand-to-hand weapons, like a katana, and if enemies get too close, your basic attack will be to kick them away into a comfortable range before blasting them into bloody, pixelated nuggets.

One very useful, modern wrinkle is an actual cover system. Pushing up on the directional pad next to one of many dark doorways or holes scattered on the screen will have you dip inside, partially visible, gun up, with your back against the wall. This adds a dimension of elusiveness you don't see all the time in games of this style, where crouching or jumping are the usual means of avoiding hostile projectiles.

I found the shining moments to be within its character design and boss battles, as you encounter literal and figurative gangs of freaks through each level. The gangs are themed, in a nod to "The Warriors": The Misconducts are hockey-obsessed nutcases led by someone called the Unholy Goalie, while the Heatseekers are retro-biker gearheads who like fire. Most of the bosses I encountered were tours de force of multi-stage, epic combat. One battle had me knock an Elvis impersonator (or superfan) into a vat of corrosive fluid, only for him to re-emerge with his skin comically hanging off and his arms dropping by his side, not unlike the poor sap who crashed into a tank of acid in "Robocop." I've encountered a sniper on a jetpack, a shotgun-packing kung-fu master who spins around like a tornado — while yelling out "TORNAAADOOOOO" — and a pair of sword-wielding twin sisters. Someone tried to kill me with a giant VR snake that shot out three different kinds of energy balls. I died. Many times.

Huntdown isn't a particularly easy game. It's not Sekiro, but there's a tangible difficulty boost that might throw off players for a few boss battles. I wouldn't call it a difficulty spike; it's more like a steep-but-doable difficulty hill that comes with little warning. The game doesn't waste much time piling on the enemies, the obstacles and the instances of, "Oh, you thought that was it? Think again!" moments. There are times when the retro design becomes a burden and reminds you of how game creation has branched out. Huntdown can't help but be stunningly repetitive once in a while, as one keeps respawning at a checkpoint and bashing into droves of enemies, which can then occasionally turn the experience into an inevitable and occasionally sanity-bending grind, especially with some of the more difficult encounters. I remember the twins taking me on a ride through the hell of repeated deaths and frustration. The reward is making it to the next boss to see what they have to offer.

It's also a fun world to experience, from the perfect, synthy musical soundtrack to the random utterances of some of the most groan-inducing movie lines ever. Really, Easy Trigger? You had someone whip out the fatal, "I thought Christmas only comes once a year," line after killing a dozen enemies? If you don't get that reference, perhaps it's for the best.

Huntdown has been out for a while, but it's a good, silly tonic for players looking for a nice distraction from all of the heavy and involved open-world adventuring out there. It'll scratch most of your action itches and, if you're a certain age like me, it'll bring back a few memories of a bygone era. It's not the worst thing to think about.

Score: 7.7/10

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