Hunted: The Demon's Forge preview: Through thick and thin

Hunted: The Demon's Forge preview
Hunted: The Demon's Forge has a major problem. It's a Gears of War clone, but it also wants to be a deep, character-driven RPG. The issue is that it far too often relies on the gameplay mechanics of the former and doesn't offer the exploration elements of the latter.

During a recent San Francisco event, I was able to sample not only the introduction of the game, but a later mission in co-op mode. The game opens with a dream sequence, where the brawny and more burly of the two protagonists, Caddoc, is having a nightmare. Within, he catches a glimpse of a buxom, pale-skinned sorceress named Seraphine (voiced by Lucy Lawless) who'll play an integral role in his adventure.%Gallery-99360% Caddoc wakes from his dream and is then introduced to E'lara, his Elven, apostrophied compatriot. Their relationship isn't clearly defined -- it would seem they're nothing more than adventuring partners, but there's an underlying tension there. It seems like they put up with each other's company for some reason beyond a need for work (and the coin it brings), but that reason isn't clear.

While the game definitely put me in strict close-quarters situations, the majority of it was pop-and-shoot from afar.

The dynamic between Caddoc and E'lara was one of my favorite things about the demo. The two playfully bantered back and forth not only in cutscenes but as I crawled through dungeons and fought enemies; it's constant verbal brinksmanship. It felt very organic, especially in the face of some of the game's more sterile and lifeless moments.

Take the melee combat, which felt serviceable at best. It gets the job done -- at any time, Caddoc or E'lara can switch between ranged and melee weapons -- but it never excels and there were some awkward animations, especially when blocking. Since there's no target lock, characters just block in the direction they're facing. Whenever I had my shield out and an enemy would swing at me from my side, the game would register it as a block even though the blow would hit my vulnerable, fleshy side bits.

Another big issue I had with the preview build I played was the lack of on-screen notification when your partner is down. Like Gears of War, your downed buddy can bleed out and die, so timing is paramount -- unlike that game, you revive your partner not through a pat on the back, but with potions that you throw at your vulnerable ally. The problem is that when your partner goes down, the game throws up a semi-invisible indicator (a faint red arrow) pointing toward your fallen comrade. But in the heat of battle, it's completely lost. During a rather intense boss battle, my partner died several times because she never vocalized her status in-game and I couldn't make out the indicator because, well, I had my hands full fighting dudes and trying not to die myself. Hopefully inXile took my comments during the event to heart and will find a better way to indicate when a partner is down.

It's unfortunate that the game has such a generic name and premise, because I feel like inXile did a good job of making sure this wasn't another Quantum Theory.

The ranged combat was the most satisfying portion of Hunted: The Demon's Forge, supported by a pick-up-and-use weapon and armor system. Here the game is a dead ringer for Gears of War: moving between cover and keeping low is the recipe for success here. E'lara and Caddoc both have a bow (her standard string bow launches quivers much faster than his slow and devastating crossbow) and a variety of unlockable ranged spells that allow for attacking or buffing your teammate from a distance. While the game definitely put me in strict close-quarters situations, the majority of it was pop-and-shoot from afar.

Any time an enemy is killed with its gear intact, it can be looted -- each item has its own durability, attack speed and other attributes. Of course, this means you can customize your team: if you want a partner who has greater attack speed, find them a faster bow or a lighter melee weapon. The system leaves a lot of room for creativity and customization, but also gives loot fanatics (see: me) more to do in the game.

While Hunted: The Demon's Forge failed to offer anything substantial to help it stand out from other Gears of War clones out there, I still found it to be competent and, at times during my preview session, even fun to play. It's unfortunate that the game has such a generic name and premise, because I feel like inXile did a good job of making sure this wasn't another Quantum Theory -- a clone of another game that's actually so bad, it changes the way you look at the original game. With a stronger premise and more unique gameplay, Hunted: The Demon's Forge could've been one of the top games to watch out for in 2011; as it stands, we remain skeptical.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.