We might be in a bit of a draught in terms of big games (at least until The Last of Us 2 arrives next month and is either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever, according to the Internet) but we’ve been a nice stream of awesome smaller titles. It’s been even better if you’re a fan of classic genres with the likes of Streets of Rage 4, and now Huntdown, a pixelated shooter with an old-school attitude, a love of action and some seriously smooth gameplay.
Huntdown is basically one long homage to 80’s action movies, especially Robocop. It’s a grim dystopia filled with mega corporations that have replaced the government. Either you get in line with them, or you have to join one of the gangs that wage wars on the streets of the city. There’s a third option though, and that’s to become a bounty hunter who takes contracts for cash. That’s where you come in, taking on the role of one of three bounty hunters: Anna Conda, Mow Man (he’s a robot) or John Sawyer. You’re free to swap between them between missions if you like, and aside from a difference in firing rate and their special attack there’s no real difference between them.
There’s little in the way of a storyline and that’s absolutely fine. Huntdown, like any 80s action flicks, doesn’t really need much of a story. It just needs an excuse to let you shoot a lot of bad guys. You’ll be given your contracts by the mysterious head of one of the mega corps, a general idea of the gang you’re tackling and then sent on your merry way.
But you do get a lot of one-liners, many of which directly reference or are even taken straight from classic movies. While I was born in the 90s I spent a lot of time watching stuff like Predator, so I got a real kick out of hearing my chosen bounty hunter spewing cheesy lines. Y’know, Predator is actually a damn good analogy for Huntdown. There’s a specific scene where Dutch and Dillion slap their hands together in greeting and the camera swaps to a shot of their bulging, veiny biceps and their firm grip. You can practically feel pure, unfiltered macho leaking out of the screen and into your soul. It’s the quintessentially cheesy shot that has become a famous meme, but it’s also an apt description of what Huntdown has in store for its players.
The action is simple but executed fantastically. You can duck behind boxes for cover or into shadowed areas, while a a quick tap of A performs a jump, and RT does a dash. And of course you can shoot your pistol which has infinite ammo. Special weapons can be snagged too, and have limited ammo so that you can’t abuse their power. Ranging from chunky sniper rifles and rocket launchers to wrenches and hockey sticks there’s quite a selection of weaponry on offer.
You don’t have to concern yourself with bullets coming from above or below. You can leap up and down between floors, but neither you nor the bad guys can shoot up, down or even diagonally. Even only having to worry about death coming from just two directions the action is frantic and challenging. Easy Trigger Games mix up the enemies beautifully. Some will force you out of cover or to move around more, others will open fire from a distance and all of them will attempt to examine your brain matter. At first, you can just shoot away, but before long you need to be moving around, picking priority targets and keeping an eye on what mixture of foes you’re facing. It’s fantastic, satisfying and thoroughly entertaining.
The key to any good fast-paced side-scrolling shooter is having controls that you can trust, and that’s exactly what Huntdown has. Precise and tight, there’s never a moment where you feel like the game has let you down. Considering how challenging Huntdown can be, it’s good to know that death was a result of your own mistakes. Plus, the developers have balanced out the raw challenge of the firefights with generous checkpoints, infinite lives and the fact that levels aren’t overly long, taking about 5-15 minutes to complete.
With that said, I’d love to see them introduce an arcade, a bit like the one found in Streets of Rage 4, that gives you something like 3 lives to get through the whole game and no check points. It’d probably only appeal to the truly dedicated players out there, but I could see them greatly appreciating it.
There’s a total of four different gangs that you fight, each with their own style. The action kicks off with the Hoodlum Dolls, the classic punk-rock street gang before moving onto the Misconduct, who like to hang out in the subway and have a strange obsession with hockey. Maybe they’re Canadian? The Heatseekers are a bike gang with a dash of Elvis thrown in for good measure. And finally the No. 1 Suspects are the classically futuristic group with Samurai influences. Whichever bunch you’re going up against they have a distinct feel and look. It also gives Huntdown a solid sense of progression as you find new weapons and enemy types at a steady pace, keeping the combat feeling fun and fresh.
Every level wraps up with a boss fight, meaning there’s a grand total of 20 bastards to go up against. And again, it’s impressive how much variety the developers have managed to cram in. Each one is a distinctive challenge all of their own, from the sniper with a jetpack to the absurdly huge Unholy Goalie. They all follow the classic formula of having recognizable attack patterns which must be learned, and will often change up their tactics mid-fight. They’re almost all a pleasure to fight, and damn rewarding when you put them out of your misery.
It’s all backed up by a kickin’, grungy soundtrack that fits the action perfectly. Truth be told, the static images don’t do the art style justice. In the pictures it looks nice, sure, but in action there’s a lot of depth to the backgrounds and a lot of lovely details in the animations that can easily be missed.
You can take a friend along for the ride, too, via the local co-op. It’s frustrating that you can’t do online co-op, especially right now, but having someone else in on the action is a blast, even if there are no special co-op mechanics.
If I have any complaints it’s probably that I would like to have a little more reason to go back and replay levels. Each level comes with three optional objectives: kill X amount of people, find three hidden stashes and don’t die. These are fine, but they’re the same across every level. Completing them also doesn’t do anything, so you need to chase them for your own satisfaction. Having more differences in how the three bounty hunters play would have also been a big help. Aside from having a different fire rate and special they play identically.
There’s nothing new or revolutionary about Huntdown, and that’s fine. It takes a classic, simple formula and executes it brilliantly. I praised Streets of Rage 4 for doing the very same thing, and this does just as good a job for its genre. My complaints are far and few between about Huntdown, and so if you’re looking for an excellent side-scrolling schooter with a classic, arcade flair then Huntdown is an outstanding choice.