Recently, as many of you have been I’m sure, I’ve been picking over the various offerings on the new consoles. As expected the titles released thus-far have been pretty, but overall a bit limited and truth be told it’s dampened my initial next-gen buzz somewhat.
While none of the games released thus far have been particularly bad, none of them have had caught my imagination (other than Tomb raider, but as a 360 re-release that doesn’t count!). None of them have caught my imagination; had that little spark of magic that the true favourites always have, and I couldn’t work out why.
Being the over-analytical bore I am, I found myself thinking about why this was and, by extension, reflecting back on some of the games that have had that spark, that je ne sais quoi about them, that makes them so fun to play. In particular, I was thinking about Ryse: Son of Rome and how, despite pretentions at being an action hack & slash game, it ended up being a fairly pedestrian quicktime-a-thon. I started to realise it’s been a while since I played a really good hack & slash/action fighting game. Hell, the more I thought about it, the more I realised it’s been a really long time since I played a good one. What was once a staple of the industry, with Golden Axe and the Streets of Rage series has fallen by the wayside, when it comes to big-time games at any rate. I racked my brains for the best games of this type I’ve played and of course I came up with the aforementioned classics, but then my mind came across a game I haven’t thought about in years, but that, oddly, I still have, buried in with my original Xbox games: Hunter: The Reckoning Redeemer.
Most likely unfamiliar to most of you, Hunter: The Reckoning Redeemer (hereafter called Redeemer to save my digits!) was, as you may have guessed, an action fighter title in the spirit of the old side-scrollers, but adapted to a 3D environment. Developed by High Voltage Software and Published by Vivendi Universal, it was based on the White Wolf pen & paper roleplaying game of the same name and hit shelves in late 2003, early on in the Original Xbox’s lifespan. I picked up the title on the back of playing and loving its predecessor, Hunter: The Reckoning (see what they did there) expecting a solid, if slightly mindless zombie-killer of a game and that’s what I got and more.
The game itself, from a mechanics perspective is nothing especially inspired. You pick one of the available characters, or ‘Hunters’ as the game terms them, and set are dropped into a world of conflict between a local Corporation/PMC and a group of werewolves. Your role is as a monster hunter, in the mould of Van Helsing, if a bit less camp… ok, maybe just as camp if we’re honest. Each character has a ranged and a melee attack along with a magical ability, all of which level up semi-organically, with experience orbs appearing based upon the attacks used to kill enemies; Fairly standard fare.
What helped make the game so enjoyable is harder to quantify. Really it can be seen as a combination of many aspects. The actual gameplay is surprisingly varied, mainly due to the characters’ differing spells and weapon load-outs. Rather than being cookie cutter replications of each other with different fascia, each character was distinct in style and ability, meaning a different play style was required for each. While it might not sound like much, this really did give reasons to reply and made the mastering of each a real challenge.
Added to the excellent gameplay was the presentation, which was surprisingly good. The weapons all sounded pretty good and the sound effects were satisfying, especially when combined with the genuinely meaty-feeling vibration effects. So many games of this type manage to feel a bit detached and artificial when it comes to the actual immersion, but Redeemer managed to get it about as perfect as it’s possible to be. Along with this is the theme and style of the game world. Obviously adapted heavily from the parent tabletop game, the story and world manage to walk the line between dark-horror and humour pretty well, with a few slips her or there. Put it this way, if your game has me fighting a psychotic Santa as he runs round town stuffing people in his sack and I’m still interested, you must be doing something right.
The thing is; Redeemer isn’t by any means a ‘great’ game. Let’s face it, the fact you’ve never heard of it to this point speaks volumes for its popularity. As well implemented as the gameplay was, it wasn’t all that varied, consisting almost entirely of the ‘go there and kill stuff until it stops moving’ style of gameplay. I can readily accept that this would not really jump off the shelf and demand to be played and obviously people didn’t queue up to pick it up.
But the thing is, I did and I fell in love with it. Yes, it’s repetitive and, yes, it’s a bit basic and childish at times, but its damn good fun. I love a complex narrative and a sweeping epic as much as the next guy, more so probably, but sometimes you just want to bust some metaphorical gaming heads and Redeemer delivered it in spades. It’s the gaming equivalent of a summer blockbuster all muscle and little brain, but for what it is, it’s more or less perfect.
And that’s the thing; a good game doesn’t have to be perfect technically. It can has so many flaws it could qualify as a skyscraper, but if it entertains you, keeps you coming back time and again to play, then it’s a special game. I still can’t tell you exactly why one game will draw you in and another equally well-made one won’t and I doubt I ever will, but I do know one thing; character has a lot to do with it. Some games, like Redeemer, feel like they were made to entertain, while others feel like they were made to fill a bottom line, like Ryse and I know what keeps me coming back for more.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dust off my old Xbox and get back to some good old fashioned zombie killing. Its clobbering time!