Predator: Hunting Grounds Beta hands on preview - Stalking your prey

Published: 21:41, 30 March 2020
Updated: 21:43, 30 March 2020
Key art for Predator: Hunting Grounds.
The first proper Predator game since 2005. And no. We don't count the mobile ones.

Predator: Hunting Grounds is a tense and intriguing multiplayer spin on a franchise not widely known for consistent quality in the videogame space. However, developer illfonic's experience with Friday the 13th makes them a perfect fit.

Asymmetric multiplayer is a tough cookie to crack, and we've seen very recently that even the biggest publishers can get it painfully wrong sometimes. The fear going in with Hunting Grounds is that balance gets thrown out the window in favour of empowering the Predator players, and that when all hell brakes lose, you're left with a game unable to offer an even playing field. 

Thankfully, illfonic have done a great job ensuring that these beastly killing machines aren't invincible, and human squads aren't glorified red shirts.

There's a whole mess of unlockable items and skills for both sides, with callbacks and nods to the vast library of motion picture efforts. The level of authenticity extends beyond your equipped gear; you'll be pleased to know that fireteam members can coat themselves in mud to mask their heat signature, and Predators make that distinctive growl when cloaking. 

We're generally not a fan of "invisible" abilities in gaming; the nightmare of Halo's active camouflage still haunts us. But here, the implementation is thoughtful, and prevents you from becoming an overpowered spectre.

When moving at high speed, leaping across tree tops, and using abilities, a shimmer can clearly be seen. But stand still, and you disappear from view. Not only does this work in practice, with you appearing as a clear enough target to distinguish from the environment, but it absolutely nails the feeling of being a hyper intelligent tactical beast. It's also tied to a recharging energy meter, which can quickly short circuit if you carelessly spam your moveset while cloaked. 

illfonic A cloaked Predator sneaks up on a target in Predator: Hunting Grounds. Unbelievably, this actually feels balanced.

Despite the clear health advantage, it's not impossible to knock a Predator off the board. Slashing melee attacks can be partially interrupted by sustained fire, and without any kind of regenerating health, they can be overwhelmed by a well coordinated squad. Make no mistake though: you'll get wiped out and executed in seconds if you don't stay on top of the action. 

Communication is essential, otherwise you'll likely devolve into a panicking wreck. Sound design is exceptional, with punchy weapon sound effects, and those signature Predator thuds, evoking genuine fear. 

Where Hunting Grounds slips up is in two crucial areas: enemy A.I, and graphical performance. The fireteam is tasked with completing randomised objectives followed by a swift extraction, but your computer controlled foes leave a lot to be desired. Moronic is an understatement. 

They're little more than a nuisance, regularly standing still in the middle of a firefight, or blindly rushing you without firing. It's jarring and distracting, and really sucks the tension out of non-Predator combat encounters.

Visually, the character designs are on point, but the environmental detail is strangely lacking; some textures look woefully last gen, and the frame rate on PS4 Pro was, at times, nauseating. When you're panning the camera and scaling the treeline as a Predator, there are moments of incomprehensible blurring that really put a dampener on proceedings. 

This absolutely needs to be addressed,  particularly in a game which, in its most heightened instances, moves at such breakneck speed. 

To be clear: there's a lot to like here, and illfonic have done a wonderful job nailing the aesthetic. If they can iron out the technical hiccups, Predator: Hunting Grounds has enormous potential to deliver a memorable, faithful take on a franchise in desperate need of digital salvation. 

illfonic The Predator stalks his prey in Predator: Hunting Grounds. No-one is looking in the tree. They really should be looking in the tree.

Predator: Hunting Grounds launches on 24th April 2020, for PS4 and PC.

We played the open beta on PS4 Pro.

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