Masochism in the Bayou
Hunt: Showdown almost paralyses me with fear, but I can’t get enough
You’re crouching at the edge of the water. There’s a large barn ahead of you, just over a shallow rise. The Butcher’s pacing in there, dragging his rusty meat hook through the straw. He’s your target. A row of tupelos stands between you and the barn. Their spindly tapering trunks are a lower jaw full of rotten teeth, but at least they provide some cover. You dare not turn on your heel and wade through the still water behind you, lest you disturb the birds. Right now they’re paddling serenely across the surface. But spook them, and be prepared to run; their piercing cries will attract horrors of all kinds. Of course, you aren’t entirely vulnerable, thanks to the hefty crossbow you’re shouldering. A single bolt to the head or chest is all that’s required to put an opponent down, but you dare not miss; loading a new bolt is painfully slow, and the old bowstring protests loudly as it is drawn back to lock.
In Hunt: Showdown, sound is both your mortal enemy and greatest ally.
Those footsteps above you and just to the right? Yeah, that’s where he’s coming from. Metallic. Ah! He’s about to run down the stairs you’re standing under. Fire through the stairs! Blast a hole through his back before he even knows you’re there. Oh, you weren’t paying attention and walked over a broken bottle half-buried in the mud? In less than a second, a bullet grazes your ear. The panic won’t last long, don’t worry; in a moment, all you’ll see is the back of your eyelids.
First launched into early access back in 2018, Hunt: Showdown arrived on Xbox One in September 2019 and PlayStation 4 in February 2020. So, it’s not a new game. But I only recently started delving into it. I finally took the plunge largely thanks to some great YouTubers and streamers (I highly recommend Silent_Murmur, a fellow Victorian, whose streams are super chill and welcoming).
Given Hunt: Showdown’s age, I’m not going to dive into a detailed description of the game. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I highly recommend Skill Up’s awesome review. Of course, SUPERJUMP shouted from the rooftops about this game back in 2020 and we published a detailed breakdown of the gameplay just recently.
It’s one thing to understand why Hunt is a great game. The coverage surrounding it over the last eighteen months has largely demonstrated, I think, that Hunt is a wholly unique experience. There’s really nothing else quite like it. That fact alone is worthy of attention (especially in an industry overflowing with safe sequels that inch their way forwards on annual release cycles). I would argue that Huntis as important as Death Stranding, in the sense that highly unique big-budget games like this are as rare as hen’s teeth.
Why was I so hesitant, then, to jump in for so long?
So much of the coverage — and the conversation with friends and colleagues who were playing the game — indicated that it probably wasn’t for me. This is one of those games that isn’t friendly to newbies. You’ll die repeatedly. Your inexperience will piss off the relative veterans you matchmake with. You’ll be a laughing stock. You might even get teabagged. Forgeddaboutit.
And, look, much of this is at least somewhat true (I haven’t yet been teabagged — and no, that’s not an invitation). But the thing is, Crytek (the game’s developer) has knowingly built a difficulty ramp that is dotted with rusty nails, broken glass, and sandpaper. Yes, it’s going to feel impossibly tough at first and yes, you’ll probably need a tetanus shot somewhere along the line. But each incremental step forward — however fleeting — can feel exhilarating.
Even reaching the point where you don’t panic feels like a big deal. When I was playing the initial tutorials — which are really highly recommended before you jump into a match with other players — I scampered around like a paranoid meerkat. I’d pop my head up now and then in an effort to spot danger, but I’d flee at even the slightest noise. With at least some time and experience, I came to better understand how to use sound to my advantage, rather than simply being its unwitting victim.
Have you ever had a nightmare where the tables turn at some stage? I have. If I’m being chased long enough by things I’m afraid of, I eventually get tired…and then angry. Having been hunted for so long, I am now the hunter. It’s a special kind of satisfaction that is about more than just learning a new skill; it’s more like drowning in a pool of blood, then treading water, and finally becoming the shark. That’s what Hunt: Showdown offers if you stick with it.
At the time of writing, I’ve only just reached the point where my roster of hunters is vulnerable to permadeath (for the first few levels, you’ll be shielded from this harsh reality, and you’ll become slightly more comfortable with defeat as you learn the ropes). Now, when I enter a match — especially with a slightly levelled-up hunter — I know I could lose said hunter (and all of their enhanced attributes) at any moment. Much to my surprise, I’ve already made peace with that fact.
I’m certainly an almost-vanishingly long way from being an expert. But with every match, I feel less like a hapless tourist being dragged under the water by a great white. The tables are slowly turning, and it feels incredible.
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