Sometimes, the gaming gods play interesting tricks on their loyal followers. If I hadn't recently finished Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, I might have regarded Hunted: The Demon's Forge was a much better game. Hunted's focus on co-operative gameplay is definitely a good thing, but it stumbles in a lot of ways that a superior co-op game – like Guardian of Light – excels, and it feels so derivative of popular titles like Gears of War that you can't help getting the sense that you're spending your time with an also-ran.
Again, that’s not to say that Hunted is a bad game; it just feels so darn generic. You have your "burly warrior guy" and your "look-at-my-boobs" female archer, you've got your generic undead/goblin/orc bad guys, and you've got a storyline and setting that are about as compelling as a five-year-old ordering you to let him stay up another hour.
The gameplay is fine, if somewhat dependent on a cover mechanic, and there’s real promise in the way the two main characters, Caddoc (burly) and E'lara (boobs), play off of each another's strengths. Each character has a few magical abilities, all of which are upgradable throughout the game, and can be used to effectively set up bad guys for the other character to assault with deadly weapons. Example: E'Lara has a variety of special arrows that can be used to weaken enemy armour or slow them down, making them more vulnerable to Caddoc's pimp slaps.
Levels are structured so that they encourage and occasionally force you to use this kind of cooperation, but because the challenges are always pretty much the same it deprives you of the elation that comes with successfully figuring out what to do. A relatively intelligent human will extrapolate that they’re supposed to use the same ability combinations on a certain foe, even if that foe has a palette swap to his armour colouring. Then again, maybe you're stupid. Maybe Hunted is more enjoyable if you are.
But I digress. Hunted does feature RPG elements, like ability progression and unlocking, but it doesn't have other key RPG elements like...an inventory system. Bizarrely, while enemies drop all sorts of weapons and shields and armour, you can only equip one of each at a time, and you can't carry any extra loot. This is clearly a design choice on the part of InXile Entertainment but it’s also incredibly frustrating, because Hunted doesn't do a bang-up job of letting you know how useful new items will be in the upcoming struggle.
Hunted doesn't communicate its story well, either. Why in the hell should we care about these characters or their quest to gain riches by murdering skeletons with extreme prejudice? The dialogue and plot are clumsily written, which makes it hard to get involved in the tasks at hand, and all the easier to just give up when the gameplay begins to wear thin.
Now, while Hunted may not be the best gaming experience ever, its "Crucible" level design function is very well done. Opening the level editor presents you with a simple grid of cubes. From there, you choose how big your dungeon will be, and fill the grid with whatever rooms you want. You can choose things like objectives, number and type of enemy waves, power-ups, and the aesthetic of the entire map. The process is simple and quick, allowing for a good deal of creativity. If only the gameplay was executed with so much economy and skill.
Unfortunately, there is one major design misstep here: you need to gather gold throughout the main campaign in order to "buy" objects to use in the level editor. I have never understood why game companies do this: the purpose of the level editor is to be free and creative, not to be restrained by unlockables. Yes, it’s an incentive to play the game, but it’s galling when you’ve paid so much money for an underwhelming product. InXile shouldn’t be asking its players to jump through hoops.
For all of its foibles, though, Hunted still manages to entertain. Maybe it's the fact that anything cooperative is fun, as long as you steer clear of split-screen. Or maybe it's that the core mechanics of the game are well executed enough to save it from its lack of polish. I've recently experienced co-op done better and more intuitively, but if you haven't, Hunted might be worth a few pounds as a place to start.