The Predator is the sneakiest of big movie monsters, and he always has a high body count. He stalks his prey from tree tops; he has a daunting arsenal of weapons. He can turn invisible with the press of a button, and activate thermal vision to see the heat and sound of whatever live thing is close by. In the first Predator movie, the dreadlocked extraterrestrial kills over a dozen people, including Arnold Schwarzenegger's whole mercenary team. In an average match of Predator: Hunting Grounds, the Predator possesses all of the above abilities... and none of the menace. Here, the Predator somehow kills maybe one person before being cornered and taken down, and then teabagged by players with Spider-Man avatars.
Predator: Hunting Grounds is the latest game from the developers behind Friday the 13th: The Game. The slasher asymmetrical multiplayer game was enough to land the studio the Predator license. But like other recent attempts to resurrect the near-unkillable alien, maybe the creature was better left in the jungle.
Predator: Hunting Grounds is a 4v1 asymmetrical multiplayer game, similar to Friday the 13th: The Game's 7v1 structure. Here, one player is the titular Predator, while four others are part of the elite fireteam who are on some unrelated mission. There's a lot of mission variety, making it hard for the Predator to predict where the fireteam is headed on the map, or what they're doing. Sometimes we're tasked with gathering intel by sneaking (or loudly shooting through AI-controlled baddies) our way into some insurgent camp. Other times we're planting fake drugs and setting fire to a shack.
The missions all have multiple phases and various waypoints to jog to. The fireteam has a few possible win-states: to successfully escape the Predator in calling a helicopter ("get to the 'chopper," duh) after completing the main objectives; killing the Predator and successfully solving a timed puzzle to deactivate their self-destruct in the 15-second time limit, or killing the Predator and just running away from the blast radius. Two of the three are easy, with deactivating Predator's self-destruct being the most tense of the trio, which results in the team defending the creature's body from NPCs after defusing its self-destruct. The Predator, meanwhile, has just one objective: to kill their prey.
The worst part is that none of the action feels particularly good. Playing as a soldier, which is in first-person compared to the Predator's third-person, is fine, but the shooting really feels so-so at best when compared to other modern first-person shooters. It's not helped by the game's poor performance, which can hinder even basic actions like aiming down a sight. The soldiers can even feel overpowered because it's so easy to corner the Predator, lob frag grenades its way, or fire off a shotgun in its direction. The AI-controlled enemies that roam outposts on the map barely register as a threat, even when forgetting to disable the camp's multiple alarm points that call in reinforcements.
It can be buggy too: In one match, the next waypoint in my line of missions never even triggered. So, my team just ran in circles waiting for the Predator to find us so we could just do battle with them, and then emerged the victor. It may be cool to jump around trees as a Predator, but when the creature can go down so easily, the beast feels more like a lumbering risk. I only played a couple matches where Predator even won.
Hunting Grounds is by no means the Predator's first video game outing, the iconic movie monster appearing as a guest character in Mortal Kombat X, and a Killstreak in Call of Duty: Ghosts. Just in 2018, Ghost Recon Wildlands had a surprisingly well-received Predator appearance—a fight coupled with special Predator-themed gear. There are obviously the classics too, such as the SNES beat 'em up Alien vs. Predator. If nothing else, the dreadlocked, masked alien is a staple across video games.
The problem with Predator: Hunting Grounds is that it defangs the Predator. It loses its edge; it's barely a threat. Even when Predator manages to rip out the spine of a soldier or two, there's always an easy respawn mission waiting in the sidelines—just run to a waypoint, and interact with an item to spawn in "reinforcements." It is too easy to bring players back. It's too easy to win against the creature that once terrorized the jungle and Los Angeles.
The rough overall performance of the game hinders everything considerably. While from a distance the jungle can look pretty, it's the inconsistent frame rate, bad texture pop-in, and general stuttering of even AI-controlled enemies that makes it hard sometimes to land a faraway shot as the Predator. I remember one match where the weird frame rate led to my shots narrowly missing the unsuspecting players below the trees because they stuttered. It was made particularly annoying given it was my first match using the net gun, which to that point had been locked away behind a level gate. Yes, all of Predator's bonus equippable goodies are level gated, neutering what should be a terrifying foe still further.
This is particularly frustrating when playing as the Scout class, one of three types of Predators that also includes the Hunter and the Berserker; the last of which I've yet to unlock. The Scout is agile and theoretically good at ranged action, and it's not particularly adept at ground combat. The problem is: the poor game performance impacts ranged combat with stuttering and frame rate issues, where often your target or sight will be rendered imprecise. As it is, Scout right now is far too weak to be a viable option.
Fireteam members have classes too: Assault (the starter, more rounded option), Recon, Scout, and Support. Honestly though, despite unique passive abilities per class, I didn't find much of a difference between them, aside from maybe health. The Perks that can be equipped, of which each class has a different limit to "points" they can use—such as Assault has 9 points, while Recon has 15—I found have much more of an effect on characters' builds. Dexterous, for instance, makes interaction time faster, which is handy for objectives. Others boost things like XP, how fast one bleeds out, movement speed, and so on. Perks are also gated by levels.
The progression, for better or worse, moves fast. At the end of every match, it seems I have a loot box waiting for me with cosmetic items. New weapons, perks, and other loadout-enhancing things unlock at almost every level. The level cap looks to be 100, judging from the premium cosmetic outfits for the fireteam and other goods for the Predator, and I'm already nearly a fourth of the way there. That fact concerns me: with just three maps (which all look the same), players can blow through this progression track relatively quickly. Even taking into account the mission variety, it seems as if Predator: Hunting Grounds is destined to get old quickly.
For what it's worth, developers IllFonic took a lot of care to bring the original movie's DNA to life in Predator: Hunting Grounds. To mask from the Predator's thermal vision, my face-mask clad soldier rubs mud all over herself. When the Predator's taken down, it lets out a maniacal cackle and self-destructs after a little over a dozen seconds. When I succeeded in one particular mission, my character clasped hands with another person on my team, Carl Weathers and Schwarzenegger-style. But the fuzzy feelings of "ah, just like OG Predator" fade away when I'm playing the actual game, which is a bit of a mess right now.
There is the framework of a solid 4v1 game here, but every part of it is lacking. The shooting's forgettable. The balancing is miserable. The performance is bad. The progression lacks the hooks to engage players for a long period of time. The best parts of Predator: Hunting Grounds are when it's winking to its series' lineage, from the sound design to its more mechanical references. Seriously: mud as a thermal detection cloak is a really nice touch! And yet, I reckon, this is a game that's going to get caught in its own self-destruct blast.
There is a shell of a good game in Predator: Hunting Grounds, but severe balancing issues, poor console performance, and general clunkiness hold it back from standing shoulder to shoulder with other solid 4v1 multiplayer games—even the one its developer has made before. While its Predator callbacks are solid, for fans looking for another good Predator game, there's not one to be found here. At least not yet.