Huntdown Review – TheSixthAxis

Huntdown Review

You know that bit in the ‘Predator’ where Dutch and Dillon meet? They strut over to one other, oozing laid back animalistic machismo from their baby oiled pours. “Dillon, you Son of a [female dog]!” declares the Austrian Oak in his distinctive drawl; they slap their hands together in an arm wrestling like grip and the camera zooms in to show biceps bloom, tendons flex and veins go very veiny. Playing Huntdown is like that moment, repeated again and again. It’s awesome.

First off, let’s talk about those retro inspired visuals. Let me tell you, a static image does them no justice at all. Huntdown’s pixel heavy 16-bit styled art style may appear to be a call back to a bygone era, but they’re smooth and filled with character like a game released in 2020. The game’s three bounty hunting protagonists move, leap, dash and shoot with frankly gorgeous levels of animation.

The levels themselves are crammed with tremendous levels of background and environmental details. There’s a depth to the visuals which I haven’t seen in a 2D shooter before, from the opening level sets a high bar with huge police mechs striding in the distance, to the tiny little pixel droplets of rain that bounce of a car. That bar is then raised again in the penultimate section, a fight across rooftops that has reams of flying cars darting over the violent bloodbath below.

The bad guys, of which there are many, delight with their distinctive personalities; punks flick switch blades, bosses smoke cigars and dogs sniff curiously at suspicious looking piles of pixels. The exhausting process of hand drawn animation has clearly been a labour of love for Easy Trigger, but their efforts have clearly been worth it. It’s almost a shame to start blasting and reduce your foes to a steaming pile of giblets. Almost.

Despite remarkable surface level similarities to shooters like Contra and Metal Slug, Huntdown very much has its own unique twist on the standard run and gun gameplay. You only have to worry about shooting (and being shot at) on a horizontal plane, without anything coming from above, below or diagonally. Instead, you’ll be much more focused on managing the space around you and making use of cover to avoid the hail of lead heading your way. There are crates and cars to duck behind, as well as doorways to step into, which turns Huntdown into something akin to a 2D Gears of War. You need to have good timing to dash from cover to cover, popping up to return fire before sheltering again. Certain enemy types are designed to flush you out of cover, so it’s up to you to manage the chaos and live through the encounter.

It’s very satisfying to find a good rhythm and mow through a legion of goons without taking a hit in return, or at least, that’s the idea. Huntdown, as you may have anticipated, is very difficult, but it’s never unfair. Thanks to tight controls and visuals that manage to clearly highlight approaching threats, I always knew that when my little bounty hunter dude died it was entirely my fault. Thankfully, save points are well placed and relatively frequent, preventing tedious and frustrating traipsing back through levels. There is an easy mode, in which enemies are weaker and there’s more plentiful health pickups, but there’s no way to avoid the fact that Huntdown offers a significant challenge, none more so than with its bosses.

There are five chapters in the game, each focusing on bringing down a different gang which inhabits the dystopian Judge Dredd inspired 1980’s cityscape. Chapters are broken up into several manageable levels, each one culminating in the player coming up against a boss. I found it frankly astonishing that every encounter felt distinctive and fresh, especially when considering that there are twenty of them in the game. Each boss required experimentation and the discovery of entirely different strategies to finally conquer them. From battling mechs, to dodging snipers, to fighting a psychotic flamethrower wielding lunatic, Huntdown’s bosses are a delight. There’s no blatantly highlighted red appendages to shoot here. These are proper boss fights that make you proud of yourself for overcoming them.

There’s also a very generous local co-op mode to be had, with a second player that can drop in at any point to lend a hand. Blasting with a pal makes proceedings even more enjoyable, with the 60fps gameplay remaining smooth and responsive throughout.

Anything else I can drool over? Perhaps the superb 80’s pastiche that Huntdown’s visuals, story and overall style offers. This is the Robocop meets Judge Dredd meets Running Man madness you always wanted, but didn’t know how much until right now. The voiceovers are of a brilliant standard throughout, serving to give even more personality to those chunky pixels. Then there’s the quote worthy script, my personal highlight? The iron-jawed cyborg John Sawyer declaring “I’m gonna make you wish your daddy withdrew” made me chuckle so much I died. Again.

There’s a similarly brilliant synth-filled soundtrack and a superb drip feed of new weapons, bad guys and locations that keep the game fresh until the end. In fact, I’ll leave it there, writing this review has left me wanting to play through Huntdown all over again, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Summary
Huntdown is, quite simply, one of the best side-scrolling shooters I’ve ever played. Incredible retro pixel art, generous local co-op, a stonking frame rate and an addictive game play loop that had me coming back for more; Huntdown is the total package.
Good
  • Gorgeous 16-bit inspired visuals
  • Excellent pacing keeps that action fresh
  • Awesome boss fights
  • So much style it makes you wish it was the 80’s again
Bad
  • Rock hard difficulty won’t be for everyone
9

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