Hunt: Showdown and the Art of Building Tension

Ever since its first day of release into early access, I have owned Hunt: Showdown. It is a game I fell in love with back in early 2018, but one I knew needed more time to update. Over the course of a year and some change, the game has kept a consistent player base and has been updating its experience, which is where I find the game now, days from leaving early access.

I have decided to jump back into the experience, and I have so far been enjoying the improvements made to the game and the new content that has been added. The game now runs buttery smooth for me, and the new quickplay mode is a great alternative for solo players. I have loved my time with this game both then and now, and I think it would be a shame if I didn’t write about this game beyond my one blog on my thoughts of the alpha. Instead of doing a general review, though, I want to talk about one key aspect of this game that has been there since day one for me and has made this game such an incredible experience: the tension.

Before I can get into how this game builds up tension, I have to explain what this game is. The main mode of Hunt:Showdown involves either solo or duo players, and each match has a total of ten players. They are all thrown into a map, and they are tasked with going around to these items called rifts, and collecting enough rifts will eventually lead them to an area on the map where a boss is. Once the boss is dead, the body has to be harvested, which takes a few minutes and will show everyone the general location of the boss. After the harvesting, the boss will drop two bounties (one player can pick up one bounty), and the players with the bounties must then escape to one of the few boats around the edges of the map, with the one slight issue being the bounty shows the exact position of the player at all times. There are ten people on a map, but only two bounties to collect, so the copious amounts of NPC enemies won’t be the only thing trying to attack.

The game has a dark vision mode that will show you where a rift is.

The game has a dark vision mode that will show you where a rift is.

The other, newer mode is called quickplay, which is a solo-only mode and also has a total of ten players. Just like the main mode, each player spends their time finding rifts, which will shorten the search area until they find themselves where they need to be. Where this mode is different though, is that whoever picks up four rifts first becomes the wellspring. By this point, the person absorbing the wellspring is stuck into the area they found the last rift in, and everyone knows that person’s exact location. The goal is to be the wellspring when the countdown timer hits zero, but whoever kills the wellspring becomes the new wellspring. There are other differences between these two modes, but what I just described is essentially the elevator pitch of these two modes.

The one thing Hunt: Showdown nails above just about every other multiplayer game I can think of is audio design. Sound plays an incredibly important role in this game, and the more I play the game, the more that becomes apparent. The map is filled with audio queues that sound off when you get near them. Birds fly away, half-dead horses whine, dogs in cages bark, tree branches break, and many more queues can be found throughout the map, making you traverse this world like as if you are stepping on broken glass (which, coincidentally, is another audio queue in this game). These queues alone are loud enough to give away your position to others nearby, so imagine what a gunshot can do and how stingy I am on using them. As a result, I am going through this game almost like a comedy sketch, trying to dodge and sneak around only to step on every squeak toy along the way, but each squeak toy could possibly mean someone hearing me and trying to hunt me down.

Those may look like harmless little crows, but they can make a loud enough noise for those in the near vicinity to hear.

Those may look like harmless little crows, but they can make a loud enough noise for those in the near vicinity to hear.

The copious amount of audio queues leads to the next point, and that is a lack of information. In most other multiplayer shooters, you can see the kill feed in the top corner, and even the amount of players left in battle royale games. This game, however, doesn’t convey that information at all, leaving the player to their own imagination. You know that there are ten players at the start of each match, but that’s it. This makes every action you do even more intense, because you never know where someone can be. Did someone hear those crows? How many people are closing in to the harvesting site? Are they following me as I try to escape with a bounty? Even if nobody is actually there, you won’t be able to know (unless you have counted all other bodies), and leave it to the mind to be paranoid about every little sound.

Combat in this game also helps build up tension because of how heavy it is. If multiplayer shooters were on a spectrum based on how light their combat is, this game would be the name you see at the heavy end. Combat in this game is deliberate and meaningful, with slow shooting weapons and only a few shots to kill. Every shot needs to have meaning, as for one slip up can mean death.

On the topic of death, dying isn’t meaningless in this game. With other games, if you die, you die and that’s that; but in this game, you have some stuff on the line. In the main mode, you have a character you play with. That character has weapons, items skill traits, and its own level outside of your main level. If you die, you lose that character and any progress and items they carried. You still keep your main level which unlocks new weapons you can buy for your characters, but any weapon you give them as well as any skill traits they have are lost. I haven’t found losing weapons and items to be much of an issue because of how much money I have, but building up a character’s skill traits only to lose them at death definitely puts some skin in the game. With the quickplay mode, being the wellspring at the end of the match (and thus, the sole survivor) means you get to keep the character. In that mode, weapons aren’t picked at the beginning, but picked up as you go along, and there is a good chance you can pick up some high-level weaponry that you can keep if you survive. The main mode is about trying not to lose your stuff while quickplay is about trying to win good stuff, but both modes make surviving go beyond the glory.

All of this stuff is on the line.

All of this stuff is on the line.

Hunt: Showdown is an incredibly fun game that knows how to get tension right. Every time I end a match either in victory or in death, I find myself holding my breath. While other games create tension through high player counts (like a battle royale game) or through sticky situations (like a one versus five in competitive modes), Hunt finds its tension through sound design and your imagination. There are many reasons why I would recommend checking this game out, and the tension this game creates is one of them.