A future where money rules, and profit is worth every human sacrifice imaginable. To the cynic it might not be far from our current world. There is however a huge difference between the world of 2011, and planet Mars in 2981: in our world states are in control of the armies, and killing is sanctioned by laws and regulations. In 2981 mercenaries known as Hunters are hired by corporations to kill, destroy and invade territories without any governmental control. It is a premise perfect for a movie trailer, as it has all the important elements of violence, power and money.
Hunters: Episode One is a turn-based strategy game that initially reminds me of one of my favourite game series ever: X-Com. Comparing a debut game from an unknown company with a true classic is not that fair I know. To some extent Hunters: Episode One manages to show X-Com some great improvements to the formula, but in the end it lacks lasting power due to lack of a proper mission structure or campaign.
The controls in Hunters is easy to grasp. Touch a character, and available movement is shown in green across the floor. Enemies with red squares beneath their feet are available targets for the selected hunter. Simply tap to attack. Depending on the armor worn the hunter has three to five action points to spend on movement, attack or defend. The defend order gives the hunter a chance to attack any enemy wandering within a set range. At many occasions this is a really important tool, as a hammer wielding hunter often can kill with a single blow.
The hub of the game lets you select a mission, purchase gear, and equip gear. As you upgrade your character the cost to include them in a mission increases. When at the mission selection screen you can set a slider to different levels of difficulty determining how well equipped soldiers you can bring. Better equipment equals harder difficulty. In some ways I truly appreciate this way of handling difficulty levels. On the other hand I feel less inclined to upgrade my hunters, or bring them all into action because the game gets really hard fast. Due to this I have brought a limited number of hunters who have all levelled up, and if I opt to bring any of the less used hunters they don`t stand a chance.
There is no campaign or story mode to the game, and this is the main flaw compared to other turn based games such as X-Com and Jagged Alliance. Instead the game tries to mimic life as a corporation that gets new assignments to consider all the time. A timer shows when new missions will arrive, but you are free to replay those already beaten as you wait. Missions all have a primary, and a secondary goal. Primary goals are: defend reactors, destroy reactors, bring item or scientist to a location, clear the area of enemies and kill the enemy leader. Secondary objectives include keeping every hunter alive, and the near impossible avoid any physical damage to any of your hunters. Having a flow of time concerning new missions is cool, but at the same time it makes the game feel a bit too endless.
Upgrading your hunters with new gear is cool. There is a large selection of weaponry to use, and it really affects the strategy to use. Hammers are for close combat, and can smash a foe to bits. Flamethrowers cover an area, sniper rifles generally only have one shot per turn, and SMGs are a good mid range option. Another important thing is armor, as it determines how many action points you get each turn. I try to use as much light armor as possible to be able to attack first, but some missions benefit from heavy armor to be able to protect a reactor for example.
The presentation in Hunters: Episode One is marvellous with great menus, character animation and maps. It is a bleak image of the future, and when the map is littered with blood and dead bodies it is really immersive. The music is not really music, but rather dark brooding ambience. Sound effects are top notch with searing flamethrowers, and realistic machine gun fire. The thud, and crack as a hammer penetrates armor, skin and bone is horrific.
Hunters: Episode One is the debut title from Rodeo Games, and it makes me really interested to see what they can produce in the future. It is an ambitious game, that sadly launched with a lot of problems causing save games to corrupt and players to complain. This happened to me as well, but as there is no story mode it was simple to get back into the game without replaying easy levels. The IAP model is also a nice feature that Gameloft has used as well. Try a bit before you buy it, and you don`t have to replay tutorials and can keep your current team of hunters.
I recommend everyone to try out Hunters: Episode One. If you like it, and can live without a linear level structure you have almost unlimited game life ahead of you. If you on the other hand want a clear goal with the game you owe it to yourself to at least play the free portion to sample this new exciting game developer.
Hunters: Episode One Free
IAP $4.99 to unlock beyond level 2.
Seller: Rodeo Games