The only thing scarier than Hunt: Showdown’s monsters is its optimization

Evan: Our favorite game of E3 2017 is finally on our SSDs: Hunt: Showdown, Crytek's 2v2v2v2 swampy, permadeathy, gilded age survival FPS. Does it live up to our own hype?

Tyler: I like it! And I want to keep playing it, so that's a good start. I'm amused by the Darkest Dungeon setup, where you spend money—starting with $666 in the bank, of course—to recruit characters with different gear and abilities, and then take them into the field to die. I can imagine getting really attached to a guy the longer he lives.

Evan: Guys, it's effin' nice to play a survival game that isn't about looting. Hunt almost completely strips it out: you purchase gear pre-match, ammo resupply points are marked on the map, and you can't pick up stuff from dead players. As a result, you're able to give your eyes and ears completely to the (lush, creepy) surroundings. It made me realize how tedious the rhythm of opening doors and looking at the ground in PUBG can be.

Tyler: They're very different games, but Hunt also funnels players more naturally than PUBG, which you called out in your review, Evan. You're all looking for something—a horrible spider—and the fastest way to find it is to track down highlighted clues. Discovering a clue greys out a big section of the map, so you know where not to look. And as you're doing this, you know that other teams are engaged in the same search. When it's not about loot, it's all about information, isn't it?  

I do not appreciate it when the dogs with the molten eyes gaze at me from across a field.

Evan: And the sound design does a lot of that work. Sound is a resource in Hunt. When you're sprinting, you struggle to hear the unsettling groans of the monsters around you. But when you're walking or crouching, you can pinpoint them. The compounds and beaten paths are populated with more enemies, but this dynamic between moving and hearing makes running into the brush a risk too—tall grass and woods hide the lower-tier monsters pretty well, who seem to have a small variety of idling behaviors like shambling, eating, and 'sleeping.'

Tyler: It felt dangerous to fire off shots. Hunt reinforces that by making firing a two- or three-step process. You have to right click, then left click to shoot, or right click, press shift to aim down sights, and then left click. Pretty bold to brush off decades of shooter design with your control scheme. At worst, aiming feels clunky—partly due to the uneven framerate, which we'll dig into—but at its best, it's deliberate and weighty. 

James: Weighty is right, because even aiming down the sights is a challenge. The FOV gets real tight and mouse sensitivity doesn't adjust much to compensate. It feels like a shooting system built for taking careful, stealthy shots from the foliage rather than the usual jump-crouch dances we're used to. We’re only a few days into the first closed alpha, so I hope everyone learns to take it slower. I want to hunt other players—crouch, hold my breath, and take aim. Once we all start using characters we’ve invested a few hours into and have something to lose, I’m guessing the shootouts will become quieter and more abrupt overall.

Chris: I can at least vouch for the satisfaction of chucking a molotov into a crowd of zombies. Clusters of them (currently) have a nasty habit of spawning in late, especially as you're running, and as Steven and I were sprinting toward what looked like a clear bridge, a pack of zeds suddenly appeared right in our path. I was hoping to save the cocktail for other players, but it seemed like a good time to light the monsters up. Their screeching and screams were damn satisfying after spending most of the match trying to avoid them whenever possible.

Wildlife

Tyler: More scary that the shootouts, and certainly more disgusting and upsetting, are the dying horses lying in fields, rotting alive, neighing at you—giving away your position and tempting you to put them out of their misery. There are crows, too, that loudly burst upward when you near. Sound is a friend and an enemy. And it's hideous. Too spooky for me to go at alone, I think.

Steven: I love all the noise-making tripwires. Chris and I fell for that old horse trick too. It was terrifying—but we didn’t have long to think about it because the noise it made immediately got us shot at.

Chris: I wasn't expecting the horse to move, but once it did (and it scared the hell out of me) I was expecting it to get up and run. And then I thought it might be some kind of zombie horse. And then I wanted to heal it. And then I kind of wanted to shoot it so it would stop making noise already. We've all got problems, horse.

Steven: Chris took a bullet and had to heal up, and it was then that I realized we were surrounded by all three teams. Our only option was to sprint past that stupid horse and hide in some corn.

Evan: I do not appreciate it when the dogs with the molten eyes gaze at me from across a field. I do not like it.

Tyler: I am more concerned about the bees, Evan. Not the bees!

Evan: I'm sorry I let the bees get you. I blasted that beekeeper in the face! Nevertheless, the bees persisted.

Tyler: A lot of things happened at that dock that we regret. 

But yeah, in the daylight, it felt like the monsters were too much of a non-factor—we had to make a lot of noise and mistakes to get them to even consider making a snack of us. They did make us reroute, though. But we learned on the night map that there's a snowballing effect. Shoot off a gun: bees. Shoot at the bees and guess what? More bees.

Steven: The night map feels like some kind of Resident Evil 7 multiplayer. Sometimes I'd hear a groan and start sprinting, not knowing if anything was actually chasing me, or if my sprinting might cause something to chase me that wasn't already. You need information, but getting information, like by turning on your shoulder lamp, can change the information you get—it might attract a zombie, or a player. So you have to try to live with as little information as you can manage. Tense.

My first couple matches were nearly unplayable at times.

Chris: I feel like the monster groans are a little too amplified. I'll hear something and it sounds like it's right next to me and I'll freak out and spin around and it's a good fifteen yards away. I'm appreciative that I know it's there but a little tweaking of monster noises is in order. Gurgles shouldn't carry as far as gunshots do.

Tyler: At least hitting zombies is easy. Players not so much. One guy one-shotted me with what I think was a handcannon after I nicked his leg, but that was after both of us playing peek-a-boo and missing for a good minute. Same deal with my other duel, though there was more close range dancing. In the end neither of us could hit the other with a bullet, I misjudged the melee timing, and he whacked me. But as Evan alluded to,  the biggest problem is the framerate drops. Hard to shoot someone down an iron sight when he's moving at 5 fps.

Performance anxiety

Evan: Oof. When we said that Hunt: Showdown could be the next Crysis, this isn't what I meant.

Tyler: The stuttering is worse than the bees. And it's especially bad when you're strafing and jumping in a duel, which is when you need a perfectly smooth framerate. I'm on a GTX 980, you're on a 980 Ti, and we were only running it at 1080p, so it wasn't us. 

Chris: My first couple matches were nearly unplayable at times, I was experiencing (also with a 980) not just framerate drops but complete freezes for sometimes as long as five seconds. It was bad, much worse than what you guys were dealing with. Once I came back from a freeze to find myself on fire (some clever zombies carry lit torches, somehow) and another time a player had shot me dead while I was locked up.

I mean, if Crytek can't get CryEngine working well, then everything is meaningless.

Evan: But surprisingly, our hardware editor Bo Moore was seeing very stable performance on an Intel i7-6700k / 980Ti setup. I watched over his shoulder and he definitely wasn't experiencing the frame dips that I was at home, despite running the same GPU. Is this a CPU-bound game? I'm puzzled. 

Hopefully it isn't a permanent problem we're seeing, because at moments, Hunt is gorgeous. The tone of the art, the sound design, the fidelity of the world and the lighting are knit together wonderfully.

Chris: Turning off Vsync, updating my drivers, nothing helped my issues. The patch today didn't appear to address any optimization either. 

Tyler: Obviously optimization isn't what was being tested here—there are virtually no graphics options in the alpha—but I hope it can keep looking as good as it does and run much more smoothly upon release. Relatedly, did you think the film grain was a bit much? It was a lot of film grain.

Evan: Had to floss afterwards. Hopefully that'll be one of the sliders once the graphics settings become available.

James: I think we're all looking forward to seeing it mature. CryEngine can be quite the resource hog, but with enough time in Early Access, I'm optimistic that the devs will wrangle enough of the problems in to make it a smoother experience. I mean, if Crytek can't get CryEngine working well, then everything is meaningless. 

We also don't know much of anything about progression, how the other monsters work, or what future maps will look like. My gut says it'll be in Early Access until December, minimum.

Evan: I'm fine with that. Hunt is embryonic, but its map, sound design, and theme are more compelling to me than the other survival games I've played. If Crytek can keep its various monsters scary as players get acquainted with them and smooth out the performance issues we've seen, this could be a great game.