Dead by Daylight sics a slasher film villain against a loosely allied group of victims, who work together (or sacrifice each other) to escape. Behaviour Interactive's new game is structured similarly, except this time five runners must outwit and outmaneuver a hunter armed with a shotgun and assault rifle in a procedurally generated garden (of death). It ain't Evolve, exactly, but it is risky.
I played two games (two rounds each) of Deathgarden at PAX East last week, one as a runner and the other as the hunter. I had fun hunting, though my time running didn't go great.
The hunter knocks runners down by shooting them, while the runners mostly just run around, because their crossbow bolts can't actually kill the hunter (more on those later). Runners can move faster and more spryly than the hunter, scrambling up cliffs and hiding in tall grass, but in the build I played, the frantic hopping was less Mirror's Edge and more 'frightened rabbit.' The increased speed actually makes Deathgarden less scary than Dead by Daylight, even though it's a more plausible scenario—which Deathgarden attempts to sidestep by saying that it's a futuristic blood sport, distancing it from reality with an Absolver-esque look.
After being knocked down, a runner can be revived by another runner or crawl to a med station. When the hunter has knocked down three runners, they can execute any knocked-down runner by sending them to a death machine (the 'blood post') and waiting out a timer. The knockdown counter resets after a runner is executed.
In theory, the hunter has to make a choice after a third knockdown: take the time to execute the runner they just dropped, or go harass runners who are capturing control points (if the runners capture them all, they have a chance to escape). The hunter that popped me with a shotgun shell in the second round wasn't too worried, though: they executed me right away. That could be attributed to my and my team's inexperience (we were playing the game for the first time days after it was announced), but it was disappointing to have my run ended so early. Unfortunately, it's hard to really grasp a game's possibilities in a learning round.
When I played as the hunter, I won both rounds. In the first, the runners actually did manage to open the exits. It's surprisingly hard to land shotgun blasts against these defenseless parkour enthusiasts—they're squirrely—but eventually I dropped enough of them en route to the exit to take the win. Unlike Dead by Daylight, it seems the runners have to win as a team. If the hunter takes out three of them, they all lose, even if a couple escape.
The second round really dragged at the end. The runners would start capturing a control point, which alerted me to their presence, and I'd saunter over and drop a turret, my chosen special ability, which would start harassing them. That was often enough to chase them off. Because they didn't spread out much, I just kept chasing them off points, slowly working toward the nine total knockdowns I needed to execute three of them and win.
It was fun, though. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to hit a bounding target, losing and refinding them through the underbrush. It's all forward momentum, always chasing, fumbling to hit runners as they dart over and around cliffs and ruins. My main worry is that playing hunter is going to be a lot more fun than playing runner. If you ask me, 'Would you like to have the gun, or not have the gun,' I'm going to chose the former. Scoring a hit on a moving object is a feat of skill with immediate feedback, whereas for really good runners, the skill's all going to be in the rear view mirror, in how they were missed or slipped away, things that may not be seen directly, and I wonder if that can be as satisfying.
The runners do get to do some shooting, too, at least. Their crossbow bolts can take out stuff like my turrets, and though they don't damage the hunter, they can apply status effects. When I was the hunter someone kept hitting me with a bolt that displayed my location to everyone. It didn't really slow me down, though. They still had to stand next to control points, which alerted me to their locations.
Deathgarden is a tough game to demo at a place like PAX, where everyone gets one shot to both learn what the hell they're doing and hopefully have some fun, so it obviously warrants more investigation. Dead by Daylight is popular, and it makes sense that Behaviour might have wondered, 'What if we did this, but faster? It's the smooth peanut butter to DBD's chunky peanut butter. If you want a chance to try it out, you can sign up for a shot at joining the upcoming closed alpha on the official site.