Developer Easy Trigger Games’ Huntdown is a love letter to 80s video games with a distinctly modern flair. Part Robocop, part Contra, and a little Blade Runner, Huntdown presents players with a fast-paced side scrolling shooter/platformer that can be punishing at times but is always a joy to experience.
The basic setup for Huntdown puts the player in control of one of three bounty hunters: Anna Conda, John Sawyer, or Mow Man. Each has a default weapon that favors a slightly different play style. While Anna’s weapon fires, the Mow Man is a weaker single shot pistol that is as fast as players pull the trigger. John Sawyer’s weapon is stronger than the other two, but it is also the slowest.
Depending on who players choose, they will find a different playstyle that works. For our playthrough with Mow Man, for example, it was pretty easy to just keep advancing and eliminating enemies along the way. Whereas John Sawyer requires a more deliberate and considered approach that takes advantage of the cover available in the game. Alongside the starting weapons, players will also pick up different weapons (and throwables) with limited ammo. They can hold one of the unique weapons at a time and use them for specific enemies or sections.
Unlike Contra or any of the side scrolling shooters of the era, Huntdown allows players to use the terrain to their advantage. They can duck behind boxes, step through an open door, or jump above their targets to sidestep. At first, direct conflict is the fastest and easiest path to victory but as players progress and the difficulty increases, they will need to make better use of their environment.
Those environments and environments are divided into four main categories that are themed after other gangs. The Hoodlum Dolls are the game’s version of punk rock fans, with brightly colored mohawks, ripped jeans, and a love of pop culture. Misbehavior favors the subway and loves hockey. Heatseekers is an Elvis-inspired motorcycle club. And the No. 1 Suspects is a Samurai-influenced futuristic group.
Each of the game’s four areas is separated into 5 levels each with a boss at the end. Players will first recruit four key henchmen in the gang hierarchy before finally taking on the leader. Throughout the levels, players will encounter a variety of enemies that have clever designs, cool weapons, and require unique strategies to defeat. One level might have players dodging ninjas and samurai robots, while another features Mad Max-esque cars with a “concrete surfer” in tow.
So much of what makes Huntdown exciting is that players don’t know what to expect next. The game carefully introduces new enemies in each of the 5 levels so that nothing feels too repetitive. And eventually, things get very frantic, as players try to avoid advancing attackers and fire bullets as enemies swarm in front of them all at once. It can be overwhelming and the game is no pushover even on normal difficulty, but carefully choosing when to fight and when to be more cautious makes for an enjoyable encounter.
Where Huntdown really shines, however, is in its boss battles. Typically, a boss fight will require some element of timing, avoidance, and patience, as players learn their opponent’s attack patterns. There’s no doubt that a bad choice or an attempt to get a little extra damage can derail the whole thing, and most bosses can take a long time to beat. As a result, not everyone will enjoy Huntdown’s main selling point, especially when the normal difficulty still feels a bit difficult. Personally, the pattern memorization and small windows of opportunity made for a very rewarding experience when done right. A big nitpick to pick up on the boss fights is that the AI sometimes feels a little too smart and in turn a little cheap.
The good news is that Huntdown offers co-op to alleviate some of the stress that comes with a difficult game like this. Working with a partner adds a new layer of strategy and also helps eliminate feeling overwhelmed. The chaos becomes more manageable and the experience becomes more breezy. Personal preference will determine what is the best way to play Huntdown, but those who want an easier time should find a friend.
All in all, Huntdown delivers terrifying boss battles, exceptional music, a sleek design, and fast-paced combat. It’s a throwback to an era where games did a lot with a little, while testing players’ abilities all the way. Admittedly, the difficulty (unless players want to drop it on easy) will be a turn off, but most will find the checkpoint system forgiving enough. For our money, the penalty made the victory more palatable.
Huntdown is available now for PC, PS4, Mac, Switch, and Xbox One. Today Technology was provided with a PS4 code for this review.