It's hard to not think of Gears of War while playing Hunted: The Demon's Forge. It's hard not to assume the Epic's blockbuster shooter would be superior to the Hunted's upcoming fantasy riff. But Hunted adds a good spice: co-operation.
Sure, Gears of War is technically a co-op shooter. In the first two Gears games, heroes Marcus and Dom can be controlled by two people and strategically shoot through level after level. But what kind of help do they give each other? At best, they can shoot a Locust enemy off the other guy or drive a truck while the other shoots a turret. I'm being overly simplistic and would be remiss if I didn't call out Gears 2's way-better-than-it-sounds co-op bomb carry mission. Yes, these are noble acts of teamwork, but are these guys helping each other out as much as they can?
I think less of Marcus and Dom's teamwork after having played Hunted: The Demon's Forge in Dallas last week. Hunted is in many ways Gears in fantasy clothing. It runs on the same graphics engine, looks similarly grimy, uses similar iconography and systems, and is a linear action adventure, though with more environmental puzzles. Its biggest distinction may be that its heroes, the mighty swordsman Caddoc and the elvish woman E'lara, do indeed help each other out. Their method is magic, because Hunted is a swords-and-sorcery take on this Gears kind of thing.
When one of Hunted's heroes is downed in a fight, the other can toss them some magic that revives them. When the two characters toss each other healing magic simultaneously, the connect via a sort of "death tether" of energy that they can use to clothesline bad guys.
Either character can use spells, throwing balls of conjured fire, ice and the like. But either character can also use their magic to help the other hero. Caddoc may levitate enemies so that bow-wielding E'lara can shoot them down. E'lara can freeze enemies for Caddoc to shatter. The two characters can infuse each other with the spells they normally cast, which, for example, can cause Caddoc to be charged with the electrical energy emitted by E'lara.
While I was playing Hunted in Dallas I tried a mid-game mission twice. On my first playthrough I wielded Caddoc as if he was Marcus Fenix. I let E'lara, controlled by the computer this time, to fight her own fights. Then I played as E'lara (you can swap control of the characters at any checkpoint). I played her as a support character, opting to hang back and freeze enemies so that Caddoc could shatter them. I could have played her as offence, but I chose not to. I preferred to let her set up the kills for her pal.
This kind of cooperation is natural for a fantasy game. The genre has long had its healers and warriors working in tandem. That's why, as questionable as it could seem to some people that a Gears of War-style co-op game is being made, that designed amalgamation may produce a worthwhile result. In fantasy, with magic, it is natural for characters to help.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge will be out later this year.