Hunter play sticks
to its guns

PlayStation 2's spin on
the original game offers mindless
killing with grainy graphics

Rated C- PlayStation 2 owners could be forgiven if they felt a tad slighted by the makers of the original Hunter: The Reckoning a little more than a year ago.

The Xbox got its version first, followed in a few months by the GameCube version. But for Sony's console? Nothing.

Now as if to atone for that oversight, Vivendi Universal has crafted the PS2-exclusive Hunter: The Reckoning -- Wayward, which could be described as Hunter version 1.5 -- a few new features to distinguish it from the original game, but not enough to make Xbox owners who bought Redeemer insanely jealous. In fact, it could be argued that Wayward is essentially the original Hunter with a new story but murkier graphics.


Platform: PlayStation 2
Genre: Action
Manufacturer: Vivendi Universal
ESRB rating: M

Once again, players choose one of four creeds -- avenger, defender, judge, martyr -- and dive into the cursed town of Ashcroft, where assorted evils seem insistent on creeping back in two years after the events of the first game despite having their collective tails whipped hundreds of times. A fifth creed, the wayward, joins the party about halfway through the game.

And that fifth creed, along with a smattering of new enemies here and there, is pretty much the extent of the originality in this game.

The basic goal remains the same: KILL KILL KILL, whether through sharp objects, one of many different guns or a flamethrower and chain saw. Sure, there are some missions where you'll have to protect some innocent sap, and there are others where you'll have to find certain items or people to proceed, but there isn't much more than that.

Several level designs, including a church graveyard, downtown Ashcroft and a hospital, are directly recycled from the original Xbox game -- albeit with a darker, grainier look due to the PS2's weaker graphics processor. One Xbox mission, a romp through a deserted prison to rescue "innocents," even gets copied exactly in the PS2 version. (Apparently, "innocents" really are stupid enough to get stuck hiding in the same spots in the same prison two years later.)

The gameplay is just as drab as the environments, never really hitting the frantic kill-everything-in-sight-or-die-trying heights of the original game or Redeemer. Wandering through confusing, expansive layouts trying to find a certain doohickey, killing the same enemies over and over every step of the way, tends to wear rather thin after a while. Having to visit some the same expansive levels twice kills even more of the game's energy.

In addition, the designers, in a curious move, opted not to have players go from level to level in a straight line as in the two Xbox games, instead dumping them to a level select menu after each mission is completed. While this encourages some variety in the way players tackle the game, it also interrupts the natural flow that existed in the Xbox versions.

The default controller configuration also introduces a new problem. Whereas the Xbox controller features six face buttons and two trigger buttons, the PS2 controller has four face buttons and four trigger buttons. To compensate, the developers mapped the Edge activation button to L1, and the jump button to L2 right below it. In the heat of battle -- which is often -- it's easy to push one button instead of the other, with disastrous results.

PS2 owners who missed out on the original game and have no way of playing it, as well as hard-core Hunter fans who insist on getting the complete story, have the most to gain from Wayward. For anyone else, if you have some time to kill (no pun intended) one weekend, it's worth a rental but not much more than that.


Redeemer for Xbox adds
a female role and tells a good story,
but requires little strategy

Rated C The influx of games based on Hunter: The Reckoning, the tabletop role-playing game by White Wolf, continues with the newest Xbox entry, with the subtitle Redeemer.

Its story line is a continuation of the first Hunter. In that game, one of the people you rescue is a girl named Kaylie, who watched her parents die as a result of supernatural hi-jinks in the city of Ashcroft. In Redeemer, Kaylie is now grown up and joins the original four Hunters, dedicated to wiping out evil.


Platform: Xbox
Genre: Action
Manufacturer: Vivendi Universal
ESRB rating: M

Hunters follow a "creed" that determines their attributes and abilities (called "edges"). Prior games introduced four creeds from the original White Wolf RPG: avenger, defender, martyr and judge. Kaylie adds "redeemer" to the mix.

Although many of the game's scenes focus on Kaylie, you're not required to play as her; you can still choose one of the original four. You can also unlock playable monsters by collecting cards throughout the game, but be warned that the monsters are meant more for fun rather than to actually finish levels.

Redeemer is a generally straightforward, shoot-'em-up game. Each hunter starts with a melee weapon, a ranged weapon with unlimited ammo and one edge, which is powered by Conviction.

But, as in "The Matrix" movie series, what Redeemer really prefers is guns. Lots of guns. The game introduces special ammo for your hunter's default ranged weapon (all of which are guns except for Judge, who uses a crossbow). Such ammo can paralyze, poison, incinerate or blast godly power at your enemies. Monsters drop special ammo frequently, encouraging use of your guns.

Special weapons (again, mostly guns) are scattered throughout; a hunter can hold a maximum of three such weapons.

Unlike prior games, hunters' inherent attributes of strength, speed and stamina don't level up. Instead, their skills -- melee, ranged and conviction -- now have experience meters, which fill up each time you use that skill. New glyphs offer short bursts of unlimited ammo, invulnerability, speed and armor.

Redeemer doesn't make any real changes from prior Hunter games. Gameplay is exactly the same, with complex controls and combos that are almost impossible to pull off in the heat of battle against monsters that often act much faster than you can.

The entire Hunter video game series seems to have as its goal the telling of a good story, and its story line does get engrossing, sometimes involving characters from the first game.

But while story line might be the point of the original White Wolf RPG, a bit more innovation and improvement is required when turning it into a video game.

Strategy isn't paramount for most of the game: Just shoot your way to the end of the stage. Repeat until you hit the anticlimactic ending that just about ensures the creation of yet another game in the series.

Still, there's something about near-mindless shooting that makes Redeemer strangely appealing, especially with the new special ammo. And, with the monster cards and the choice of using a beefed-up Hunter from a previous game, it has some replay value that makes it worth a brief rental.

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