We went hands-on at Gamescom to find out how IllFonic is staying faithful to the Predator universe.
During the PlayStation State of Play broadcast back in May, one surprise star of the show was the announcement that an iconic character is coming to PS4.
A few months later, at Gamescom 2019, the team behind Predator: Hunting Grounds let a lucky few get their hands on an early build of the game to see how it’s shaping up. Attendees assumed the roles of Predator and Fire Team for some asymmetrical multiplayer battles that proved to be nerve-shreddingly tense, action-packed and shout-out-loud fun all at the same time.
After we were done tearing up the jungle in a hail of gunfire and plasma bolts, we sat down with studio Head Charles Brungardt and Creative Director Jared Gerritzen sat down to explain how they’re crafting this Predator franchise tie-in.
Your four-player squad has a job to do
Just like the original 1987 movie, your Fire Team is dropped into the jungle with a mission to complete. In the level we played this meant infiltrating a militia camp, stealing data from various points and uploading it, before making an escape. But of course, there’s another combatant stalking from the trees that the Fire Team haven’t banked on.
“We want to almost make the Fire Team forget that there’s a Predator,” says Charles. “So then when he does come, the tension has been building for a while and you’ll be like ‘oh crap!’ when he attacks.”
What to say: “I ain’t got time to bleed.”
The tension is palpable
Predator movies are memorable not just for incredible fire fights and action sequences, but for the creeping dread of being stalked by an unseen enemy. Unlike Dutch, Dillon and the crew, you’ll know that there’s a Predator out there watching you — but that doesn’t make it any less nerve-racking.
“When the Predator cloaks, he makes a clicking sound. When you’re playing as the Fire Team, focused on the objectives and you hear that click, you’ll start freaking out,” Jared says. “My favourite moments are when the Predator is hunting you but you’re mudded up so he can’t see you, and he’s directly overhead, moving through the trees. That’s when the tension really gets you.”
What to say: “There’s something out there waiting for us, and it ain’t no man. We’re all gonna die!”
Stealth is vital for both sides
“Mudding up is a mechanic that we pulled in from the first movie,” Jared explains. “It covers your heat signature so the Predator can’t spot you as easily. But then, when you do mud up, you’ll be vulnerable for a little while you’re looking down — and that’s when the Predator can pounce.”
In one of the games we played, that’s exactly what happened. Towards the end of a match, in a desperate race to reach the chopper, one of the IllFonic guys stopped to cover himself — but it was too late. The Predator was quickly on top and liberating his spinal cord from his body.
Of course, the Predator is a master of stealth.
“The Predator not only sees heat, but from farther away he sees sound bubbles when weapons are fired,” adds Jared.
“The Fire Team have melee weapons and can take out the NPCs silently and take the perimeter. Then, when they need to go loud, it’s best to do it as fast as possible then get out before the real danger hits.
“You can customize weapons, characters and loadouts to play in a specific way, so you can build a super-stealth guy and not give up your location, making it tough for the Predator to find you. But usually, he will!”
What to say: “She says the jungle… it just came alive and took him.”
Hunter and hunted roles can flip at any point
“In the first film the Fire Team are focused on their mission, but then the Predator starts hunting them. By the end of the movie, that’s turned around and the hunter and hunted roles are flipped. That was the inspiration for our game,” Charles explains.
“So when you play as the Predator, you’ll feel big and badass, but you can have that turned around on you as well.”
What to say: “Get to the choppaaaaaaa!”
The Predator is tough — but not invincible
Getting the balance right between Predator and Fire Team is a vital part of making a four-vs-one fight work and is something that the team at IllFonic are spending a lot of time perfecting.
“The Predator has a finite amount of energy, so when he’s cloaked, using heat vision or firing his Plasma Caster, it depletes his energy bar. That’s one way we’re balancing him — you can’t just run around cloaked, using heat vision and popping off shots all the time,” says Jared.
“His helmet can get blown off which makes him even more vulnerable as he won’t have heat vision any more, and you won’t be able to aim the Plasma Caster, so the shots will be a little off.”
What to say: “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
Authenticity is important — but Predator: Hunting Grounds has its own place
“We’ve worked with Fox a lot to make sure the authenticity is there, and how we can add more to the canon of the movies,” says Charles, explaining that their game is an evolution of what has happened throughout the movies. But fans of the Predator franchise will see plenty of call-backs, from the way the Predator moves through the treetop canopy to what happens when he’s cornered.
“The Yautja are an almost samuari-like race and they’d rather die an honourable death than be taken down. He’s got wrist blades on the left, self-destruct on the right, and the Plasma-caster on his shoulder. They were the three things our Predator had to have from the off,” explains Jared.
“If you’re wounded so badly that you can’t heal, then the honourable thing to do is to make your last stand and take everyone out with a nuke. The Fireteam may have enough time to get away — we show you the blast radius that you’ll need to escape — but it’s a fun way that the game can end.”
What to say: “What the hell are you?”