Slowly but surely, however, the game's oddly-shaped puzzle pieces begin to plop into place. See, most of the issues observed above are never really remedied -- instead, developer InXile Entertainment seems to have made an unconventional and fascinating decision to thoroughly nurture a small handful of other genuinely great ideas.
Were it not for these spectacularly executed ideas, it would be easy to write Hunted off as a fantasy-themed Gears of War duplicate. Actually, even with its innovations, the similarities between the two titles are hard to ignore -- you'll be roadie-running between chest-high walls, carrying out gruesome executions of downed foes, racing to revive your incapacitated cohorts, and stopping-and-popping your way through wave after wave of vile Wargar, who -- hey! -- even kind of look like the equally vile Locusts.
Where Hunted stands apart from Epic's chainsaw-shooter is its unique approach to co-op. Rather than relying solely on flanking tactics or concentration of gunfire, success in Hunted demands the clever utilization of the game's two protagonists: Caddoc, a melee fighter who can survive in the thick of a monster swarm, and E'lara, an extremely powerful (and preposterously scantily clad) archer who splits her foes' wigs with Legolasian gusto.
Each wave of foes requires a different application of each adventurer's set of powers. For instance, Caddoc can summon a tornado to lift a group of enemies helplessly into the air, making them easy prey for E'lara. In a tougher solo fight, E'lara can buffet a foe with arcane arrows, dissolving their shield and making them more vulnerable to Caddoc's attacks. Fights are hard to resolve without your partner, whether they be an online friend or a competent AI teammate. (The game's split screen mode is, unfortunately, eye-meltingly difficult to play.)
A somewhat beefier progression system can be found on each character's Talents menu, which delivers a cornucopia of health, mana, weapon damage and ammo capacity boosts in exchange for meeting certain goals. These include finding a certain number of the game's many, many squirreled-away collectibles, or killing a set number of enemies. You'll inadvertently unlock these Talents with surprising frequency -- but that doesn't make them any less rewarding.
Despite the game's flaws, that handful of brilliantly executed ideas makes Hunted a difficult game to ignore.
Though a Talent unlocked late in the game affords you an extra inventory slot, you'll spend a majority of your time carrying one ranged weapon, one melee weapon, one piece of armor and one shield at a time. If you come across a new, appealing armament, you have to drop the one you have -- a bitter pill to swallow for the dyed-in-the-wool RPG hoarder. Still, there's no store to sell your stockpiled wares at, and even the game's strongest weapons eventually lose their powerful enchantments, ensuring that you'll never cling to one piece of equipment for too long.
The strange concoction of RPG character advancement blended with an action game's hasty loot management takes some getting used to but, ultimately, it's the best thing Hunted: The Demon's Forge has going for it. Unfortunately, though you'll go through weapons like they're rapidly going out of style, you'll wish you could just as easily swap out the game's two lead characters.
Neither character makes a particularly concerted effort to be liked by anyone else in the game -- a goal at which they succeed at so swimmingly, it actually makes them genuinely unlikeable as the game's protagonists.
And, ultimately, one of Hunted: The Demon Forge's biggest strengths is also its biggest weakness -- there's just not much there. Yes, its constituent components are polished and impeccably streamlined, but after a few hours, there aren't any surprises in store. Without a compelling narrative to pull you along, it's really a toss-up as to whether the game's rewarding sense of progression and thoughtful cooperative combat is going to be enough to bring you to the end of its 14-or-so-hour campaign. The odds of you replaying through the game in Adventure+ mode or dabbling in the arena-building Crucible mode are slimmer still.
Despite the game's flaws, that handful of brilliantly executed ideas makes Hunted a difficult game to ignore. Role-playing/shooter hybrids aren't a new invention by any stretch of the imagination, but most of those hybrids simply borrow and juxtapose the best elements of their amalgamated genres. For better and worse, Hunted eschews those benchmark components, creating a unique, exciting and promising genre of its own design.