I had been looking forward to Hunt: Showdown for years, since it was first announced as Horrors of the Guilded Age back in 2014. The many comparisons to Left 4 Dead was the first selling point that caught my attention, and the unique 1860’s aesthetic was just gravy.
But I didn’t expect how long I’d have to wait. The game labored in development hell for over half a decade, going through a massive rebranding into a pseudo-competitive Battle Royale with a new name that I honestly didn’t like as much as the original. The title Hunt: Showdown tells me almost nothing about the gameplay, whereas Horrors of the Gilded Age explains the setting, tone, and sort of monsters you’ll be fighting. As a result, I ignored the game when it came out and first played it during a 2018 Free Weekend.
I didn’t do any research whatsoever going into the experience, so I was pleasently surprised with what felt like very unique (albeit puzzling) gameplay choices. The aesthetic was incredible; the environments were polished, the maps consistently led us to more unique locales that differentiated themselves from where we’d been, and the weapons were crisp and enjoyable to use. We couldn’t figure out why the game was so preoccupied with noise; the maps were filled with braying wildlife, floors littered in broken glass, and other hazards that did nothing except create noise the NPCs weren’t reacting to, but we hadn’t realized that their main job was helping warn enemy players that somebody was about to get the drop on them.
The core gameplay is a little unintuitive, though I imagine after a few rounds (or a bit of outside research) any player can figure it out quickly enough. Your party enters the map with several bounties they’re hoping to claim, usually NPC boss monsters somewhere on the massive world map. Your main competition will be other players going for the same hit, and since all characters have perma-death enabled, there’s a serious opportunity cost to actually risking these objectives. It’s honestly one of the most unique concepts I’ve ever heard in a Battle Royale, and I massively prefer it over the shrinking-circle mechanic everything else in the genre relies on.
The level-up systems and weapon-unlock trees are vast and varied, and a hardcore player will find plenty of cool perks/firearms to augment themselves into whatever bounty-hunting archetype tickles their fancy. The perma-death is (for me personally) a buzzkill; I get the reason they included it, but the procedurally-generated hunters are really endearing, and it sucks to know you may never see them again, especially considering the genre has inherently-lethal gameplay. Rest in peace, Valois St. Germaine.
But overall I highly recommend Hunt: Showdown, and have been eagerly watching the rumors and portents that the title will one day go free-to-play on Steam. (It’s constantly taking part in Free Weekend events on many different platforms, which is usually a harbinger that the devs are at least exploring the business model.) The next time one of those come around, you should definitely take the chance to try the freshest take on the Battle Royale genre since 1863.