Vampires, werewolves and zombies, oh my…While that previous statement is a supernatural paraphrasing from the Wizard of Oz, it does adequately sum up last year’s cult hit, Hunter: The Reckoning. Based on the wildly successful World of Darkness Roleplaying series from White Wolf, Hunter cast players as modern day monster hunters facing off against the paranormal hordes of Ashcroft. A great title that accurately captured the spirit of the pen and paper game, The Reckoning literally begged for a sequel. Fortunately, a year later, Vivendi Universal and High Voltage delivers the first (of two returning adventures this year) to the dangerous streets of Ashcroft with Hunter: The Reckoning –Wayward.
Set a decade after the events in Hunter: The Reckoning, Wayward returns players to the disturbed town of Ashcroft, which has enjoyed a sense of prosperity since the horrible events of the first game. Unfortunately, with the passage of time comes the welcome delusion of safety and forgetfulness of past events. As anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie knows, this ignorance just begs for evil to come and slaughter innocents. Such actions attract a team of Hunters who seek to combat the swarming creatures; however, they quickly discover themselves to be outnumbered and in desperate need of aid. Dispatching an urgent distress call, the besieged warriors can only hope that the original four Hunters who vanquished the threat from the walls of Ashcroft are up to destroying its latest threat.
Players choose from one of the four characters, each representing significant “creeds” or character classes in the Hunter Universe. Ranging from the powerful melee fighter, or Avenger, to the incredibly speedy Martyr who’s good for quick strikes, each character is more than capable of handling themselves in numerous forms of combat. To that end, each warrior is equipped with a close range and long range weapon. Not restricted to merely specialized weaponry, each character can also acquire and use an assortment of more than 10 unique weapons, including chainsaws, submachine guns and flamethrowers. Yet, Hunters are not limited to physical combat. As spiritual soldiers trying to stem the tide of evil, each character can use their devout conviction to channel immense powers known as Edges. These skills can often level the battlefield, healing critical wounds, increasing damage dealt to enemies or channeling holy energy against enemies.
At first glance, Wayward looks to be built on the same engine as The Reckoning with very few changes to be found from stage to stage. However, if you actually spend a little more time examining the game, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that numerous improvements have been made throughout the entire title. First off, each character has tons of additional animations, including the subtle differences between walking, jogging and running. Even the understated movements that occur when a character is standing still speaks to the heightened degree of attention that has been paid to each character model.
While rarely experiencing slowdown within gameplay, there are a few moments that this detail can sometimes backfire, including characters or enemies that get stuck in walls or on corners of objects. There are easily two to three times the number of cutscenes and full motion videos in Wayward as The Reckoning, and each one of them are nicely drawn with engaging content. What’s more, each level is full of breakable environmental items, many of which satisfy any destructive urge a player might have.
Sound quality in Wayward is just as good as The Reckoning, although it’s most notably the weakest section of the game. Don’t get me wrong, the combat and the sound effects are very solid; sound bytes from the video clips are rather well done, and embody the spirit and character of each character well. However, there just aren’t enough bytes to populate the game itself. In fact, they seem to be randomly scattered throughout the game at certain moments, which is a total let down. I don’t expect to hear running commentary, but it would’ve been nice to hear at least a few more comments on what characters thought as they went through each level.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention the musical score of Wayward, but that’s because much of the music can be supplemented by secret soundtracks found during gameplay. In fact, Wayward hosts numerous hidden bonuses, including bonus costumes and gameplay options. One even allows you to take on the undead monsters as a monster yourself. Much larger than its predecessor, Wayward focuses more on the town of Ashcroft itself and clearing the city from the occupation of numerous creatures. To that end, you’ll go through familiar stomping grounds, like the church and the catacombs, as well as new areas inside of buildings.
Many of these missions involve saving the few remaining innocent members of the town, although there are a few “bonus” missions where you’ll rescue Hunter “sympathizers” that can provide new equipment and weapons. Most of these involve fending off numerous waves of attacking creatures, many of which are completely new to the series. The Reckoning had a rather static number of enemies that a character would face in a level. Wayward actually varies the opponents up, from familiar spiders to super-strong zombies whose disembodied limbs will still struggle against you. Sometimes these odds can be so overwhelming that you’ll need to retreat to another level to avoid getting swarmed.
Fortunately, Hunters have been provided with a new homebase called the Hunter’s Hideout, which is acquired from one of the other new characters (the Wayward character class). Here, players can view information gathered about the town and its monsters, view unlocked movies, listen to music clips or even change their weapons. Not just for entertainment, characters will consistently return to “homebase” areas set up throughout the lengthy gameplay of Wayward, which is easily 2-3 times the size of The Reckoning. The one lone detraction that you might discover in Wayward is the potential lack of variation within some missions. Granted, many of them have different objectives, but aside from the level they’re presented in, most stages seem to degenerate into save innocents, retrieve this item or kill this creature. It would’ve been interesting if more levels were possibly focused on individual characters, such as missions that took advantage of the Judge’s spiritual talents or the Defender’s police connections.
Minor objections aside, Wayward takes the gameplay found with Hunter: The Reckoning and the World of Darkness Universe and expands it to a fully fleshed out adventure. A much deeper, more involving story, packed with lots of secrets and more combat, Wayward is a sequel than many games should look up to as the right way to follow up a successful title. Action fans or roleplaying game fans would do themselves a service to enlist in the battle against evil by getting Hunter: The Reckoning – Wayward for their system as soon as possible.