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Hunted: The Demon’s Forge: On glitches, difficulty settings, and co-op fights

No one is playing Hunted: The Demon's Forge. No one has heard of Hunted: The Demon's Forge. It's a forgettable, poorly made co-op game that tries to put a Gears of War-inspired cover system in a fantasy RPG. I have nothing but pity for anyone who bought and played Hunted: The Demon's Forge.

I'm saying that I feel very sorry for myself for having bought and played Hunted: The Demon's Forge.

I should clarify: using the past tense of "played" suggests that I have completed the game. I haven't. In fact, I'm still on the first chapter, even though I've played the game for several hours. Word on the street is that if I can manage to get past the first chunk of the game, which takes place in a disorganized, dimly lit village, I'll start having fun. The second half of the game involves more dungeons, and the maps tighten up a bit. But I'm having a lot of trouble getting there.

I'll just come right out and say it: this game is too hard.

But that's not the whole story. I've played difficult games before. I've gritted my teeth, dug in my heels, resisted the temptation to throw my controller across the room, and overcome my frustrations in order to beat whatever game is giving me grief, because the best way to beat a good hard game is to stop whining, be patient, and practice. Theoretically, the game will have provided you with the precise tools that you need to beat the obstacles before you, and all you have to do is learn how best to use those tools.

But Hunted: The Demon's Forge does not play fair. The tools that the game provides will not serve you well.

I have been playing Hunted as a co-op game with my boyfriend, which may have been a mistake, but the only reason we got the game was to play it together. And on paper, Hunted has a good co-op dynamic. You and your partner play as Caddoc and E'lara: a sword-swinging heavy hitter, and an elven archer. I hoped we might enjoy this game as much as we enjoyed Borderlands, in which our best play-through involved me as the slap-happy muscle man Brick and my guy laying down cover fire as the wiry sniper Mordecai. So, we settled in for gender-swapped, co-operative goodness with me as Caddoc and my boyfriend as E'lara.

The first irritation arises as early as the title screen; the option to select local co-op isn't easy to find. Also, every time you log out and back in to the game, the menu assumes by default that you don't want to play co-op, even if you were just in the middle of a co-op game. It'll offer a tantalizing "continue?" option, but if you select this, there's no further option to add in your partner to the game after that. You'll always have to re-navigate to the buried split screen selection instead of pressing "continue".

Also, once you're logged in to the co-op game, only the first player can navigate the menu screens for gear and upgrades. This means that in order for both players to organize their skill trees, they'll have to patiently pass the controller back and forth. I haven't played the game in online co-op, but I can only assume that the developers coded a way for online co-op players to each manage their own gear. Why didn't they do this for local co-op? I know local co-op isn't as popular, but I've never played a game that required me and my partner to pass a controller back and forth in this manner.

The game asks you early on to adjust how dark you want the graphics to be. You're going to want to make the game as bright as possible, but you still won't be able to see much of anything even then. The lack of color and lack of light might be intended to distract you from the fact that the characters are boxy and their movements are clipped and unrealistic. I'd rather the developers just own their poor designs instead of trying to hide them so that I have enough light to be able to see enemies, not to mention breakable barrels and boxes.

In the first half hour or so of the game, you'll find a lot of breakable containers containing health potions and revive potions. You're only able to carry one of each with you at a time, and within an hour or two, the number of potions drops off significantly - or perhaps the potions are just so well-hidden that we couldn't find them. Oh, and did I mention the two-button combat system is boring, slow, and ineffective even against enemies half your size? You have magic attacks as well, but they're programmed to the D-pad, which is highly inconvenient, since your left thumb is already busy trying to control an unruly camera. The game's also supposed to have a Gears of War-esque cover system, but it's so inconsistent and poorly implemented that you may as well ignore it entirely.

The game's biggest source of frustration is its revive potion system. If your partner has a revive potion and you die, all is well - your partner hits a button to throw the potion to you, and you'll be healed, even if you're far away. But if you have a revive potion on you and your partner doesn't, you can't use your potion on yourself. Your partner has to walk over to you, press a button to get the potion from you, and then press that same button again to use the potion on you. Meanwhile, you're hammering on a button just to stay alive while you wait. Also, sometimes none of these button presses seem to register properly, especially if there are too many enemies around at the time - which there almost definitely will be, since one of you just got killed. If neither of you has a revive potion on you, you're both screwed, and you'll get booted back to the last save point ... which will probably be from ages ago.

If there were enough health potions, revive potions, and save points to keep us moving forward through the game at a tolerable pace, we'd be able to forgive the rest. We managed to laugh our way through the glitch-fest of Damnation, which wasn't nearly as hard to play as Hunted in spite of its programming issues. We've even played the notorious marriage ruiner New Super Mario Brothers Wii more than once, thus proving that we are a well-practiced team and immune to most co-op fights. We're willing to play just about any co-op game together just because it's co-op, not because it's necessarily good.

So, it should be telling that Hunted brought unprecedented anger in both of us. I wasn't the only person who sucked at this game - we both did. Our weapons didn't seem strong enough to face off against the enemies we were fighting, even though we were diligently comparing them against every weapon we found on the ground. We were also making sure to level up the abilities in our skill trees every time we hit a check point. But it was no use. We kept on dying. And cursing. A lot.

Even the characters in the game started getting short with each other, too. Caddoc shouts "E'laraaaaa" in such an exasperated, fed-up tone every time he dies - or maybe it only sounds that way because E'lara doesn't ever seem to have a damn revive potion on her? Who knows.

Over time, our anger and frustration settled into a slow burn of depression and silence. Around this time, I said, "I'm sorry, but I just don't think I'm good enough to play this game." He responded, "Have you noticed that I'm also doing a terrible job?" We looked at each other for a moment, and, inexplicably, turned back to the game and continued playing. Then, we repeated that cycle a few more times. "I'm still doing terribly, if you hadn't noticed." "So am I." "Are you having any fun right now? Because I'm not having any fun right now." And so on.

Eventually, my guy turned to me and said, "I think we should switch to Easy Mode."

I sputtered. I pouted. I refused - loudly. We weren't that bad, were we? To add insult to injury, Hunted has labeled its modes as "Casual," "Gamer," and "Hardcore." When we began, I picked "Gamer," because ... well, we're gamers. And we've never played a single game on the lowest difficulty setting before. Or, perhaps I should clarify: I've never played a single game on the lowest difficulty. Nor have I ever played a co-operative game with a partner on the lowest difficulty. What my boyfriend does in private is his own affair.

But in this case, it's clear that the game's mechanical issues are the real culprit, not us as gamers. I've read several reviews of Hunted, and the consensus seems to be that the game is poorly organized, difficult, unwieldy and definitely not worth arguing with your boyfriend about. So why do I feel so rotten about selecting that "Casual" difficulty setting? It seems like other people are willing to table their pride and play on a low difficulty if that's what it takes to play at all ... so what's my problem?

I'm not competitive - not with anyone except for myself. I have several top-notch gamer friends who can kick my ass without breaking a sweat, which keeps me from developing an ego. That said, I do still have enough of an ego that I prefer to play a game on the middle difficulty. And knocking that difficulty down to the lowest setting feels like I'm saying I'm getting worse.

I'm willing to admit that difficulty settings in games are often unpredictable, though. When I played Dragon Age 2 on "Normal", I almost wondered whether I'd selected "Easy" by mistake. I can understand why developers have trouble calibrating those settings, too, since one person's "Easy" is another person's "Hard". For example, I found Portal and Portal 2 to be practically perfect for me in terms of difficulty, but I've seen complaints about the franchise that run the gamut from "these games are way too simple" to "I had to swallow my pride and download a strategy guide."

I'm sure there are people out there who have no trouble playing Hunted, who completed it in a day, and who laughed all the way through this post. Although that stings my pride to think about, I should be far more concerned about the fact that my boyfriend and I spent sixty bucks on a game that we're not capable of enjoying right now. And there is a possibility that we could enjoy the game ever so slightly more if I were willing to suck it up and play on "Casual" mode.

So I guess it's time for me to suck it up.

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