Monday, December 10, 2012

The Hunter, and why it's badly designed

First things first: an admin note. No, I did not wake up and type all this in by 4.30am on a Monday; this is a canned post. Apparently early content gets more views, so the scheduled posts are moving.

Now, on to the content. This post is in regards to Left 4 Dead 2, and to some extent Left 4 Dead (although I don't own Left 4 Dead, and so I won't be saying a huge amount about it) and the enemies within these games. How these games work is simple: you have a horde of normal "Infected", which run at you and attempt to beat you to death, and a smaller number of "Special Infected" which are more complex to deal with. Left 4 Dead has the Tank, which is huge, exceedingly tough, and hits like a runaway train; the Smoker, which snares you from a distance and drags you away from your buddies while preventing you from using weapons; the Boomer, which covers you in zombie-attractant goop and blurs your vision; the Witch, which will incapacitate you in one hit if you annoy her too much by proximity, loud noise, bright light, or similar; and the Hunter, which I consider one of the worst game design decisions I've ever encountered. Left 4 Dead 2 keeps these, and adds the Spitter, which covers areas in damaging acid; the Charger, which charges the group of players and may scoop one up and run away with him, stopping to pound him on the ground afterward; and the Jockey, which leaps on a survivor's shoulders and attempts to force him away from the group, into Spitter acid, and so on.

You'll note that I didn't actually say what the Hunter does in the preceding paragraph. I wanted to go into more detail here. What it does is leap on you and immediately begin stripping away your hitpoints. It pins you down and tears at you. My major problem with it is that there is almost no counter to it. It's very hard to see, since it's in black in a game set at night, and it's not taller than the horde of normal Infected; it does give a warning shriek, but there's every chance that hearing that will result in you turning your back on it since stereo sound can only localise to a bearing, and the reciprocal bearing is just as valid given the information you have; and if you happen to be facing it, you will have a tiny timing window in which to fend it off. If you're facing away from it, there is nothing you can do; you're forced to watch helplessly as the game essentially points and laughs.

And therein lies my main problem with the Hunter. It's hard to counter, if you're even lucky enough to be in a position to counter it, and once it has you there is NOTHING you can do. Smokers give a more generous timing window to break the lock, even though you'd expect the dragging to make them more of a problem; but you can save yourself with quick reflexes. Boomers can easily be dealt with; shove them away, then kill them. Witches force a change in approach from "kill everything" to "sneak past quietly" (or, for the advanced crowd or those with no alternative, "run up and hit her with a shotgun blast from melee range"), and Tanks require teamwork to take down as each player attempts to redirect the Tank's aggression away from its current target (or, if you can cope with the fact that they move faster while burning, hit the Tank with a Molotov cocktail and it'll die inside a minute). Spitters are easily spotted, being taller than the horde and equipped with glowing green acid. Chargers can be dealt with simply by sidestepping and letting them stun themselves on walls. Jockeys can be resisted; you're not helpless, even when it gets you. There isn't the feeling with any of the Specials other than the Hunter that the game is mocking you. The Hunter is a cheap shot.

I'm firmly of the opinion that the Jockey is what the Hunter should have been. Had I had control, I would have pushed hard for the removal of the Hunter from the second game; it's simply not a fun enemy to fight, and in a game, that's an unforgivable sin.

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