It’s an incontrovertible truth that the recipe for the ultimate Friday night in involves a stash of cheap beer, some cheap weed and a scratchy 80s sci-fi classic where it soon becomes clear the cast and crew were indulging in much the same throughout the shoot: The Hidden with its machine gun wielding strippers, or Night of the Comet with its post-apocalyptic shopping mall shootouts. Small wonder that the era’s been plundered so heavily by video games ever since – these VHS wonders are shorthand for the kind of hedonism and excess we pick up our controllers for in the first place.
So pervasive is that influence, though, that it can become a bit wearying – which is my excuse for missing Huntdown first time around when it came out last May, its 80s excess getting lost in all those other similarly themed games drowning out the storefronts of the eShop and Steam. For shame, really, as I picked it up a few months later and realised Huntdown stands apart from others of its ilk, partly thanks to how it leans into all that excess while delivering a brilliantly taut action game at the same time.
Publisher: Coffee Stain PublishingDeveloper: Easy Trigger GamesPlatform: Played on Switch/PCAvailability: Out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac and Switch
The work of small Swedish team Easy Trigger Games, Huntdown is a run and gun game cast in the mold of Contra and Rolling Thunder, with an artstyle seemingly borrowed from Bitmap Brothers in their prime: it’s all muscular design and brooding shadows, and it looks frankly spectacular. Put that down to the detail, the screen filled with the kind of incidental action and depth just not possible in the era which Huntdown’s style apes. Good god this thing is gorgeous, the density of its vision bringing its scuzzy streets alive.
Oh, and it plays a treat too. There’s an emphasis on the gunning over the running in Huntdown – a polite way to say its platforming can fall flat, but it’s not so much an issue when the combat is so chunky and considered. Like Rolling Thunder there’s a heavy use of cover, be that ducking into doorways or behind crates and barrels, and the action is intense enough to ensure you’re best carefully pushing forwards rather than running carefree through the mobs.
Within your moveset there’s some neat detail, too – if an enemy gets too close you can kick them back, tossing them in the air ready to be juggled with a stream of bullets. Elsewhere, the simple act of crouching from a sprint sets you sliding on your knees, Vanquish style, before you push up against cover or maybe just unleash both barrels into an enemy’s nether regions. The guns feel just great, in short.
It’s worth noting that Huntdown puts up a stern challenge, even on its lower difficulty levels, and it’s also heavy on boss encounters – if not quite a full-on boss rush like Alien Soldier, there’s certainly little breathing room between encounters with the big bads, and it’s these that form the bulk of Huntdown’s 2-3 hour runtime. There is variety here, though, in the wrinkles provided by the three playable characters, in the drop-in co-op mode or in the score attack and side objectives tucked into each level.
There are some small missteps along the way, admittedly, but they’re small enough to overlook, and could well be down to a simple matter of taste – there’s full voice acting from the protagonists and main antagonists, though the crisp recordings sit a little uneasily with the rest of the aesthetic, and the propensity to just numbly reel out overused action movie quotes ended up grating more than it endeared me to it all.
Maybe I hadn’t imbibed quite enough at the time, though, as Huntdown’s a game that demands to be played in the woozy hours of a Friday night where you might embrace all that excess. In that context, and if you’re just plain jonesing for some muscular 2D action, Huntdown has all the makings of a modern cult classic.