Hunted: The Demon's Forge: I've Seen This BeforeS

You may want me as a coop partner in Hunted: The Demon's Forge, because on day one, I'll be very familiar with the dungeon crawler's cooperative combat and puzzle solving.

Bethesda's playable demo of Hunted: The Demon's Forge at Gamescom was but a smaller slice of a hands-off demo I'd seen before. It starts with unwise molestation of a strange artifact—a cursed skull—that engages the player in a sprint through falling debris, a nasty encounter with some animated skeletons and a chance to play as both Caddoc and E'lara, the game's main characters.

While the sights and sounds were familiar, as were the techniques previously taught to me by the developer, inXile Entertainment, actually controlling Hunted was new to me. It mostly controls well, as one might expect a third-person shooter to, if they've played one before. Swapping weapons and magic spells, left and right bumper buttons, respectively, felt natural, as did aiming and firing.

Cycling through my "ammo" options, making my regular arrows into ice arrows as E'lara, for example, was done with the d-pad. Snapping into cover (A) and reviving my partner (B) were control choices I'd been trained for.

Basically, people who like shooters but want to try a bleak dungeon crawler on for size will feel comfortable slipping into Hunted.

One new thing that I learned while playing through the Gamescom demo a handful of times was the importance of communication. My German language-speaking partners and I didn't, which became something of a problem. We didn't stick together in battle, didn't communicate our plans and didn't come to each other's aid quickly enough. So make sure you play with someone whose language you share.

Another minor revelation to me was Hunted's linearity. Since I'd seen this demo before, I knew that in order to defeat a group of skeletal warriors I needed to, one, shoot a pair of ropes that would lower a platform; two, take control of a ballista; three, shoot down a pair of spires with gargoyles atop them to stop the flood of undead.

Frustrating then, that I couldn't actually shoot those ropes until the game decided it was okay to do so. According to the game's rules, I needed to first defeat the skeleton champion manning that crossbow. Only then would those ropes would be vulnerable and snap when hit with arrows. Stupid ropes! We can agree it's a minor quibble, but a factor that may annoy when replaying Hunted in coop with a friend.

But that aspect seems to be Hunted's most fun feature. I'd be lying if I said the hand-to-hand combat in this game felt too graceful or that it excelled as a third-person shooter. And it doesn't seem to scratch that loot itch. Players can really only equip new weapons and shields, try on new magic spells and abilities. But it does seem fun in its possibility for exploration, for buddying up with another Hunted player, swapping between Caddoc and E'lara for variety.

Better still, it seems like Hunted: The Demon's Forge will be a challenge, a way to kill a few hours with a friend (or a hopefully capable AI-controlled partner) while solving a puzzle here and there.

We'll find out if I'm right about the more fun parts early in 2011 when Hunted: The Demon's Forge heads to the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.