Action hack-and-slash games have been regaining momentum recently, pushed by the recent successes of God of War and Devil May Cry V. Devil’s Hunt takes inspiration from those titles and seeks to marry those gameplay styles with a plot adapted from a novel by Polish author Paweł Leśniak.
The protagonist of Devil’s Hunt is Desmond Pearce, the son of a wealthy businessman. At first, Desmond appears to lead a charmed life, with a promising career in boxing, a beautiful girlfriend, and plenty of wealth set to be inherited. Unfortunately for him, the prologue of the game sets about stripping him of all his privileges, ultimately resulting in his death and descent into hell.
The prologue is clearly meant to make the audience sympathise with Desmond and his predicament, but instead seems hilariously over-the-top and calculated. If all these misfortunes turned out to have been the dark designs of Lucifer or some other force, that would be one thing, but instead it plays as a series of unfortunate coincidences, which destroys much of the credibility.
Desmond himself suffers from a serious case of being a generic protagonist. In many cases, this approach lets the player project their own personality on the character, but here, amidst all the melodrama, simply makes Desmond feel flat and uncaring. The contrast is even more stark when compared to some of the other, more well-written and well-rounded characters, such as the angel Gabriel or Lucifer himself. Other characters seem to lack agency and be more like props than people, which unfortunately includes Desmond’s girlfriend, Kristin.
The characters are enhanced by top-notch voice acting, with some truly stellar performances on offer. Sadly, these are marred by the facial animations, which look stiff, and the lip sync often does not match up to what the characters are saying.
The developers used the Unreal Engine to build Devil’s Hunt, and this is shown to good effect through the environments where most of the fighting takes place. Desmond travels through the depths of Hell and the heights of Heaven, killing pretty much everything he comes across. Some of the locations are stunning, offering a unique aesthetic for each area and a deft touch with flourishes such as particle effects to provide an atmosphere for the disparate locations.
Players can choose from three different ‘schools’ of combat: Executor, Unholy, and Void. These all offer different attack types and can be swapped at any time by using the D-pad, allowing the player to quickly react to changing conditions or new enemies. Sadly, the combat often feels sluggish, which can get extremely frustrating later in the game when waves of enemies charge forth in overwhelming numbers. At this point, button mashing turns into the way forward, which can become repetitive. Devil May Cry overcomes the repetitive nature of its combat by using a distinctive style and flashiness, which for the most part is sadly lacking in Devil’s Hunt.
At times, the combat clicks and the flow of action becomes very satisfying, but those moments are few and far between. Those moments are also broken up by tedious ‘environmental puzzles’ that mostly involve activating interactive objects in the right order, something that does not exactly require Sherlock Holmes levels of deduction. No jump button means that platforming elements are absent, leaving many of the areas feeling strangely flat and linear, despite the grand environmental designs.
Story pacing is another area where the game suffers; at times plot is dumped on the player’s head liberally, then the player needs to slog through a long interval of no plot whatsoever until the next infodump. The result is decidedly uneven, especially when the general tone of the story is dramatic to the point of camp. This awkward pacing is disappointing considering development is led by a professional author, who wrote the book the game is based on. In addition, one late-game revelation is particularly tasteless, regressive, and poorly-handled to the point that it could ruin the game for many players.
Themes of sexual assault and abuse, agency, and responsibility come to the fore at one point in the story, but these are badly handled. The victim in this case is almost entirely ignored and sidelined, while the protagonist seems to blithely accept this blatantly criminal behaviour, with no negative consequences for the perpetrator.
Devil’s Hunt is visually stunning in many ways and seeks to rise above its indie roots, but sadly the game is lacking in polish in many areas. Though at times the gameplay can be genuinely fun and engaging, Devil’s Hunt suffers from frustrating flaws that put it in the shade of other hack-and-slash titles. The clunky and occasionally tasteless writing does the game no favours either.
Reviewed on PC. Also available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.