Review by Christopher Rubin (Email) November 1st 2011
Pure multiplayer games have always been a rare sight, so it's almost unsurprising that the budget title The Haunted: Hell's Reach started life as a mod for the Make Something Unreal contest. It's a fairly barebones title that looks to lean more towards a cooperative stance instead of just team-vs.-team deathmatch, and more co-op games are always a welcome sight.
In a design vaguely reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, players choose from one of four human protagonists to take on waves of demons that are overrunning the Earth. Gunplay is a natural staple, but what sets this game apart is the heavy focus on melee attacks that are often more devastating and useful than the guns. There's a huge list of combos in the game that shows off the variety of attacks and chaining that can be done, and that's really where The Haunted shines. Sliding across the ground into rising uppercuts and performing jumping stomps really sells the characters on being the bad-asses they would have to be to stand up to such an onslaught.
The meat of the game is the crazy action and ridiculous amounts of gore.
Such attacks really show off the meat of the game, which is the crazy action and ridiculous amounts of gore. Demons explode into chunks on the regular, splattering the screen like Rise of the Triad. Shooting the heads of lesser ones will cause a pulsating sac to grow in its place, and destroying that will splatter fire onto everything nearby. For creating an enjoyable sense of murdering demons, the game does a wonderful job of punching its way to victory.
It's a shame that even if the melee weren't as well done as it is, it would likely still be the star due to how lackluster the shooting is. As the characters don't keep their weapons at the ready, there's a huge lag in between pressing the trigger and actually having the first shot go off, completely ruining immediate head shots. Once aimed, the successive shots are as fast as in any other game, but every time a character lowers his gun it means the next shot will have a delay.
Even beyond that, the actual feel of the guns is closer to peashooters, though that could be explained away by the enemies being supernatural. Regardless, shooting even the most basic demons will deliver little-to-no reaction on their part, and blowing off their heads will only cause them to stand still for a moment. Other creatures will launch into super-armor mode on the regular, walking into repeated shotgun blasts as though you were armed with only spitballs. Punching and kicking things is the only consistent method of making enemies reel back, a fact that seems very odd in comparison.
The areas themselves are self-contained maps with no connection to the others, which combined with the limited game types is a large part of what gives The Haunted: Hell's Reach its barebones feel. Some sort of basic co-op progression would've added a lot here. Encouraging people to try and survive through a succession of levels instead of just dropping in, exploding some brain-dead A.I., and then hopping right back out could lend sense of cohesion to the whole experience. Even in the levels, there's no reason to work together or stick near other players at all aside from watching each other's backs, giving four-player co-op a sense of loneliness. In fact, it's often better to spread out in order to make sure that someone will be close by to wherever any of the destructible stones might spawn, to make sure they're destroyed before the demons steal them.
This lack of association is further hurt by the non-existence of any real animation or sound when demons spawn. They do so constantly, but since they appear with the same fanfare that copying an object in a level editor has, it's impossible to know how close or how many just appeared right behind the player. A slightly elongated animation and/or some added effects would be nice, but some kind of sound would be both really helpful and lend a more solid feel to the demons' appearances out of nowhere.
When the matches are going strong, The Haunted: Hell's Reach is a pretty good time. That makes it a shame that the lack of any forward design momentum ultimately makes the experience feel so shallow. There's a good solid base with some great ideas here, and a couple of more game types alongside speeding up gun drawing and having spawn indications could make this into something great. Maybe these things can get patched in later on, but right now The Haunted is ultimately a little too limited to enjoy for long periods of time.