Review – Hunt the Night
In worlds of fantasy creations, there are so many approaches to the balance of good and evil. In some cases, the evil seems to lurk in the shadows, a creeping dread that all feel but only a select few have to face. There are some where darkness operates with the guise of benevolence, making the protagonist’s quest for righteousness that much harder. I would argue the second is more difficult, simply because many people refuse to believe that what they believe to be good is actually wicked.
Then there’s the third category, where the monsters and demons are right in your face from the moment you start. Where horror is clear, strong, proud, and has good on the ropes from the very beginning. Where the odds are so stacked against you and the dread is not only palpable, but spots of light and respite are few and far between. These titles are difficult, anxiety inducing, and truly something else to face, to attack, and to conquer.
Hunt the Night is a very clear entry into this third category. A sharp detailed pixel game from Moonlight Games and published by DANGEN Entertainment, this unforgiving action/adventure was on my radar from the moment it was announced. You play as Vesper, a member of an elite group known as Stalkers, who fight back against the ever-expanding eldritch horrors that have taken over the land of Medhram. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, and a clear amount of friction with the other Stalkers, Vesper goes at it alone…mostly.
Vesper is assisted by a dark version of herself, Umbra, who is able to traverse the physical plane more easily, to reach and even teleport Umbra to places that would otherwise be impossible to reach on her own. Even the ghosts of Stalkers past, who acknowledge Vesper’s plight, will find a way to lend their own powers to her. Only time will tell if the light of virtue will continue to shine or, ultimately, be snuffed out.
From the drop, Hunt the Night has a flavor and tone that will appeal to many looking for serious challenge in combat. Armed with a choice in melee weapons, and a limited-but-regenerating range attack, Vesper has her work cut out for her from the very start. Every single bit of engagement, from grunts to bosses, takes time to watch, learn, and develop counterattack patterns in order to survive. For many, the quick fingers of dashing to escape damage is all you need: strike, flee, strike again. For others, you’ll need to be ready for sudden changes, from bolts of magic to the infinitely awful invisible mantis beasts. When I realized that you could see the invisible monsters as long as you paid very, very close attention, it was a game changer, and one that felt like it was moving in the right direction.
As far as 2D combat goes, Hunt the Night is impossibly tight and exciting from battle to battle. You learn, very quickly, that encounters are rarely a slugfest, but more of a dance that takes you through a variety of paces. Dashing to avoid hits, and even to cancel your own attacks mid strike, are imperative to survival. The most fun I had within the game was either the multiple waves of enemies that spawned at certain checkpoints or the different boss fights, which brought a sense of grandiose horror with every incarnation.
The recommendation to use a controller versus a mouse and keyboard is one you should take to heart. Moonlight Games has crafted a solid twin-stick experience in mixing ranged and melee, and you’ll feel a lot less upset trying to aim a shotgun at close range if you can do it with your thumb, and not flailing wrist movements. Yes, I am bad at PC gaming. How could you tell?
Visually, Hunt the Night has a wide range of pixel creations, with some being stronger than others. The monstrous side of things – from the decaying world around you to the unspeakable terrors that stalk you – are magnificent. There’s this fine line you need to dance on when it comes to gothic horror that prevents a title from becoming a farce, and Moonlight Games has stayed right on the edge of grotesque to keep the world engaging.
The portraits and more detailed photos of characters are excellent, and give a real sense of Vesper and her world, but I sometimes found the NPC sprites to be a little too round out in the wild. Ironically, in a world overrun with monsters, it’s the humanoid presence that feels out of place and out of sorts. Maybe that’s a testament to the design of the environment overall, but it constantly gave me a sense of “other” throughout the run.
Exploration gets better the further along the game goes, but the initial presentation of Hunt the Night gives the player a bit of confusion in terms of getting your bearings. After a short encounter with some linear evil, Vesper’s mouse hunt to get out of Deep Ravenford is, frankly, frustrating, and sets the pace for the give and take of the future gameplay. When you need to slow down and take in the lore from other characters, or work out a puzzle that requires your attention, it feels like the game slows down to a crawl, in direct defiance to what you were doing previously. Though these moments are important to help keep the game from becoming a singular note, it doesn’t always come across like a natural transition, more like a jarring stop.
Also, on a personal note, I’ve mentioned before that I’m terrible at games. This is only further highlighted by the distance between the save/respawn points that exists in Hunt the Night. Players should absolutely save their game as soon as they can in order to avoid real rage issues. I can’t tell you what it means to finally get through several rooms worth of nonsense, use up all your heal potions, get into another area and promptly get sniped by some unseen beast, resulting in needing to redo all that again from the start. Respawning doesn’t take long, but going through all those mobs does, and sometimes you just need to put down the controller and sit quietly to avoid seeing how far you can throw your PC.
Yet it’s the quality of the product overall that kept me coming back to Hunt the Night time after time, even in moments of absolute rage. The world-building is excellent. It somehow takes a well trodden path – the supernatural outsider fighting against evil – and makes it fresh with weapon customization, powerful special attacks, and a very unique relationship between Vesper and Umbra. The moments of irritation or lesser excitement are fully counterbalanced by liquid combat and impressive artwork. While it’s only on PC for now, console players should fully prepare for a dive into Hunt the Night later this year as a serious contender for a 2D soulslike that brings the ambience, the horror, and the satisfaction that can only come from an excellent experience.
Truly captivating pixel designs that encompass both beauty and horror in a world gone mad. Humans didn’t look nearly as good as monsters, so it’s a shame I have to play as one a majority of the time.
Brilliant combat that flows and moves like a rushing river, complete with rocks to bash up against. Solid exposition from NPCs and small cut scenes, but minor puzzling and sometimes confusing exploration took me out of the moment.
Haunting ambience, shot through with orchestral moments of fear, and grandiose climaxes. Not something that I’d listen to outside of this game, but perfect for adding a fourth wall of atmosphere to the overall effect.
Fun Factor: 7.5
When the game moved, I was moving along with it, and couldn’t be more engrossed. When I had to slow down or stop, it felt like I was on a unicycle and desperately trying not to fall off. Thankfully, there was more action than not, and it kept me moving forward.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Hunt the Night is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Hunt the Night was provided by the publisher.