Greetings from the southern of Russia's "two capitals" (i.e. the actual one). It's 2025 and there's been just too much damned crime on the dirty streets as of late, so there was no basic choice but to governmentally approve of a TV show where random law-obiding comrades get tagged with something fiercely day-bumming called "the Mark" that makes them open game for the law-not-obiding comrades, referred to as "the Hunters", all scurrying forth from the unweeded underbelly and after a big cash grab entailing a jolly old scalping. To no-one's surprise, within five minutes' play time, you find yourself the center of the unabashed attention of millions of slavering Slavonic spectators for whom it's all the good TV they even get anymore. It's the season finale, meaning even the one easy out you might have had of relaying the Mark to the next hapless victim isn't on the cards, and so all you can do is run like an ostrich on steroids. This is the premise of 2008's The Hunt by Russian developer Orion. It is also the premise of Andrey Dashkov's 2001 novel by the same name, which turns out not a coincidence, though having briefly glanced at it, I can say not everything is lifted wholesale. The rampant pilfering of ideas does overflow onto most obviously Monolith's Condemned: Criminal Origins (2006), but also probably Manhunt from Rockstar (2004), and the 1987 movie The Running Man, which itself takes beats from a Stephen King novel. (BTW: remember Smash TV? Also inspired by that movie.) In summary, The Hunt is not getting first place in an originality contest, but it's certainly an entertaining and less-trodden enough setting for a melee-heavy shooter, with indecent drone cameras and opportunistic bet-placing, that this is in no danger of tripping the game up.
Once you've recovered from the shock of your dastardly branding and stumbled into short-term shelter, you'll start to crunch the numbers and realize that depending on the difficulty setting (I played on the toughest), discretion may indeed be the better part of one or multiple virtues, whether or not it ends with a thwack on someone's head. The many confrontations with your oppressors appear to be almost facsimiled from the Condemned series: Mostly hand-to-hand with various sharp metallic objects but also a lot of "improvised" weaponry like wrenches and crowbars as well. Some of them double as... well... tools for prying open some door or cabinet to advance your desolate quest for revenge or just to access a few bonus goodies. Later on, firearms are introduced as well. Those are somewhat balanced by meager and unreplenishable magazines, but they're still, as you'd expect, a major trump card in a knife fight. The block mechanic, which is critically important at other times, is clunky to use, possibly on purpose. It sort of ends on its own and so punctual timing is a must, but also switching from charging up an attack to doing a block will often fail you until you get inured to its quirkiness. The rest of the controls are quite simple and easy to get a handle on. All in all, the fighting is genuinely challenging and sufficiently deep to keep you engaged as you're constantly having to read your opponents' moves and replying by closing the distance for a strike, dodging incoming harm, blocking, or running to a better tactical post. You can even purchase and deploy mines to redress the outrageous odds.
As you generally do fine to expect of most Russian developers, The Hunt only boasts double-A production values and a modest runtime (literally "run time") of about 10–12 hours or so. This is similar to the games it was inspired by and on the whole felt quite sufficient. It's also supposed to have some kind of multiplayer capacity according to some sources – something that might have been a blast – but I can't see anything to corroborate in the game's menus, nor a separate multiplayer launcher, so those rumors remain unconfirmed. Still, the moments whiled away in this forlorn slightly dystopian Moscow are a fit little feast for anyone even theoretically up for a first-person face-reshape-a-thon: another surprise, another enemy type, another neat environment awaits behind every loading screen. And even the between-level narration that accompanies your great escape is perfectly adequate fun as the game proceeds with loading in the next area in the background. If you play it like I did (the version floating around is the French one and may have some issues but there exists a better English patch which I applied), you'll enjoy a ragtag mix of French, English and Russian in the game's various textual elements and graphics. Specifically the vending machine screen and betting screen will all be in French, and for me at least, took ages to load each time for some reason, as did the main menu screen after tabbing out. To be honest, you can switch off your brain entirely and ignore all the actual readables stowed away on computers throughout and hardly be any the worse: it's not completely hackneyed by any means but their less-than-stellar translation makes it a little lackluster regardless. BTW: The reason the game is so poorly-known-about is apparently (more unconfirmed rumors) Monolith blocked a full-blown international release, presumably on the basis of the great similarities with their games.
It has good sound design, albeit a little buggy with poor balancing of some elements, a great atmosphere-building soundtrack, sprinkled here and there with music from actual Russian rock ensembles as it seems, varied and interesting environments, good English voice acting (the French version comes with that) and is generally difficult to hate on. If you are set in your hating ways, however, here's a handful more rocks for your dark side to feed off: It is possible to get badly stuck in some places, which is completely pointless in this kind of game. Often it's about finding one of the router-like computer access points which are very easy to miss if you don't pay constant attention to the indicator that pops up on the screen. A particularly rough segment is the one where you're in a car park and have found a lighter and some rags... your hint from that point on is "look at all the cars very closely". After that, when you're at the elevator, look for an extremely well blending-in button on the right side. Also even though you get the blinking terminal icon in that area, there's no terminals inside the car park itself so don't bother hunting for one. With these minor caveats, this is still one major overlooked outing of a scant subgenre of melee-heavy shooters and thus deserves two thumbs up, way up!
TIWIKs: Things I Wish I'd Known
- This game also goes by the names Černaja Metka, Черная Метка, and in French, Traqué.
- Alternate English translation that also fixes issues with the audio and dialogues: https://www.myabandonware.com/game/cernaja-metka-dks (see the comment by Cameron).
- Sneaking up on enemies will sometimes allow for quick kills but I don't know when it does and doesn't work. Also this is supposed to work on "dazed" enemies, which I noticed once with an enemy that had fallen on its knees virtually begging to be released from his worldly suffering.
- Don't forget to pick up the items you buy from vending machines! As what probably amounts to a lapse in judgment, those don't get sponged up into your inventory directly.
- The bet win conditions will be in French but I can tell you what they are:
1. "coup à la tête" Enemy[ies] have to die to a headshot or blow on the head.
2. "attaque furtive" Enemy[ies] have to die to a sneak attack (in one blow).
3. "sans être blessé" Enemy[ies] have to die without hurting you.
- There's also a Russian TV series called Chernaya Metka that looks kinda neat but isn't related.
- More info and useful files here.
Reviewed by: LotBlind