There’s a parallel dimension out there where Sega won all of the console wars – a world where the Sega Saturn’s surprise US launch panned out against the PlayStation, where the Dreamcast was able to live up to its potential, and where Sonic (not Mario or Pikachu) was the go-to everyday video game character your grandma knew. That’s the world of Hyenas, Creative Assembly’s off-beat, attitude-filled extraction shooter.
We got to go hands-on with the shooter at Gamescom ahead of this week’s Hyenas closed beta, and found myself pleasantly surprised by how tightly constructed and thought out it is. Could this be a bit of a sleeper hit for Sega?
Well, if there’s one thing that’s stood out about Hyenas since its announcement last year, for better or for worse, it’s the game’s tone. The ultra-rich nipping off to Mars after a big chunk of Earth is blown up is absolutely what would happen, but the anti-billionaire and late-stage capitalism vibes of the resistance trying to steal back largely meaningless cultural tat is a little hollow when it’s coming from a large publisher like Sega.
There’s also this wild and quite messy collage of inspirations to be seen in the character designs, from a Sonic cosplayer to a drag queen styled like a Fifth Element or Total Recall character, a Payday-esque heister in a Nixon mask – OK, so that’s a Point Break reference really – a ballerina that could almost be a Harley Quinn concept art, and on and on.
It’s all a bit of a muddle and I don’t know who it will speak to, but even from the one relatively brief game that I got to play at Gamescom, it’s clear that Creative Assembly knows how to make a pretty good extraction shooter.
As with the rest of this FPS sub-genre, the idea is to drop into a map, search around for valuable loot while battling against roaming AI guards, and then get to the extraction point. Except you’re not the only players trying to do so, and rival teams can actively seek you out and try to spoil the party by taking you down, stealing what you’d only just stolen, and making it safely to extraction themselves.
The fundamentals of Hyenas take on this genre are pretty strong, with tight handling to the weapons that make for responsive and snappy combat. I settled upon Commander Wright for my first effort, her burst fire rifle having plenty of accuracy, while her foam cannon ability allowed for quickly altering and controlling the battle area with pop-up walls of foam to create cover and block passages.
Where many games like Escape from Tarkov are set in large and open feeling worlds, Hyenas takes you to the confines of a Plundership – a themed space ship shuttling between Earth and Mars with all these now-pointless rare collectibles from a broken civilisation. The ships are broken up into clearly defined zones, with Gear Up areas giving you health, shields, consumables and more, Merch Vaults contain the good stuff, and these clusters of rooms are then joined together by smaller pathways and more open areas.
Early on, you’re only going to be running into basic Murfs – the guards that are totally OK to slaughter, because they’re just clones – as they lazily patrol a Gear Up zone, but as you start to crack a vault with a souped up Mega Drive, you’ll face waves of Murfs, some of which are more heavily armoured and need teamwork to flank their shielded fronts or draw heavy weapon fire.
Loot grabbed – in this Sega-obsessed world, the first example you see is a classic Sonic plushie – and it’s time to extract… or maybe you want to get the drop on a rival team? There’s five teams of three heading into each Plundership, and you can steal their loot by taking them out.
Unfortunately, this is where inexperience and lacking coordination backfired in our opening game. Yes, we were able to get the drop on another trio as they were trying to attack another vault, and yes, I was able to down two of them, but in classic extraction shooter/battle royale style, I then pushed while separated from my teammates. Let’s just say we snatched defeat from the jaws of… well, probably not victory because there was another team pretty much already on their way to the extraction at that point. With a little more luck, the survivor of our trio could have found a respawn station and brought us back into the match, but on this occasion it wasn’t to be.
All of this and I haven’t even talked about one of the main gameplay hooks: zero-g zones. This is another thing that Creative Assembly has pretty much nailed, with gravity-less fighting and movement feeling nice and intuitive. There’s plenty of zones and areas where gravity can be turned on and off, and that could be very unwieldy, but Hyenas keeps things simple. If you want to stick to a surface, you can use your gravity boots, and flying through the air is handled by looking where you want to go and imparting a regular boost to push you in that direction.
While I’m still not entirely sold on how Hyenas is themed, even a brief hands on will tell you that Creative Assembly has built a tight and inventive take on the extraction shooter, and I’m keen to play more when the closed beta kicks off tomorrow.