I have no idea what Hyenas really is, and that’s a huge problem. I was a bit unsure of the game from the reveal trailer, but I thought “hey they wanted to make a splash and now they’ll take the time to break down the game a bit”. Flashforward to Gamescom, and I now know a lot about how the game plays, but nothing about what it actually is. That’s even after a ten-minute game walkthrough and in-depth interview with Sega’s Alex Hunnisett, the game’s live product director, for roughly the same amount of time. My biggest issue is that the game he described, what he told me he stands for, means and stands for, sounds great. But I’m not sure it exists. Nothing I’ve seen in the game’s trailers, press releases, or even the gameplay presentation itself suggests that anything close to this game will be what I’ll be playing when Hyenas launches next month. next year.
Here is the crux of my problem with Hyenas. The culture becomes more and more obsessed with intellectual property, everything becomes a franchise, a spin-off, a cinematic universe. Media popularity quickly becomes entirely dependent on “hey, it’s that guy of that thing!”, and stories get worse for it. Hyena’s central goal of collecting pop culture trinkets seems to play a role in this. The gameplay presentation even reveled in it, happily detailing how the Sega Genesis figures into the game, including an indulgent Mega Drive quip. At one point the narrator woos “yay capitalism?” in a confused tone, and that’s about as cutting edge as satire gets. Meanwhile, staff joke about the irony of giving away free tote bags at the Sega booth when the game is a critique of capitalism – I smile and nod, having clearly missed the joke.
Then I talk to Hunnisett, and everything makes sense. I sincerely hope he’s right and that the bluster in the presentation is wrong, but if that’s the case, Hyenas needs to get his messages straight quickly. “We actually looked at what we would actually do as a team, [and] we have a lot of comic book collectors, we have a lot of music fans. In a post-apocalyptic world, I’m more likely to go after the last copy of Spider-Man than, say, a gold bar.”
The post-apocalyptic angle isn’t emphasized too much in the trailers, but understanding the story makes the game feel much more complete. The basic plot is that you live on an Earth that has been destroyed and left to rot (nicknamed The Taint), while the mega rich fly around in spaceships full of loot. You, as a cheerful scavenger (a hyena, if you will), compete with other scavengers to bring home the most loot. By doing so, you reclaim what matters most to you from the people who don’t appreciate it. It’s kind of like the quest for the last Twinkie in Zombieland, and it’s a lot smarter than the glitter and explosions make it seem.
“The idea then is, ‘no, fuck you, that’s our thing,'” Hunnisett says. “At the end of the day, we don’t want the super rich taking this back to Mars, it’s like ‘you’ve had enough already, you’re not taking this’. So it’s about grabbing this product, pick it up and take it back to the remnants of society on The Taint instead of going to rich assholes on Mars.”
It sounds like a better narrative than the glitz presented by the trailer, but I’ve said before that I think, as a general rule, critics overrate games and gamers underrate them. The thing is, when Hyenas hits the market, the majority of gamers won’t be too moved by the thematic focus of the game, but rather by the gameplay. Even without the interview, I felt more positive about this element thanks to the presentation. The foam grenade, used for building defensive walls, traversing ledges and disabling enemies, seems like a fantastic gadget, while the zero-g float has different uses and seems to suit the mentality of all carnage, all the time. hyenas. Fighting against both other players and NPC guards also raises some interesting tactical questions, but there are plenty of ways such noisy and complicated systems can fail.
No sooner did Hyenas interest me than that throws a damper into the mix. These foam grenades are carried by Galaxia, a drag queen from outer space. I love drag and think it’s important to defend the queer art form from the reactionary attacks it finds itself in, but the presence of drag also makes me a bit wary. Drag queens and kings are some of the most wonderfully expressive, creative, and political performers, but there is a general perception that drag queens are just ridiculous gay men in dresses. It feels like having a drag queen in such a messy game both in its presentation and its point of view will get lost in the crowd. I don’t know enough about the other characters in the game, but personally, when the only queer representative is a drag queen, it tends to set off alarm bells about clichés, demographic focus groups, and heaviness.
All characters are fixed in a roster like in a hero shooter, rather than the generic blank slate in Fornite or Destiny, but there are ways to make “this Galaxia look like your Galaxia”, which comes in the form of secondary weapons and gadget loadouts alongside the standard loadout set for each character. There seems to be a lot of different ways to play Hyenas, especially with a solid cast of characters with their own flair, just to line it all up.
I think Hyenas is trying to say something pretty interesting, but I don’t know if it’ll stick on landing. Then again, I think he will live and die not because of how smart he is, but how much fun he is, and on that front he has a lot going for him. Zero-g and foam grenades could add a few new elements to the shooter, as could the tactical composition of deciding which pieces of merch to hunt, which to fight, and which to leave alone. I just can’t help thinking that Hyenas is like that. Damn. loud, and I can’t hear myself thinking for that. Until he calms down and gives me a moment of peace, I have no idea what to do with this game.
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