Hunted: The Demon’s Forge was intended as a mash note to the bygone era of same-room co-op. The foundation for that is certainly here: The third-person dungeon-crawler hinges on a pair of medieval mercenaries’ salty repartee and supplementary abilities. There’s Caddoc, a hulking berserker who looks an awful lot like a just-finished-crying, puffy-faced Vin Diesel. He’s backed up by the archer E’Lara, who’s voiced by Lucy Lawless and clad in attire that suggests she’s expecting a bikini-carwash side quest. Their chemistry is serviceable, though as Hunted unfolds, it becomes abundantly clear why they’re so crabby: Their world is a stifling succession of hallways.
It’s as though inXile forgot co-op is only engaging if the adventure is varied and packs tension, like in Resident Evil 5. But Hunted instead reaches further back and copies Gears Of War mechanics, as if that’ll hold everything together. Repetitive combat (hordes of the same enemy keep coming back, sometimes holding shovels) and tedious puzzles (“the riddle of the axe” is solved by finding an axe further down the path) temper the pacing when you aren’t roadie-running between chin-high walls or unleashing gory but somehow toothless execution moves on downed enemies.
There’s just something forced about the co-op dynamic. Hunted requires frequent check-ins with your ally via heavy doors, crumbling hallways, and other egresses that can only be navigated by two full-grown adults working together. But more to the point, E’Lara and Caddoc’s differences are most pronounced at first, when their levels are lowest. Both can wield swords, bows, and magic, and after you log enough hours, Hunted transitions from feeling like an extended escort mission to being a free-for-all where you only see your buddy at the aforementioned doors.
Not that it’s all bad: There’s a comfort-food quality to the simple hacking and slashing. And a fellow human subbing in for the AI helps stave off diminishing returns—and frustration—that much longer. For example, one puzzle can only be solved by having E’Lara set her arrows on fire with a blue flame. In single-player, you have to take control of Caddoc, have him command E’Lara to use the flame, then tell her where to shoot. For some reason, you can’t simply use the flame while controlling E’Lara, though a second player can. That’s essentially the problem with Hunted in general: It thinks ham-fisted cooperation is indistinguishable from effortless cooperation. Any two people playing together know better.