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Hunted: The Demon's Forge 

In Hunted, the dungeon is creepy yet beautiful. The fighting? Simplistic and frustrating.

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Another day, another dungeon — not that I’m complaining. Compared to some of the dungeons I’ve crawled through, this is paradise. I’ve never seen any place so shady and sinister. Hanging torches cast pools of light on the floor, and then a few steps away, it’s pitch-black — the kind of murk I expect when delving underground. And around here, “crumbling” means “crumbling” — these walls aren’t just painted to look like ancient rotting rubble, they’re actually falling apart. I can see through the spaces where the mortar used to be.

Plenty of nice little touches, too — an errant skull here, a pile of decaying flesh there. There’s nothing like wading through a waistdeep pool of thick, mucky water to wake me up. It probably collects from all the sewage trenches that run down the hallways around here. It’s enough to make my skin crawl, the way this place feels lived-in. Or died-in.

But once the atmosphere wears off, I start to get that same old hack-and-slash feeling. I mean, I like swinging my sword as much as the next guy. And in Hunted, if I get tired of that, I can always switch characters and play as E’lara of the floppy Elven ears and amazing aim. What she can do with a bow and arrow is almost as impressive as Caddoc with his sword — just tap-tap-tap the button and watch the blades and arrows fly. The enemies make nice target practice, too. They tend to get hung up on fighting one of us or another, so there’s usually a back available to stab.

My back is a bit more resilient. My shield is nearly impenetrable, even though it eventually wears down, making me scrounge around my enemies’ corpses to find a replacement. But it’s a little demeaning when a powerful fighter like me is automatically protected from behind as long as my shield is up. If a ghoul or skeleton or whatever foul thing tries to attack me when I’m looking the other way, I’m magically whirled around to defend myself. I mean, come on! I can see what’s back there — that’s the purpose of a third-person perspective, isn’t it? Well, maybe it’s just to give me a better view of the scenery down here.

THE GOOD: I hope Bethesda, the publisher of Hunted, manages to make the next Oblivion look this good.

THE BAD: What do I get for all this detail? I can’t light my arrows on fire from candle flames. And when I see a prisoner hanging from the ceiling behind a gate of narrow, widely spaced bars, I can’t just free them by shooting an arrow between the bars. No, I need to find the switch that raises the bars first. I want to poke around and get lost, but I’m always just hunting for the next switch to pull or portcullis to raise so that I can proceed on my merry, linear way.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Hunted is as beautiful as a dungeon crawl can get, but it keeps me chained to a single, relentless track.

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