The road to hell is paved with mediocrity.
It took five hours playing Devil’s Hunt before I first felt like I was enjoying the experience. The initial project from Polish studio Layopi Games is an action-adventure romp through Biblical highs and lows that takes obvious direction from the older Gods of War and Batman: Arkham series. You play as Desmond, whose literal deal with the Devil forces him to punch, slice and soul-suck his way back to the land of the living. But baffling narrative choices, exhausting combat pacing, and a story crushed under the weight of its own worldbuilding damn the game’s genuine flashes of creativity.
Many of Devil’s Hunt’s problems are symptoms of a terminal case of Boring Dude Protagonist. Desmond Pearce doesn’t give a shit as if it was his superpower, and his blatant disregard for authority supersedes any other rational reaction a human being might have to situations like finding oneself in Hell and negotiating with Lucifer, the literal Lord of the aforementioned Hell.
His defining qualities are being the rich son of a CEO, punching real good, and handling problems with a level of hotheaded petulance that almost reads as parody. He proposes to his college-attending girlfriend, Kristen, almost out of spite, narrating to players that daddy being mad doesn’t matter because things are just so great with Kristen. The precipitating event that lands him in Hell is an even bigger showcase of machismo, but allow me to first set the stage.
**Story spoilers and a big content warning for rape and suicide ahead**
After some successful engagement coitus, Desmond jaunts off to attend an illegal boxing match that Kristen very clearly doesn’t approve of. He gets his ass handed to him by someone with suspiciously fiery eyes and limps home after another lecture from dad about how his dead mother would be so disappointed he lost this underground scrap fight. Desmond then finds his friend Embry in bed with Kristen, whose half-lidded eyes I couldn’t decide should be read as suspicious evidence or failure on the part of the facial technology. He stumbles after Embry, who gives Desmond his second concussion in as many hours with a brick before driving off.
Instead of then checking on his fiance, our plucky hero tears off into the night to dwell on all the day’s calamitous events. They prove too much to stomach, and Desmond drives his car over a bridge and into the water below. When he washes up on shore, a scarred man named Sawyer opens a yawning pit to Hell and casts Desmond into it.
Much later, though, in a climactic scene, the game reveals what really happened that night, and it nearly made me pull the ripcord on the entire game. Desmond has met with the leaders of both Heaven and Hell and decided to side with neither in their eternal conflict. Instead, he defies everything for the woman he loves and reunites with Kristen, who accepts his return and willingness to kill things with arms composed of flaming brimstone rather well.
They abscond to the penthouse office of the Angels, hoping to find sanctuary for Kristin. But first, Embry shows up and reveals several shocking facts in the span of three minutes of dialogue. He actually raped Kristin that night. But don’t sweat it because they were under demonic influence. And when you revenge killed him earlier in the game, he turned into an angel. Desmond absorbs all of this with alarming alacrity, immediately reforging the ride-or-die bond with his bro.
Kristin is not given the chance or screen time to react to any of this.
And that scene, despite anything else, keeps me from recommending Devil’s Hunt. Despite a combat system that eventually delivers a fun mixture of abilities and combos that feels well-tuned and satisfying. Despite a Dante’s Inferno-inspired, Catholic teen’s version of Hell that sports incredible skyboxes, thoughtfully designed enemies, and obvious care taken to make the underworld environments feel alien, hostile and frightening.
Despite the delicious gay energy between Lucifer and Belial, the commanding nature of Gabriel, and every other character except Desmond whom I wished the game gave more of a spotlight. And despite the efforts of a team of folks who, in rare moments, crafted a game that broke the surface of mediocre waters for a gasping breath at earnest achievement, I cannot recommend this game.
It uses the rape of a woman as the cause for another character’s suicide, all in the name of plot progression. And then it waves it away without ever stopping to consider how that rape affected her. Kristin’s scenes only show her mourning life without Desmond, wondering with joy at his sudden revival, and then fearfully trailing after him as he provides safety for her. Devil’s Hunt’s final moments (at least in my playthrough) show him driving away with his fiance and angel-rapist-friend, inwardly plotting revenge on those who stole “my life away from me.” Now that’s what I call character growth!
Devil’s Hunt is a game with obvious flaws, many of which players might excuse for a chance to tear the head off a hulking demon lord or throw unholy lances through the grotesque, glowing body of an angel. There are many more who will watch the trailer on Steam or YouTube and decide the ‘80s metal album aesthetic and combo-happy combat are worth stomaching a story with an infuriating number of dropped threads and unanswered questions. But none of it is worth a writing team that seems to believe rape can be used and excused on the altar of motivating their male protagonist.
[Reviewed on PC]