I've always found the term "dungeon crawler" to be a bit misleading. Maybe this just says something about me, but I've always thought it sounded like slang for someone who spends their days perusing the dirtiest porn cellars in Soho. Alternatively, a "dungeon crawler" could be the name for a baby conceived in medieval captivity - as in, "Forsooth my lord! The guards from the Black Helm report that Cedric The Virile has spawned another dungeon crawler."
Of course, we know that the "crawler" bit usually denotes a simple, slightly mindless jaunt through a sprawling fantasy environment, beset by swarms of enemies. Dungeon crawlers occupy a space at the action-heavy end of the RPG spectrum, a place where narrative and dialogue is far less important than the need to chop a goblin's face off. Frantic action is the principle ingredient, and so the case is with Hunted: The Demon's Forge, the new game from Bethesda and InXile. It's a third-person hack-and-slash affair, starring a lithe and rather sexed-up huntress, and her meaty muscle-bound partner. Swords plunge into torsos, icy magic freezes enemies solid, and, in one stand-out execution sequence, an arrow lodges itself in the eye socket of a mortally wounded demon.
In fact, action is so much a key part of Hunted that at first glance it's Gears of War that springs to mind as a reference point, rather than the likes of Dungeon Siege or Diablo II. Fine, so we're very much in the realm of beards and pointy ears, but there's an undeniable familiarity in the cover-to-cover system, with characters ducking out from behind stone barriers to launch projectiles at the advancing hoards. Combat itself feels meaty, to the extent that even bow attacks make a heavy whistling noise that sounds a bit like a silenced firearm. The Gears comparison is further helped by the fact that the game is using the Unreal engine - and to rather nice effect, too.
Hunted is the tale of two mercenaries: the foxy E'lara, a slender killer who loves her work, and Caddoc, her massive, slap-headed partner in crime. E'lara seems more geared towards archery while Caddoc appears to be the up-close-and-personal, pull-out-their-lungs type, but both characters can use a mixture of ranged, melee and magical attacks. At the start of the game a spirit named Seraphine asks the pair to investigate the nearby town of Dyfed; when they finally get there, it turns out that the locals have been turned into toothy demonic buggers with a penchant for ripping people's faces off. E'lara and Caddoc then investigate the mystery in the only way they know how: by violently killing everyone they meet.
That's pretty much all we know about the plot for now. It may sound like a relatively by-the-numbers setup, but Brian Fargo, the man behind InXile, is a name associated with some of the most important titles in the history of Western RPGs - Fallout, Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, to name but three. In other words, there'll probably be a bit more to it. Besides, this is a dungeon crawler: it's the action that we're really interested in, remember? And in the case of Hunted, the action comes with a specific focus on co-op play.