Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platform: PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4 Xbox One
Hood: Outlaws and Legends reaches two thirds of the way to the score of a lifetime. This medieval multiplayer heist sim boasts a neat premise and some exhilarating cooperative stealth, all wrapped in a brutal and shadowy gothic England. Unfortunately, its band of not-so-merry-men is collared in the getaway, due to some clunky combat and a questionable emphasis on competitive multiplayer.
Hood’s Robin is not the swashbuckling Errol-Flynn type, neither is he Kevin Costner’s dashing fallen aristocrat. Instead, his personality lies somewhere between Thief’s Garrett and a Game of Throne mercenary, a cunning and ruthless footpad who doesn’t merely rob the rich but happily murders them too. You can assume his role or one of three others. Marianne is less Maid and more Made, a stealthy assassin with a knack for slashing throats. Friar “Tooke” is recharacterized as a former torturer who now uses his knowledge of human anatomy to heal his comrades when in peril. Finally, there’s not-so-little John, the team’s chief brawler who forms your first line of defence when the alarums sound.
Your goal as one of these four miscreants is to steal a chest from a vault at the centre of the map. To do that, you must first steal a key. Then you must locate the vault, the position of which is randomised each time you play. After that you must carry the chest to one of several exit points, and finally hold that position long enough so your team can use a winch to move the crate safely out of reach of the guards.
Doing this is as simple as it doesn’t sound. For starters, the key you need to steal is attached to the belt of the Sherriff, a hulking foe clad in plate armour so thick that the ground shakes with his footfall. Essentially invincible, the Sherriff can kill you with a single blow and has a knack for sniffing out stolen treasure. That’s not to mention the dozens of guards roaming around the area, manning walls and towers, standing sentry outside doors and on balconies.
Assuming you can steal the key and thread the needle all the way to the vault, you then need to transport the treasure to an exit. Not only is the chest heavy, thereby slowing your character, all those clinking, jangling coins will attract the attention of nearby guards. Should you successfully sneak the chest to an exit, you then must guard that area long enough to winch it to safety, battling suspicious guards and keeping the Sherriff at bay.
This all makes for some compelling stealthy teamwork. Tagging approaching guards so your teammates can easily avoid them, coordinating takedowns, supporting your chest carrier by helping them navigate and dealing with enemies in their path, it’s reminiscent of Splinter Cell’s cooperative modes, only more freeform. The presentation is also generally impressive. Sneaking around feels slick and responsive, and there are some suitably grisly takedowns, such as Robin slashing a guard's throat with the tip of an arrow. I also love the game’s darkly gothic maps, which range from swampy marshlands through stone-built outpost forts, to skyscraper like marble citadels. They wonderfully convey Hood’s exaggerated dystopian medievalism.
Crucially, however, your team isn’t the only motley crew trying to swipe the treasure from under the Sherriff’s nose. According to Hood’s fiction, Robin’s escapades have resulted in a swathe of imitators trying to claim a piece of the golden pie. This means your team not only must deal with the Sherriff and his troops, but a player-controlled rival gang who could blow your plans at any moment. They could grab the key before you, for example, or they could forego trying to lift the loot themselves, instead shadowing you to an exit point and ambushing you at the last moment.
If this sounds a lot like the system in Crytek’s excellent Hunt: Showdown, that’s because it is. It’s also in this comparison where Hood starts to fall down. The addition of player-controlled adversaries undoubtedly adds a lot of dynamism to Hood, especially when you combine that with the AI guards. You can disrupt the opposing team’s attempt to winch out the loot by kiting the sheriff to their escape point, for example, or use Robin’s explosive arrow ability to draw guards in their direction.
Unfortunately, Hood’s maps don’t have the expansiveness of Hunt, which means it loses a lot of the tension and potential to surprise. It’s not so much a case of if the opposing team will screw up your plan as when. A bigger problem, however, is that Hood is a much better stealth game than it is a combat game, and the final third of the experience nearly always devolves into a fight. Slugging it out with enemy guards or player rivals is simply not much fun, especially since other players can easily sneak up on you and slit your throat while you’re fighting off one of their comrades.
It’s tempting to say Hood would be better as a straight PvE game, but I’m not sure the solution is that simple. The PvP component adds at least as much as it detracts. A possible solution would be some additional game modes, perhaps one where there are multiple sources of loot and the emphasis is on grabbing as much as you can rather than tit-for-tatting over a single chest. I should also note that Hood is not a game I’d recommend playing with random people. There’s a fair amount of nuance to the different roles, so it’s a lot more enjoyable played with a close-knit group of pals.
If you can get a group together, however, then I think Hood is worth a punt despite its problems. It’s an unusual design that deserves more attention than it’s getting, and while it may not have the most long-term appeal, it’ll provide you and a few friends with a good few weekends of fun.
July 15 2021 | 20:30