Abruptly cancelled last week, Hyenas had the potential to be a great arena shooter. Here’s a beta tester’s preview of a game we’ll never get to play.
You might not think of gamers as psychics, but here we are. Besides spotting potential games of the year from miles away (we know this year’s GOTY is going to be Baldur’s Gate 3, just like we did with Hades back when it was still in early early access) and admitting when GGs are due only 10 minutes into the match (remember: it’s always the fault of your teammates, not you), experienced gamers, it turns out, also have a keen sense for ‘challenging’ titles that are doomed to fail from the get-go.
Okay, so what if we had high hopes for Arkane’s Redfall, which didn’t do too well. There was the 2017 short-lived arena shooter LawBreakers, whose failure CliffyB pinned on it being too 'woke’, despite it being pretty much dead on arrival. And if going free-to-play before being fully released is an indicator of where things are headed, battle royale players could smell trouble in Midwinter Entertainment’s Scavengers, shut down a year later after being launched in early access.
Which leaves us with Hyenas, whose sudden cancellation by Sega last week – with a release date just around the corner – hit harder than a five-ton falling owlbear in BG3. Even if beta testers like myself could see why this bubbly PvEvP shooter might eventually meet LawBreakers' fate or never see the light of day.
Before say a final farewell to Creative Assembly’s passion project of six years, I’d like to share what it was like to play Hyenas – and why it had the potential to become a contender for one of the best arena shooters in recent years. And no, I’m not just saying that because you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.
Combining the best aspects of Hunt: Showdown and Apex Legends, Hyenas pits five teams of three against each other to see who can get the most vintage loot and get out alive. The matches start fairly simple, with teams (at a safe distance from one another) scurrying for equipment – body shields, grenades and health packs – before heading for the vault where the shiny loot lies.
I have to admit, for the first hour or so, navigating through the Plundership (read: the map) was as confusing as finding your way in Remedy’s Control, even if the arena is fairly compact. Unlike Hunt, however, here you don’t need to weigh between barging in and using the merch – read: loot – as bait to outsmart fellow opponents. The ship is filled with NPCs that swarm at you as soon as you plant the safe-cracking device on the vault, just like you did back in all those Payday matches.
These hordes goons – some in mech exoskeletons, others in SWAT gear – don’t pose the same challenge as their counterparts in Payday do, however, and so you’re likely to see what 80s memorabilia lies behind the vault in pretty much every single game. Which isn’t to say that seeing the original Sonic the Hedgehog cartridge being slid into a Mega Drive – cleverly employed here as a safe-cracking device – gets any less entertaining once you’ve done it a dozen times.
Elsewhere, Hyenas gives players the option of being stealthy about reaching their goal: along with alarmed entryways, there are also tripwires and Roomba-like bots that can trigger the alarm if you don’t watch your step. Also a bit like Payday, yeah. Also: kudos to the developers for wanting to give players more than one way to tackle the objective. Still, in three hours spent trying to rob the spaceship and getting out in one piece, I didn’t witness anyone doing anything other than run in guns blazing. If there’s a dedicated button for walking – for slowing down the pace to scan the room for possible threats – I’m pretty sure it was left untouched.
Of course, the real fun begins once one of the teams reaches its quota (10,000 merchandise points to be precise) and heads for the VIP extraction point – think Hunt’s escape carriage but placed at the heart of the map. Not once was my team fast or skilled enough to be the first to do that, but it didn’t matter much because I was there for those crunchy, make-or-break zero-gravity shootouts.
There are nine Hyenas to choose from. Among them you have a Sonic-cosplaying dude able to disguise himself as one of the NPCs; Prima, a tutu-sporting, gun-slinging dogfighter who was the most played character in the beta thanks to her snappy SMG and unparalleled agility in zero-gravity, which is where Hyenas really shows its strengths. (Hyenas’ zero-G is so effective, it feels even more innovative than playable character Commander Wright’s Foam Gun – see below – which really says something.)
While it takes time to get used to kicking ass while floating in mid-air, seeing wacky characters duke it out in zero-G made Hyenas stand out from the crowd. Clearly, it wasn’t enough to save it from being canned. But for what it’s worth, learning that you can actually shoot a button from afar to toggle zero-g on or off added an unexpected dimension, leading to thrilling aerial skirmishes (and some cursing from your teammates). It made me excited to see if Creative Assembly would continue to explore and innovate on on arena manipulation mechanics like this one in future updates.
Last Tuesday, however, I was less than 10 minutes away from putting my questions about Hyenas to Charlie Bewsher, its creative director. With my set of questions being approved by Creative Assembly’s PR, I was excited for the opportunity to shed some light on why Hyenas is more than just a ‘challenging’ title, as Sega’s executives ominously described its development in an earnings call in August.
I wanted to ask Bewsher why he thinks so many players and Reddit lurkers gave Hyenas such a hard time. “In all seriousness, I do think that SEGA should scrap it for parts, and work something else out,” one of the comments on the game’s official subreddit claimed less than a month ago.
And then it happened: the interview was cancelled at the very last minute without explanation. “Will get you updated ASAP,” an email from Creative Assembly read.
I’m no stranger to the occasional postponement, as it comes with the territory of being a journalist. But I had a strange hunch that something was off – a hunch that said there wouldn’t be an update today, nor tomorrow, particularly after that quite alarming investor Q&A last month.
Two days later, my worst fears were confirmed when the news arrived: SEGA was shutting down the project due to a “deterioration in profitability,” leaving dozens of talented developers unemployed.
Six years of collaborative, painstaking effort were down the drain, making Hyenas yet another victim of the arena shooter craze.
“We knew our plans were ambitious and we knew we were diving headfirst into competition with some of the greats,” the Hyenas development team wrote in their announcement. “But we believed in the journey and we’re proud to have taken every step along the way. We hope you’ll join us in remembering the action-packed, zero-G chaos and the diehard community of players who helped make it special.”
Hyenas had a good run – even if it didn’t make it to the finish line.