Hyenas preview: I don't know what it is, but I like it
I got to play Hyenas, SEGA's new extraction shooter, at Gamescom 2023, and I'm still struggling to describe it without playing 'buzzword bingo' or leaning on a variety of gaming touchstones.
The closest I can get is to tell you it is part battle royale with hero shooter elements, a la Apex Legends, with a hefty dose of thievery piped in from something like the Payday franchise. Then there's the whole "getting out alive" thing popularised by Escape from Tarkov, and it's all shot-through with the pop-culture zingers of Borderlands.
And yet, I came away with the feeling that I could definitely see Hyenas joining me and my friends' rotation of games we play each week.
Start a Plunder Riot
We were shown a tutorial before jumping into Hyenas' main Plunder Riot mode, and it's just as well - it's a pretty complex mode with a lot of moving parts.
Four teams of three players arrive on a Plundership, a shuttle ferrying art and media from a dying Earth to billionaires on Mars, and their mission is to battle against NPC 'Murfs' to reach a series of vaults. Crack open the vault (with a repurposed SEGA Mega Drive, complete with cartridge-blowing animation, no less) and you can grab as much loot as you can carry to an extraction spot.
Complicating things are those other teams, and once you're down, your loot is gone. In our round, my squad was top of the leaderboard before being ambushed by two squads at once, ending in a third-placed finish. Revives are possible, and there are respawn stations that'll be familiar to Apex fans, too, but once your team wipes, it's over.
Still, outside of the space theme and squad sizes, Hyenas is a very familiar experience. That's no bad thing really since everything is mechanically sound - guns feel great to use, characters abilities are easy to understand and complement gunplay, and it looks great.
The real chaos begins with the push of a button. Hyenas offers Zero G traversal and combat, and it can be triggered by activating or shooting a button.
This turns it from a (literally) grounded experience into something closer to Quake 3.
"If you are having a traditional cover-to-cover match and someone shoots a zero-G switch it completely changes the dynamic of the game," Live Product Director Alex Hunnisett explains - and he's not wrong.
Movement through zero-G allows players to pounce from area to area, opening up shortcuts and new interception routes as teams move to secure more loot. In my match, my team flew through a huge hangar bay to cut off another team with an ambush.
It's a system that's taken some refinement, Hunnisett explains.
"Starting off, our Zero-G was actually more like you're floating around," he explained.
"You have what we call the gravity, which is where you tether to a place and pull yourself to it, but it didn't really deliver on that flying and shooting gameplay," Hunnisett admits, pointing to an overhaul in the build we played.
While everyone is floating, players can shoot the same switch to bring everyone back down (sans fall damage), and it adds an additional layer of locational awareness while you're trying to keep an eye on your enemies.
Having A Laugh
Some characters even have abilities that line up more with the type of aerial ambush the system is meant for. Prima, for example, is ideal for run and gunners because her weapons are buffed the faster she moves., with a Zero-G harness allowing her to take flight more often.
Then there's Digits, a pyrotechnic that sends out fireworks and offers a perk that can cause chain explosions of NPC enemies. It's that perk, Hunnisett explains, that felt like the moment the team realised they had something special on their hands.
I spent my match as Doc Hotfix, a support character capable of healing teammates with his drone, as well as using it to distract enemies. Many of his lines are fourth-wall-breaking FPS references that feel coloured by the likes of Deadpool and Borderlands, but Hunnisett also points to Zombieland as a reference for the feeling of looking to the end of the world.
"When you start saying that your game's dystopian or postapocalyptic, you immediately go to the greys and the greens and the browns," Hunnisett said.
"We wanted to find the joy of it, right? You look at movies like Zombieland and you think "what's your last Twinkie?"
"Yeah, sh**'s f*****, what are you going to do? You may as well enjoy the chaos".
Chaos is right, too, because outside of picking your character, there's no real preparation in a match of Hyenas. That may change down the line, but it's nice to find an extraction shooter that lets you get right to the action with ease.
Hyenas certainly feels chaotic, in all the best ways, and after one match of rifling through vaults for 80s music and Sonic statues, I'm intrigued to see how it can grow.
Now that I've adjusted to Zero-G combat, it may just be tricky to go back.
For more on Hyenas, check out our discussion with Alex Hunnisett about the potential for the game to go free-to-play.