Though I do own the first movie Snow White and the Huntsman on Blu-Ray, I have yet to see the flick (some things just work out that way, I guess). It looked interesting, though, which is why I bought it. Because of that, I obviously haven’t seen the sequel, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, and I don’t know for sure where Winter’s Curse fits in the timeline of either movie, but if memory serves it’s kind of in the middle. I could be completely wrong, so if I am, don’t come down too hard on me for it.
Even though it’s a movie tie-in game, The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse ran pretty much under the radar for just about everyone. Not only did it rarely get talked about prior to release (well, at least with major outlets), but it only launched on PC and PS4. Add to the fact that the PS4 version was timed to coincide with the home video release and not the theatrical one, many may dismiss this game just on principle if they were to stumble upon it. I’m not so sure the decision is that simple.
When the game begins we see a couple of kids being told a story about a young girl named Elisabeth venturing out to save her brothers who have gone missing. She believes evil is afoot but she doesn’t know the extent of it. And that’s also how the game plays out. Huntsman is a turn-based RPG that doesn’t feature an open world or any sort of wandering off. It’s as if you’re reading a story book and when fights come up, you control those. You gain side quests during each chapter (known as “books”), but you aren’t required to complete them to progress. Only the main quests need to be played to move on with the story and because there’s no open world to traverse, you choose the location that is available on a map to move forward. It may seem shallow, and that’s not necessarily wrong, but it works for the kind of game created.
Along the way, Elisabeth learns just how deep into trouble her brothers have gotten and she meets a fellow adventurer who is linked to her quest, though at first, she has no idea just how linked they truly are. Queen Freya’s Enchantress has run amok over the land and again, Elisabeth has no idea just how intertwined their stories are.
The story that isn’t relayed directly to the children in a cutscene is told via still screen scenes with no voiced dialogue, which is a real shame. This would have benefitted the game greatly, because though I don’t mind reading (I enjoy reading books), the medium has come so far from when voiced games were either a rarity or impossible that something that has defined characters such as this should present itself as such. Plus, I’ve seen so many people complain when they have to read even the most simple little things in gaming that a game such as this, which is pretty much 50% reading and 50% combat wouldn’t get a glance from those kinds of players, which is a shame.
Even though you don’t have any control over the characters themselves specifically other than in battle or the few times you can choose the direction you go/dialogue you say, the way the game looks suits this style well and helps to alleviate the fact you have little control over the characters. It did feel like I was playing a picture book at times. In battle the stilted movements made this come alive even more as I chose our next move. The characters models had a nice period-specific look to them and even the enemies had a neat aesthetic, though I would have liked to have seen more variation between enemy types. In battle the effects that flash on screen to signify your actions aren’t over the top, but they don’t fizzle out too quickly, either.
So on to how the battles work, and that ties into the equipment you use. We’re essentially playing a card game without having to actually collect cards. After certain battles, you receive weapons, armor, or accessories to equip, and with those come a duo of moves you can make in battle. In total, you have 8 cards to choose from once everything is equipped and they range from things like attack an enemy for X amount of damage to attack all enemies for X damage to passive moves such as haste and healing. The cards aren’t 1 sided, either. Most offer dual abilities, like attack and enemy and also stun him for a certain amount of turns or heal yourself and invigorate as well.
Where things can get tricky is in the equipping stage, because the items don’t have set values like normal RPGs, you do everything based on the 2 cards each gives you. Were you really liking the combo the sword you’re using gave you but just got a cooler looking one? You need to decide if seeing the sword in battle is worth losing the combo. Same goes for armor. While most new weapons and armor are things you’ll want to change because the new cards are upgrades, it’s the accessories that will have you really debating on, especially in the later half of the game where the wrong combo of moves can be the deciding factor of your battles in the enemies’ favor. There’s traditional leveling up abilities, where every level you gain you choose from a list of upgrades, so there’s some familiarity for RPG fans.
Sound-wise Huntsman isn’t a game changer. The music is generic and too “samey”, add in that there’s very little spoken dialogue, that can’t help its cause. The sound effects during battle and the cries when things get hurt are adequate, so they’ve got that going for them. Overall, nothing will be memorable in this arena.
Let’s rattle off some of the things I didn’t enjoy/didn’t work from the game I’ve yet to mention. Some are nitpicks, sure, but others are real issues. The writing felt heavy handed, especially towards the end, and this would have been a non-issue with voice acting in my opinion. Reading it to myself made the whole experience taxing at times. And while we’re on the subject of the writing, there were times where the spelling and grammar were off, and times when the game would randomly repeat the same slides of dialogue back to back. I would have liked to have had more members of the party. There are only up to 2 active at a time, but the menu clearly indicates a 3rd could have been possible. The game is super linear, so I don’t know how I could have missed a 3rd member. Finally, choosing between side and main quests sometimes didn’t work. Multiple times I would be looking to tackle a side quest and highlight it on the map only to have the game choose the main quest instead. This sadly forced some quests to be ones I couldn’t complete because of certain things that happened in the story, which was really annoying.
Moving on to things I enjoyed, I really liked the way that after each battle your health returned back to full, even if in the story you fought back to back fights without the opportunity to “sleep it off”. It worked for me with this game. It probably ties into the fact that here we have no items to speak of to use on our party. There’s no potions or mana to recover, so in battle, you have to rely on your strategic use of cards, whether that be with what comes up to choose or what you chose to have equipped at the moment. I enjoyed that aspect of the game more than I thought I would. At first, it annoyed me, but after a few battles, I grew to realize it fit well with the overall game. Also, as I said, I liked that the weapons and armor you had on actually showed in battle. A small thing, sure, but it’s the little things that can push an experience over the edge, one way or another.
Now, when it comes to Trophies, there aren’t many, and you can’t miss any of them, so just in beating the game you’ll get 100%. 100%, not a Platinum, which is always a bummer. Everything is story based, so, don’t look at them if you don’t want to be spoiled. One thing I’ll point out is that the Steam release does have Achievements, though the way the game is sold there is much different than on PSN. With PS4, you get the whole game, but on Steam, you get Book 1 for free and have to pay for each remaining book (5 in total) either separately or in a bundle. It’s a weird thing, and I have no idea why it was done this way. In total, you’ll end up paying a little more on PC, so, that may put you in one camp over the other if the ecosystem isn’t a factor.
The bottom line on The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is this: I liked it. Was it incredible? No. Was it entertaining? Yes. It kept my interest the whole time and even though I found a lot of the story predictable and cliched, I still didn’t feel like I was let down in any huge way. I have no knowledge of the movies other than who stars in each and it never hurt what was going on, and in fact, I’d venture that even if you know both movies intimately, the limited interaction with those characters and the game ones wouldn’t really do much for you. So in that respect, Desert Owl Games did a good job with that aspect. If you’re looking to add to the lore of the franchise, you should pick this up at some point. If you’re just looking for a quick-ish, non-traditional traditional RPG, you’ll likely get your money’s worth here.
The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is available now on PlayStation 4 for $14.99 and on Steam for $17.99 for all game content or $23.95 including the soundtrack. A copy of the game was generously provided by our friends at Stride PR.
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