Outlaw in the streets, Legend in the sheets
Heists are at their least satisfying when winching a small wooden chest up a pulley rope, but Hood: Outlaws & Legends tries its best regardless. The PvPvE stealth multiplayer heist game was released by Sumo Digital this week, with a blend of different gameplay styles. Two teams of four have to carry out tasks to yoink the same treasure, while encountering enemy AI guards – such as the invincible unit, the Sheriff of Nottingham – along the way. With a mix of fighting styles inspired by Assassin’s Creed, Hitman and For Honor, combat can flip between striking from the shadows to bludgeoning an army at a moment’s notice. It takes some getting used to.
The four characters available are a combination of ranged, stealth, support, and brute force fighting categories each with unique abilities that can interact with the environment in unique ways. Hammer-wielding John can use his strength to lift up portcullises, allowing the team to pass through areas more easily. Ranged attacker Robin can shoot down ropes to climb to new areas in order to snipe from afar. As the team spreads out, each character has their own set of advantages to work towards, and weaknesses to dodge around.
But no matter if you’re a sneaky rogue or a seven-foot strongman, stealth is the common factor the whole team can stick to. Staying unnoticed and taking out guards one-by-one is a much cleaner method than alerting the entire garrison. Managing to sneak up on an enemy player can also get a powerful assassination, killing them instantly. However, this loses power in an online setting due to everyone being in a race to finish. Why slowly stealth around bushes when the other team is sprinting for the vault? While the stealth is built well, alerting guards is an inevitable factor of any round due to players needing to get a move on and quit skulking around in shrubbery. And once players have given up on stealth, it’s hard to go from sprinting battle right back into careful crouching in another area – it’s gameplay whiplash.
This gameplay whiplash wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a new thing. In stealth games like Dishonored, Hitman or FPS titles like Sniper Elite, being discovered is always the rubbish part that results in a clumsy gunfight and running away finding the quick load button. But in Hood, stealth can be quickly regained after a short while. If you escape, kill the guards that notice you, or move into a new area, learning to stop running and hide more helps you miss out on annoying combat situations that would normally ruin a game. It just takes some time to rewire that gaming muscle memory of fight or flight. In this case, stealth or ‘batter them all to death and die trying, you’ll never take me alive you bastards, you’re all bastards’.
I found this stealth system is most effective in how it approaches enemy players. Real enemy players have no red outline by default, no name tag or indication of a threat. If a player hides in a bush or behind a wall, it simply looks like someone hiding in a bush. This leads players to try to use their environment to dodge around players and either flank past or get that crucial assassination to end a fight quickly. The accessibility of this is questionable and I worry for players with sight issues that will struggle with these spots, but as a unique multiplayer experience, it felt fresh. Being able to spot a Robin hiding behind a battlement meant I could mark them for my team and give us an advantage, rewarding me for keeping a keen eye.
And the eyes themselves do get treated in Hood: Outlaws & Legends. The maps available are truly stunning, with vast castles and churches surrounded by swamps and foliage, not cluttered with much UI or pop-ups, and dynamic lighting becoming key in blending into the shadows. The layouts are relatively simple, but I often found myself getting lost trying to find unmarked areas, or getting confused by decorative doors that looked identical to doors I could open. It’s in the crucial moments sprinting from a far away spawn point that getting lost did not feel fun.
But when it comes to fun, the mechanics and combat of these heists are still filled with it. Combat using weapons or melee weapons feels satisfying – with a block, dodge and parry system that’s immediately understandable. Changing playstyles dramatically with each character keeps you trying different things, and having a set role makes it easy to work as a team even in a solo queue. Most of the combat does end in close-quarters smacking, and while there’s an attempt at long-range and mid-range playstyles, this can quickly evaporate when players have to either winch a chest, get spotted by guards, or get charged by a giant man called John.
Once successfully or unsuccessfully heisted, you return to your ‘Outlaw Camp’, a physical hub to upgrade cosmetics, perks and receive challenges. In true Robin Hood fashion, you have the option to divide your earnings to your own pocket, or to give to the camp. However, this motive of giving to the poor and upgrading the camp is lost when the camp has no people, and doesn’t seem to change or ‘upgrade’ in any way physically. Unlocking cosmetics invisibly doesn’t feel like I’m giving back, and making any real progress.
This then approaches the wall of this game, which is its hollow nature. Without a satisfying sense of progression or any other game modes, Hood is a fun heist that you relive until all its unsatisfying niggles get the better of you. It’s a title I genuinely wish to return to following its already-planned roadmap of future content, but for now Hood: Outlaws & Legends is an exercise in interesting multiplayer stealth mechanics housed in a game that is desperate for some space to be filled. And as a player that enjoyed my chest-winching adventures, I hope it’s filled soon.