Try to imagine Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson making a schmaltzy romantic comedy with Michelle Rodriguez. Then try to imagine Adele releasing a death metal Christmas album. Now try to picture a gazelle taking up scuba-diving. Right, now hold those images in your mind and you should just about be able to envision strategy masterminds and the developers of the greatest Alien game bar none, Creative Assembly, building Hyenas, a Hero-based multiplayer extraction shooter with Borderlands-style visuals and, well, Borderlands-style humour.
It’s entering a market that has become more and more saturated over the last half decade, with hero shooters swooping into early access and dying like crane flies. Only a few live service multiplayer games survive, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends, and only because they’re so dug-in now it’s hard to get them out.
Hyenas is a PvPvE extraction shooter set across numerous derelict spacecraft and stations known as Plunderships orbiting Mars. Its universe also borrows from Borderlands, being a corporate-run dystopia lorded over by uncaring billionaires. You play as a titular Hyena, a scavenger-for-hire paid to break into these facilities and extract pop-culture memorabilia for a mysterious Handsome Jack-like collector. There’s a ton of references here for fans of the 80s and 90s, with music tracks from the likes of Twisted Sister and A-Ha, and a crazy number of nods to Sonic the Hedgehog and other SEGA properties like Out Run.
At present there are seven Hyenas to choose from, and you’ll squad up with two others to face up to four opposing teams. Or you can just play PvE with the three of you versus drones, bots, turrets, and cloned security guards known as MURFS. If anything, the environments I played in the Beta were designed for the former. With 15 players plus hordes of AI enemies, there’s plenty to do. With just the three of you and the bots, there’s way too much empty space.
Of the seven available I played mostly with Mozie, El Silbon, and Digits. The characters run the usual gamut of zany, off-the-wall headcases with little in the way of rhyme or reason. For example, Mozie is a pretty straightforward shooter, while Prima is a punky ballerina who can fly. None of it makes much sense, and you could shuffle them into the ranks of half a dozen other Hero shooter line-ups and no one would tell the difference. I got comfortable with homicidal roadie Digits, though, as his massive LMG mows through enemies and his hungover voice lines made me chuckle.
Each raid begins with you gearing up with guns, grenades, shields, and health packs. The objective is to open the Merch Vaults and clear them out, collecting enough contraband to “pay” for your extraction when the timer runs out. Alerting the enemy (which is unavoidable) will trigger periodic lockdowns and a regular supply of cannon fodder that gets harder to deal with the longer you play.
In certain areas you can turn off the gravity and boost around the place, using magnetic boots to return to the ground. While it affords an interesting way to move around, the best use of it is when you’re attacked and you can send the unsuspecting MURFS skywards and pick them off. It adds a fun element in specific areas, but it’s not a level-wide effect and that makes it kind of situational.
Hyenas also moves pretty clunkily. I ended up turning off both camera bob and shake to smooth my movement, but it still felt kind of sluggish. Compared to other online shooters like Apex Legends or even Rogue Company, it certainly packs a punch but the characters feel too heavy. Enemies drop pretty easily though, which adds a satisfying rhythm to the PvE element.
The environments look nice enough, and the cel-shaded characters are cool, but again it just reminds me of Borderlands which, in all fairness, does the zany looter-shooting better than Hyenas does. Played against other teams, Hyenas does at least feel frantic and tense. Defending your breaching charge, racing for the exit, or desperately searching for a respawn station to bring a teammate back add excitement, but also highlight how confusing and unhelpful the map is when you’re in a firefight, working against the clock, and trying to figure out where to go.
There’s still time for Hyenas to improve and impress, but it’s hitting the market at a time when genre-demand is low and there are already dozens of free-to-play alternatives (although SEGA are yet to confirm whether Hyenas will be F2P at launch. I hope so, given it has standard live service cosmetics and currency systems). Right now though it needs… something. And I’m not sure what that something is. It ticks all the boxes, but Creative Assembly need to bring something truly new to the table if they want to avoid the fate of games like The Cycle: Frontier, and deliver an extraction shooter that’s worth sticking with.
Hyenas is set to release on PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Xbox in Q4 2023.