Hyenas interview — Sega Mega Drive explosions and Sonic keychains

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,

At Gamescom we saw Hyenas, a hyper-stylised FPS from devs Creative Assembly and publisher Sega. It is crammed to the gills with nostalgia — from Mega Drive breaching charges to Sonic — and it's incorporating anti-gravity combat.

Upcoming FPS Hyenas was at Gamescom 2022, so we had a little hands-off preview and an interview with the lead meta game designer at Creative Assembly, Christoph Will (former developer on Alien Isolation). The hyper-stylised shooter might dive into the Sega backlog of Sonic, old consoles, and Rubik's Cubes, but with anti-gravity and five-team, one objective shenanigans — there is promise here, too.

HyenasHyenas is coming to PS5 and PS4 in 2023

New first-person shooter Hyenas lands in 2023

If you are lucky, you can play Hyenas right now in a closed alpha, though it's PC only and not for PS5 and PS4. At Gamescom, we were treated to a behind-closed-doors hands-off look at Hyenas, where we watched an abridged version of a round play out in front of us. While that means I can't tell you how exactly it felt to play, or what the pace of a game might feel like, I can tell you that Hyenas surprised and intrigued me during the showing.

"Hyenas is a competitive multiplayer shooter," Will explains. "Five teams of three raid spaceships, they fight against each other, and they fight against the ship security. They do that also zero-gravity — which is amazing and they do it all to grab valuable pop culture items." At the moment, Will says the team is "only doing this mode. Now we focus on it; we want to make this the best thing we can do because we think it's strong enough."

That hyper-saturated pop-arty art style is definitely overzealous in the teaser, but I was taken aback by the fact that in context it works. The fight over society's billionaire pop-culture goodies — in this instance a Sonic statue — is filled with lucid colour matched by the unique characters whose designs are equally eccentric, from an over-the-top drag queen to a goggled-up dork. The effect gives the game an allure like that of an old-school arcade by the seaside. No one is going to say those brash, hellishly lit-up places are nice, but the honesty with which they present themselves is endearing because it knows what it is.

Speaking to Will about this art style, I tried to draw comparisons to the loudness of Fortnite and the strange sharpness of the Borderlands cel-shading. He wasn't having any of it, explaining: "I don't think it's technically cell-shading, but I don't want to speak for the other staff." This is now a design team of "over 100 people," something Will says is ideal for creative collaboration and direction. This has allowed Creative Assembly to house "everything from graphic designers, to user interface artists, to concept artists, to environment artists, to VFX artists — they're all working together under that creative direction."

HyenasHyenas has teams of three facing off in a five-team game.

So, with this talent, when it comes to the art style, the team has it down. "Our tone was always going to be vibrant and what we call 'out of place in space,'" Will continues. "So, we wanted to be in spaceships, but we wanted to make it more recognizable [for those of the] Earth. That's why like one of the walls of the ship looked like an actual cocktail bar from the 80s, right? It's because wanted to give that to give you that feeling of you in space, you're in sci-fi, but you're not in just another spaceship."

In Hyenas multiplayer battles, your team of five is made up of striking characters, all with unique abilities. "In terms of the player characters, we have six that we are showing but there will be more [revealed] in the next few months," says Will. In the gameplay, we see barriers made up of a kind of expandable paste, far-too-big guns, snipers, and plenty more besides. There will definitely be an emphasis on ensuring your team composition is strong, much like Overwatch. In PvE encounters with guards — AI as of yet unfinalised — there are multiple ways to tackle a situation. You can go sneaky through the backdoor, or all guns blazing. The way the characters quipped at each other while shooting was reminiscent of Deathloop's player encounters in some ways, with the tone always remaining bright and zinger-filled.

HyenasSpace soldier, meet panda woman with cool tattoos.

As the shooting start, zaps of colour abound as variations in the way combat plays out for every player-character: one goes long, one short, one mid-range. The shooting looked quick and reflex-heavy — something that has worked well for Call of Duty and Counter-Strike in the past. About the shooting, Will said: "I think it's more light than heavy.

"We focus a lot —because there's zero-g, sliding and things like that — on movement. We don't want to make the shooting too heavy so you want to sit down and hunker, it's not a cover shooter. While you do aim down sights, you don't spend a lot of time holding an angle or something that. This is a frantic game in a good sense, right? You keep moving. Sometimes you have sequences where you run after a character and you go 1g, then zero-g and you fly a bit, and you go 1g again. Obviously, if the shooting was heavy, you wouldn't be able to keep your aim. So, it feels great on the controller and it feels great on the mouse and keyboard — that's the key!"

HyenasHyenas wants you shooting quick and fast.

"In terms of the NPCs, there's a whole roster," Will continues. "There are basic grunts with different weapons like rocket launchers and shotguns. There are two (big guards), one with a shield and he slams it, and the other one has a laser. There are drones flying about, too." This PvE fight is all about gathering loot and, while it could be contested by another set of players making it PvPvE, this is the early-to-mid game for most players. Explore, kill enemies guarding vaults of merchandise, and grab a plastic Sonic the Hedgehog.

On that note, the environment you are in is a big shopping mall space station floating around the great abyss of space. The design has nostalgia crammed into every corner, which as I understand is something particular to this map. "We see our ships in one theme [only]. The ship we are showing is 80s themed, so there will be a lot of licensed music and maybe some other game consoles — I think from the 80s — which you will immediately clock and recognize that feel nostalgic about and, in this case, nostalgia is what we want because it's obviously the 80s ship."

HyenasHyenas will have you drinking the nostalgia juice.

In the gameplay, we see the Sega Mega Drive being used as a breaching device on the merch-filled vault to exemplify this kind of thematic fun. Now, if that isn't a heightened amount of wackiness fuelled by nostalgia and creativity, I don't know what is. As to what else we can expect, Will remained coy: "We're not talking about what the others are, but I believe there's some... no, I know, there's some really cool stuff. Obviously, being a part of Sega means we can lean into the gaming ensemble of stuff — and having Sonic in the game is just so funny."

When I asked Will about if he feels this reliance on nostalgia detracts from the identity of Hyenas, he notes that it has been a concern. "It's a concern I think we have answered because this is the 80s ship so [of course] it's nostalgic and maybe the others won't be as much. The other reason is I think that the items are celebrated in the narrative — they actually have a value because they have a value, right? The rich people want them a status symbol and we want them because it's just cool to see [these things], you know? If you think about it, you have that right now! If you buy a really expensive collectable statue, you have that [gaming status symbol] in the real world. We just ramp it up a level."

HyenasHyenas anti-gravity in motion.

As you run around the ship with some pretty sick music playing in the background, we also get shown some anti-gravity traversal. Without a doubt, this is the coolest aspect of the game and the team knows it. "We think our zero-g — and we know it is because players are telling us — is very pick up and play ready. But we make some constraints where we [pair] back on the realism," explains Will.

"For example, you can never rotate around your own axis. You're always facing your boots down on the same plane, basically. You can always drop down and walk if you want to. I think that is exactly one of those concessions that we wanted to make [so the game feels] as if you can actually pick up and play. There's still a high-skill ceiling — like jumping around in the zero-g from like wall-to-wall by shooting backwards. It's not gonna be easy and a lot of players will be surprised with how much they develop that skill, but you can pick it up within minutes."

HyenasHyenas has some elobrate space stations

With loot collected from the vault, the game will enter the final phase called the getaway. This particular section really gives you the sense of being part of a heist that is part-battle royale — you have to revive downed teammates from a box you have to defend — and part-team deathmatch. This ending funnels players with their loot to the same ending point where all surviving team members duke it out.

"Generally, the idea is that once a team — there can be multiple teams — has stolen enough of the mech items to have the quota, a location is revealed," Will says. "We show this to the enemy teams. Everyone converges there, because what the team that has to quota has to do is defend a capture point for a while, and when they do they win the game. Anyone can interrupt progress by stepping on the [capture] plate and shooting at them and so on."

HyenasHyenas doesn't have a Rubik's Cube mini-game that we know of, yet.

These scenarios, as we see in the gameplay demo, are utter colourful chaos. I assume there will be tactical approaches to the situations at hand, but at any moment said coordination could float off, literally. "One [big zero-g fight] that tends to happen in this ship, for example, is because you can turn off the gravity in the hubs," Will says. "For some of the potential locations for the getaway — it's randomized across the map — can be in the hubs. Then you can turn off gravity, so you're literally trying to defend your getaway — if you're the team leading — with people flying at you from all angles, quite likely, which is so cool."

In the game, we see walls go up made of foam, control tug-o-wars across the plate, and characters jeering at other versions of themselves. This is where the movement looks like it should shine because you will need to be negating space intelligently to survive, using all that energy and momentum the team has crammed into the game mechanics. However, as Will was quick to remind me, "the shooting is good. And it depends. And it's a very unique [experience] per character because each character has unique primary buttons. So each Hyena feels a bit different in terms of the shooting."

On that note about the individual characters, it is a little jarring to see other teams have the same characters that you are playing, just like in something like Apex Legends. How has Creative Assembly set about solving the issue? "We aren't really talking about them — but through character skins. Our more general solution is independent of any cosmetics. What we do is a lot of UI and VFX work to make sure that you know — enemies are red, your teammates are green. You know, that kind of very simple, but also effective, strategy is just something you need to work out."

HyenasHyenas is all about the fighty-fighty.

The end game really helps bring the violent pop-art vision we have been watching come together. Will believes that finding the balance for this final section was key. The getaway phase is what Creative Assembly "spend the most time tuning. We have quite some good solutions because we also have grenades, [armour,] and other gadgets that you can pick up."

"In the end, even though it still comes often down to shooting skill, you have a slightly better chance of winning that fight as the leading team. If you spend your time idling on the map and then try to hunt the team that went through the work, they will outclass you a bit. I can't stress it enough - we need feedback from the players because this is the balance question. Those are fine-tuned tuned."

As the gameplay comes to a close and a drag queen gets away from everyone else with their Sonic keychain, it's hard to tell just how long this epic fight has lasted. "Matches are like 15 to 25 minutes," chimed Will, "so that you can get one in pretty quickly. I think it's one of those games that's going to be easy to learn, hard to master — that has always been one of our goals because that's what you want in this competitive shooter kind of space."

hyenasHyenas side-on view still pops.

"I've been playing shooters ever since I had my first PC," Will says. "I don't think I've ever played one that has such a pickup and master [hook] with zero-g at the same time. It's just a really unique form of movement. It makes the midair kind of gunfight where you fly this way, the other person finds this way, and you maybe try to land a projectile like a rocket launcher, one of our units, on the enemy... like back in the Quake days or something. There's really high mastery of moving and shooting at the same time and our zero-g is just like the sweet spot for that."

While I didn't play the game, Will's words there are full of the kind of passion and energy that you can't help but latch onto. They certainly registered with me and now I can't wait to play — not a reaction I'd have predicted given the rather quiet reception to the game's reveal trailer. While the team aren't talking PlayStation Plus, Game Pass, or any of the live-service hooks, the team is incredibly passionate about making Hyenas a success through listening to players with the hope, Will alludes, of finding some traction in the eSports space. Will assures us though that the team is working hard on the trophy list, and to expect a challenge: "Mastery is one of our pillars we'll be aiming for. For example, is really good at playing a certain Hyena and having ways to show that off."

HyenasHyenas will be around for the long-game.

Hyenas is coming in 2023 for PS5 and PS4 and is currently in a closed alpha. There is definitely something building around this game, and with a little hands-on time, I suspect the combination of anti-gravity, multi-team combat, and nostalgia will leave quite the impact. Until then, Creative Assembly is clearly confident and seemingly can't wait to show more of Hyenas in the future. Until then, we will look to space in hopes of spotting those Sonic plushies floating out there somewhere!

Gamescom has been rich with content for us here at TT. So, check out our System Shock gameplay impressions, Wanted Dead preview, and read all about The Callisto Protocol's PS5 audio, the PS Plus wavering, and the upcoming DLC. We also have two neat stories on Tunic! See you in the comments.
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Associate Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation news. He writes about upcoming exclusives like The Last of Us and God of War, PS Plus and PS Studios news, and his favourite games — The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed, and The Outer Wilds — before an evening swim.