A bounty hunter is an individual who hunts another individual for a monetary reward known as a bounty, normally but not always to assist law enforcement.
Historically, while bounties were typically placed on their heads of criminals, such as pirates, murderers, and terrorists, it was not unknown for private citizens to issue them against personal enemies to satisfy a vendetta. It was also not unknown for states to draw up bounties on political dissidents or military targets. A bounty contract normally stipulates whether a target must be apprehended alive or killed on sight. In the latter scenario, bounty hunting essentially amounts to contract killing. Otherwise, bounty hunters may be given the discretion to eliminate the target as a threat by either means although one may carry a higher reward.
When targeting pirates specifically, bounty hunters become synonymous with pirate hunters. Additionally, they may sell their services to a military, in which case they are mercenaries. Because of the similar roles of these professions, an individual may freely cross the boundaries between the three, but strictly speaking, not all mercenaries were bounty hunters and not all bounty hunters were mercenaries. The condotierri of the Italian Wars were a notable example of the former and Assassins who assisted the Metropolitan Police Service is a case of the latter.
Bounty hunting was a regular part of the mercenary profession in ancient Greece, and at the height of the Peloponnesian War when mercenary work was widespread, there was little distinction between the two vocations. Lax state regulations of bounty contracts meant that private citizens were normally free to rely on them to exact vengeance against their own enemies. In such an environment, bounty hunters themselves were highly susceptible to becoming targets of other bounty hunters. The normalcy of bounty hunting ensured that in every town or city, contracts were posted on boards in public squares and anyone with the means, skills, and equipment could take it upon themselves if they so wished.
Golden Age of Piracy
Using a variety of ships, ranging from schooners to Men O' War, pirate hunters would follow and attack their targets after the pirate had become notorious enough. Easily recognizable by their crimson sails and black-and-red hulls, hunters wore brown outfits with red accents, and were often converted pirates. Benjamin Hornigold was one such pirate hunter, working to eliminate his former allies after he joined the Templar Order in 1718. His two lieutenants, Josiah Burgess and John Cockram, joined him in his task, and succeeded in killing the pirate Captain Howell Davis in Príncipe the following year.
During his career as a pirate, Edward Kenway would occasionally attract the attention of the pirate hunters, even going so far as to purposely lure a group of hunters to his location while completing a mission on the behalf of the Dutch merchant Milo van der Graaff.
Seven Years' War
During the French and Indian War, bounty hunters were hired by all sides of the conflict, whether French, British, Assassin, or Templar. Shay Cormac, as an Assassin who defected to the Templars, acquired bounties on his head by both factions of the war at different points in the conflict.
Nevertheless, Shay, in a way, functioned as a Pirate Hunter, being a Privateer at the same time in the Royal Navy aboard his ship the Morrigan, eliminating the Pirates Joseph Reed and William Crest as well destroying their Men O' War, the Pilgrim and the Cauldron, destroying the last remnants of Piracy in the Atlantic.
Bounty hunters of the French and Indian War commonly wore gas masks in the form of simple bandanas. These bandanas were sufficient in protecting them against toxic or hallucinogenic gases. The combat prowess of bounty hunters of this era were exceptional and far superior to that of regular soldiers in the French and British Armies. Even the infamous Assassin hunter Shay himself could not match them in swordsmanship, finding their defences to be unassailable.
Modern law enforcement
In the United Kingdom, the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Service in 1829 provided a much stricter environment of law enforcement than before, and the legal status of the freelance pursuit of criminals waned. Nowhere was this more evident than in 1868 when the Assassin twins Jacob and Evie Frye regularly aided the London police in apprehending criminals through bounties, which always offered higher payments with live captures. Since the criminals were often affiliates of their sworn enemies, the Templars, the Assassins were motivated by more than mere profit. Although the secret alliance the Assassins was much appreciated by Frederick Abberline, then a sergeant in the MPS, in later years he would come to reflect back on it as a possible corruption in the justice system as the Assassins were themselves a paramilitary secret organization which acted above state law.
Behind the scenes
Assassin's Creed: Rogue
Bounty hunters were first introduced in Assassin's Creed: Rogue, where they are an expansion to the pirate hunters from the previous instalment, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Like pirate hunters, the appearance of bounty hunters directly correlates with the notoriety system; the only difference is that they can now spawn on land. With each level of notoriety, a pair of bounty hunters spawn in pursuit of the player. With three levels of notoriety, this means that there can be a maximum of six bounty hunters targeting the player at once.
They are the most formidable enemies that can be fought in the game as their defences are unbreakable, and their gas masks grant them invulnerability against gas grenades. Despite this, they can still be killed by using other weapons, such as rope darts, firearms, berserk darts, throwing knives, heavy weapons, and shrapnel grenades. The will use a near by soldier as a human shield if they are close to them, this may be rare for some.
Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
In Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, one of the Conquest Activities to free London from Templar control are the Bounty Hunts. These involve the player, using either one of the Assassin twins Jacob or Evie Frye, neutralizing a criminal for the police. While the player can opt to kill the target, they are given a bonus reward for capturing the target alive and dropping them off at a designated extraction point. Gameplay-wise, it is distinct from the system in Rogue, corresponding more to assassination contracts of previous games instead. In total there are 17 Bounty Hunts in the game, and each target has their own name and unique backstory.
Assassin's Creed: Origins
A variation of Rogue's bounty hunters return in Assassin's Creed: Origins in the form of the eleven Phylakes. Although not tied to a notoriety system, the Phylakes are powerful enemies who roam separate regions of the game's map of Egypt, hunting the player, who plays as the Medjay Bayek. They spawn upon the completion of the main story quest "Gennadios the Phylakitai" in retaliation for Bayek's assassination of the phylakitai Gennadios, and killing the first of the eleven Phylakes initiates the side-quest "Phylakes' Prey", where Bayek commits to hunting his own hunters.
Assassin's Creed: Odyssey
Assassin's Creed: Odyssey takes inspiration from the gameplay concepts of Rogue and Origins. Bounty hunters, commonly known in the game as mercenaries, act as Odyssey's iteration of the Phylakes but are once again intertwined with a notoriety system. Unlike the Phylakes, these mercenaries are far more numerous, and in fact, infinitely generating. By default, they do not target the player, but committing crimes can earn bounties—measured in game by Bounty Levels—and make oneself the target of up to five mercenaries, one per level.
To eliminate the bounties, the player can either pay off the bounty sponsor with drachmae, kill or knock out and recruit the bounty sponsor, wait for the bounties to expire, or have the region's allegiance change via Conquest Battle. In the meantime, the player can also kill their hunters to protect themselves or pursue bounties of their own, some of which may be placed on the heads of other mercenaries. In some cases, a mercenary hunting the player may themselves be a bounty target of the player; Odyssey therefore allows the player to take on both the role of a hunted bounty and a bounty hunter.
- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
- Assassin's Creed: Rogue
- Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
- Assassin's Creed: Odyssey