Game: The Hunter: Call of the Wild
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Expansive Worlds
Reviewed on: XBox One (Review code provided)
Hunting games have never really taken off in Europe quite like I imagine they have in North America. This titles always feel full of the bombast one would expect from a real piece of Americana; going out and “shootin’ me some deer”. The extent that most gamers I know have ever even tried a hunting game is one of the trusty old Big Buck Hunter light-gun arcade cabinets. Sadly this usually consisted of pumping a pound coin or two into the game without really knowing what they are doing, and inevitably letting off a few air-shots and perhaps lightly grazing a Buck if they were lucky. That usually satiated the bloodlust of the common Brit, and never again did they raise a gun against an unsuspecting forest-dwelling animal.
The Hunter: Call of the Wild however eschews the immediate arcade experience to try and put together a comprehensive and realistic hunting simulator. Consisting of two hunting reserves modelled on both North American and European forests, wannabe trophy hunters are free to explore massive open-world environments at their leisure, employing real life hunting techniques and know-how to effectively track and take down their quarry. Starting with a basic rifle, players spend most of their time following footprints, tracking animal droppings (yes, really) and listening out for vocal calls in order to locate your next target. Throughout your exploration of the different regions, you will also discover feed spots, resting places and watering holes, all of which you can exploit at different times of day to ensure you know where specific animals will congregate.
Because The Hunter is aiming to be a realistic simulator, patience is the key word at all times during gameplay. When moving one always must think like a true woodsman, and questions arise such as; what way is the wind blowing and is it blowing my scent towards your prey? Are you making too much noise moving through the undergrowth, even though it makes you much less visible? How recent was that last wolf poop you found? All important questions, and all aspects that need to be considered if you want to be successful. There are of course times when you need to move fast to avoid an angry bear, for example, but on the whole crawling on your belly quietly will help you find unwitting game to kill… even if it takes an age and the patience of a saint to achieve that.
There is a selection of around a dozen different animals on your hit list, including Whitetail Deer, Roosevelt Elk and Coyote, each requiring certain lures and tools to hunt efficiently. As you kill more targets and gain both money and XP in the process, you can unlock and purchase new weapons, such as Shotguns and Bows, new animal calling devices and consumables such as scent eliminator. Some of these are absolutely necessary such as calling whistles to draw out otherwise very elusive animals, or more powerful weapons to take down the larger and more durable predators. Sadly, making progress along the levelling up and monetary system is very slow and painful. Most useful weapons will require hundreds of kills and literally tens of hours of play before you could even think about acquiring them. You will have to make do with your basic tools for quite a long stretch before that.
There is a definite rush of excitement when an animal does appear in the sights of your gun, where you must toss up the benefits of taking a quick shot whilst it is still there, or taking a little more time to try and get a cleaner shot and a more effective kill. If you only manage a flesh wound that deer will bolt into the woods. You can try to follow its blood trail, but it may still be fit enough to still escape you. Hit a vital organ and you won’t have to go far to harvest your target. The satisfaction from a successful kill and the evaluation of your shot score is surprisingly large – even if you never thought yourself one who would appreciate the finer points of hunting. There’s also an X-Ray post-kill screen showing you how your shots hit the target, a little like the Kill-Cam mode in the Sniper Elite series. The elation of a success is somewhat tempered by the aforementioned slow levelling system, which leaves you with the feeling that a lot of your hard work is for nought.
The areas to explore truly are massive, containing a mix of marshland, mountains, lakes and plains upon which to start your trapping career, and a dynamic weather system featuring strong winds and rain not only make the game world feel more alive, but also effect how your scent and bullets travel through the air, or how muffled the sound of your movements may be. Whilst the graphics on show may not be cutting edge, for such large loading screen-free locations the experience is pretty visually pleasing, especially at dawn or dusk in-game. It must be said that a more robust fast-travel system is sorely needed to navigate the broad locations, and issues such as animal tracks you try to follow suddenly ending, bearing no fruit can definitely frustrate, but these don’t really detract in a big way from the overall experience.
I should touch upon the fact that there is a “story”. I use this word very loosely, as it is really just a collection of missions that help teach you to make use of viewpoints, calling whistles and tracking, under the guise of being missions to complete. One might ask you to track and photograph a certain species without being seen, helping you to hone your sneaking skills. After a while though, you are likely to forget about the missions entirely as you get lost in the undergrowth, searching for the moose that got away. If you really struggle to take down your targets, you can enlist several friends in online multiplayer, helping each other track down and flank a group of deer, for instance. This is fun if you have a like-minded friend, but the slow and patient nature of the gameplay lends itself in a far better way to solo play.
It is hard to assign a blanket verdict to The Hunter: Call of the Wild. Reading through the last few paragraphs you might be inclined to think that I’m rather fond of the game, but I can’t really say that. Imagine you were handed a Police simulator, but the majority of the game involved you simply walking your beat, waiting for a crime to happen, knowing full well that no crime may happen in the area you are in or that you might simply not be in the right place at the right time. The Hunter calls on you to be willing to not play the game almost as much as you do play it. What it does, it does well, but such thrilling activities as sitting still and waiting, or slowly following footprints in the mud probably make up over ninety percent of your time with this title, and many players just won’t find that fun. When it comes down to it, most people want fun over tedium in their gaming. But for those of you who are willing to invest that time and have the patience of an angel, this is definitely a fully-featured and authentic experience you will want to track down.