The Hunter – Call Of The Wild Review
You’ve been tracking the deer for a little over 40 minutes. You first spotted it at the drinking pool you’d found during a lengthy and somewhat aimless wander, as it calmly lapped at the water’s edge. You’d taken careful aim at that point and almost pulled the trigger – but a crack from beneath your boots in the undergrowth had spooked it at the last moment. You’d sworn under your breath and watched as it pranced off into the distance, bouncing in the air and kicking out its back legs elegantly behind it.
Taking a moment, you’d weighed your options. Here at the drinking hole, there are tracks in abundance – but you didn’t know how new or old these tracks are, and you hadn’t seen the animals that made them. That deer though – you’d seen it. You knew where it’d gone. You’d made the decision, you’d follow the tracks. You’d hunkered back down into the undergrowth and begun the process of sneaking forward, picking up the trail and following it. Twenty metres or so along, you’d found some fresh droppings – you thought you’d been going the right way, and the presence of the poo confirmed it. Onward. It’d led you a merry chase through the brush. Your route had taken you up and down hills, across fields and through wooded areas. You’d sneaked most of the way, paying attention to the direction of the wind and your position in comparison to it, trying to ensure your scent didn’t scare the deer away.
Eventually, you hear a call. It’s close. It’s your deer – you just know it. You’re sneaking up a hill when you hear it, you drop to your belly and shuffle up to the top of the rise. There she is, only 15 or 20 metres away. You wait a moment, letting your heart rate settle to steady so you can aim more reliably. Once it’s back at a normal rhythm, you take aim. She’s there in the middle of your sights. You adjust the scope, zooming in so that she fills most of it, blissfully unaware that she has moments to live. She’s grazing, her neck bent down toward the ground. You pause, waiting for her to raise her head.
She does. You inhale and hold your breath, then squeeze the trigger. The rifle kicks like a mule, a massive plume of smoke appearing at the end of the barrel. You wait a moment for the smoke to clear and then head toward the deer. She’s dead. The option to take trophy appears. You press the relevant button and the game gives you detailed analysis of your shot, including where the bullet had traveled and how humane the kill had been.
The Hunter: Call of the Wild is a serious hunting sim, and it’s one of the most visually impressive games I’ve ever played. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, Avalanche Studios and Expansive Worlds have crafted a massive and stunning environment. Trees move in the wind, leaves blow away. The lighting effects, with sun rays shining through the branches of the trees are phenomenal. The sound design is equally impressive. Birds sing, branches rustle. You can tell what you’re walking on by the sound of your footsteps – it’s incredibly detailed.
The game offers you up a couple of reserves, one in Europe and one in the Pacific Northwest, both of them equally huge. And when we say huge, we mean HUGE. When you set a waypoint in the game, it will tell you how long it’s going to take to walk from your current location to it. Seeing values that are over an hour is not unusual.
Gameplay broadly follows the loop described above. Spot an animal or track. Follow it, extremely cautiously. At the end of the trail, assuming you’ve been quiet enough, you’ll find an animal to shoot at. If you kill it, you can harvest a trophy. If you don’t kill it, you’re back to following another trail. The game attempts to mask the simplicity of it by stacking some RPG elements into the mix. There are skill trees to unlock, main and side quests to complete – the vast majority of which are of the “go here, do this” busy work variety. Weapons can be purchased, modified with different scopes and so on – even the ammunition you use can be changed based on what you’re hunting. As a simulation goes, it’s very deep – wind and distance both need to be accounted for when firing on a target, you need to be constantly aware of how visible you are, the direction of the wind, and how much noise you’re making.
The problem though is that the depth of the simulation is the exact reason why the game is so little fun to actually play.
Walking simulators are popular these days, from Firewatch to Journey and Abzu, games that offer the interaction of pushing forward on the left thumbstick as their main mechanic often do just fine. The Hunter: Call of the Wild ends up feeling like just another one of these – which is obviously NOT what it was intended for. The massive distances that you need to travel are off putting. Fast travel becomes available, but not until you’ve walked for literally miles from one checkpoint to another. At first, walking through the environment is relaxing – as close to a walk in the mountains as a digital experience can currently offer outside of VR. However, the breathtaking visuals rapidly cease to inspire the wonder that they do at the beginning. Following tracks becomes tedious, especially when you run out of tracks to follow with no sign of the animal that produced them and realise that you’ve spent over an hour doing it and have nothing to show for it. There are various different animals to hunt in each of the reserves – but the process remains largely the same. Using lures and scents opens up later in the game – but it’s just another embellishment to a set of core mechanics that suffer from the terminal disease of just not being any fun.
Ultimately, The Hunter: Call Of The Wild feels like a massive missed opportunity. The gorgeous environmental effects are rendered redundant by empty gameplay mechanics that become extremely tedious far too quickly. We didn’t expect an action-packed first person shooter from the game, but at the same time we did expect something far more entertaining than what we ended up with. As it stands, the game offers a frustrating walk in the woods that might be attractive to those with the patience of a saint. If you don’t count yourself in that number though, this is one you’d be best off avoiding.
The Hunter: Call of the Wild will be available on the Xbox Store on 2nd October 2017, priced at £31.99.