The greatest hunting simulation game is here and it couldn't be much better. A purely realistic experience full of amazing environmental details and the highest quality of immersion, those interested in experiencing everything that hunting has to offer, but from the comfort of the television, need not look any further. The best hunting game to date is theHunter: Call of the Wild.
Spending the first 20 years of my life growing up in Alaska is one of the greatest facts about my life, next to who makes up my family, and the fact I get to play games like theHunter: Call of the Wild for a hobby job. I've been around the world since and have experienced various walks of life and what other people call "the outdoors." Nothing felt the same as Alaska's outdoors though. Wether it was hiking a few miles through tall grass and trees to get to our secret fishing spots, or camping out on the banks of the river after a long day of being bored in the bush while hunting for moose, the world just felt calm yet lively. In everyday life, we get to walk, run, drive, or fly to our destinations of choice, but when it comes to hunting you just have to hope your destination of successful trophy claiming comes to you. You never know what's out in the land with you, nonetheless what is trotting in the tree line just beyond the reach of your vision. Do you hike your way up to the mountains, or across the flat land to reach where the rivers meet? Should you stay on the ATVs and make your way a few more miles north, or do you park them and take the tried and true method of walking? Am I even still talking about my experiences in Alaska?
To be honest, halfway through that spiel I started talking about the game. It's majestic, and completely blew my expectations out of the water. I have been playing hunting games since the beginning of the Cabela's Big Game Hunter titles. Back when you had to prep for a hunt by buying equipment in a bland menu, in some guy's cabin, then had to scan the picture of the mountains with the cursor in order to trigger a short video with your scope overlaying it. I'm pretty sure that was officially the oldest hunting game, and came out back in 1998. From there I went on to play the sequels, as well as the PS2 reboot of it. The one with Sniper Elite animations for every shot. The Dangerous Hunts titles were thrilling as anything I've ever played before, but slowly it felt like the market for hunting games fell off. I know Cabela's has put out some other ones since, but they just didn't stick with me. But this title here… Is not only the greatest hunting title there has been, but with a consistent schedule of future content (I hope and pray), it will probably go uncontested for years to come.
The first thing you need to know, is that at its core, the game is a first person hunting title. You'll pick one of two reserves to venture on; one in Europe and the other in the Pacific Northwest. Upon loading in, you'll find yourself equipped with a smartphone, a smaller caliber rifle, a headlamp, and a couple of deer calls. From here, you basically decide what you want to do. The world is a sandbox for you to make your own stories within. You can start walking in any given direction and learn the ropes of the system on your own, like basic movements and hunting mechanics, or you can refer to the in-depth tutorial guide. Once you get your bearings and you understand the basic movement controls, you can decide to go hiking, hunting, or participate in photography.
The hardest thing you'll need to learn is how to swap out your equipped item. Your phone will always be a standard secondary choice, but your primary can be switched between the other things. The phone is key as it will help you navigate an area, as well as highlight the pattern of tracks (I will get to that in a second). While your weapon will feel weak initially, forcing you to find the closest shots you can, and your calls will feel hit or miss, as you progress through missions, quests, and hunts, you'll gain experience and money. Experience will allow you to upgrade your character in a handful of categories like stalking or ambushing abilities.
Checking into the scattered outposts will allow you to forward time, but also in another building nearby open a form of marketplace where you can buy stronger rifles, bows, ammo, lures, scent cover spray, and spawn an ATV. Asides from the perks and skills that you'll upgrade as you gain experience, buying better equipment is the only way you can better your chances at securing a trophy animal. There are three versions of the ATV but really the only difference is color. Once you spawn one, you can ride it anywhere and everywhere. This is the easiest and quickest way to traverse the land. You can either do this in third-person view or first-person, but in order to keep the best immersion, you'll want to change it to first person. And while I'm talking about camera settings, you can change your field of view via the settings menu (just incase that's something important to you).
As you travel, you'll come across many points of interest that will aid you in your adventures. Some will be nothing more than historic relics that reward you with experience points when you check them out, but others will be significant things like hunting blinds perfectly situated overlooking open areas, or even better, watch towers that trigger an Assassin's Creed video overlooking the miles around you.
Now, the nitty gritty regarding the actual hunting. When you're out in the field, there's a few ways to start; just keeping an eye out for animals in the distance (the most unlikely successful first approach), listening for a call, or picking up some tracks. Animals will leave prints, droppings, and if shot blood. Once you examine one of these, tracks left behind by that same animal will highlight blue. There are options in the settings to turn off the blue markers but damn, good for you if you're willing to go above and beyond for the simulation. The smart phone that I mentioned earlier will highlight all of the tracks for the animal you are tracking. This will allow you to piece together the general direction of the animal, and help further progress the tracking process. It sucks loosing the trail, and even worse when you decide it's time to give up, but it's just part of the game.
If shot, animals will leave blood on the ground, which will tell you the bleed rate, and if you have hit a vital shot. If you track the animal down enough, and are successful finding it dead, then you can approach and claim it. This will show you better details of where you hit it, and will reward you extra points for integrity (getting a quick kill). You can play in multiplayer, which I highly recommend as it makes everything exponentially better. You can host games or join other randoms. This will fuel teammwork and build new friendships, or will strike a competitive nerve where you race the other(s) to claim the best trophies in the land. If you play single player though, there are dozens of quests and missions to partake in, which help drive a solo story experience without taking out the joy of sandbox adventuring. Either way there is an opportunity for everyone to work towards some goal or another.
Sound and Graphics
Graphically the game could be confused as a product from almost any AAA studio. The world is beyond gorgeous and is filled to the brim with details. When you walk through a field, you leave a walking imprint of your presence, with grass being folded to the sides, and twigs being broken from trees. With no sense of boundaries in the reserves, you can walk past any tree, climb almost any natural structures (with the exception of extremely large boulders), and you can feel the variety of environments throughout the entire maps. No two areas look the same, and often times running through the same exact area will not trigger the feeling of having been there before.
The animals look great and carry the sense of weight with them, even when you just hear one them making a call a quarter mile away. When you see them for the first time, your heart races because you know finally it might be right to pull the trigger. The only complaint I have is that sometimes, very rarely, animals will be frozen in place after you shoot them. Somewhere between them standing casually and dropping down into their wounded animations makes them break. I took 4 follow up shots on a moose thinking he was just too stupid to run away, and when I went up to him within touching distance, his eyes were blinking, but nothing else would happen. I had to just walk away and make sure I mentioned it in my review so hopefully it gets fixed.
In regards to audio, everything from the rain, to the tree branches breaking from a nice buck crushing his way through them was spot on. Most notably I was impressed with the animal calls. Both the ones made from in-game animals, and the ones made from your equipment. Now, Im not a professional hunter or even a call manufacturer, so to know the names of everything is something I will have to learn, but the descriptions will tell you everything you need to know about their effectiveness. Knowing which call to make based on if a mating call we heard over the hill came from a roe deer or a roosevelt elk was really cool. Eventually we didn't even need to analyze what we heard to know which animal type it was coming from. Rifles ring with power, and as good as it feels to pull the trigger after dozens of minutes stalking and ambushing an animal, you can't help but feel like you need to make every shot count as it will inevitably ring throughout the surrounding area. It makes every bullet a story of their own.
If you love genuine and realistic hunting, get this game. There's no question about it. There's never been anything like it before, and that's coming from someone who has played nearly every hunting game in the last 20 years. It's not arcade style like some in the past; it's a legitimate simulator. So if you do prefer to run around and bag trophies right and left, and see an animal regardless of which direction you face, then yeah you'll want a more recent Cabela's game instead. But for those looking to experience the real thing from the comfort of your tv… again, it's a no brainer. Stalking animals via tracks, droppings, and calls is exciting and can lead you right to them, or it can put you on a walkathon for a bit, not even guaranteeing you'll find them. This is because it takes some skill, thinking, and learning.
Either way it's thrilling. Walking out into the field, scanning the trees or river edges, and catching a glimpse of a huge bull moose or a deer with antlers and thinking "oh shit, it's not a female" makes the best moments I've had in video games for quite some time. Deciding how to make in closer for a better shot brings that depth of strategy and patience into the equation. Should you just call for it to bring it in closer instead?
I've already put about 30 hours in to the game with my younger brother as my hunting partner, and it's still just as exciting to say "lets go play" as when we talk about Rainbow Six Siege, Destiny 2, Absolver, etc. I can understand how some solo players may not get everything out of it, but if your passionate about the outdoors and hunting, and have a friend or brother who feels the same, I believe you can have just as great of a time as I have had. Thats not to say if you play solo it'll be boring, because there is a wide variety of missions and quests to do in single player mode.
I do hope the developers continue bringing new content and support to the game. I would love to take part of riskier hunting like Grizzly bears and wolves, and maybe even an emphasis on clothing like rain gear or winter gear for a winter region. Theres no such thing as a flawless title, but if some of the few technical bugs like frozen animals can be ironed out, I don't see how this couldn't make an argument for perfection. These are not complaints though, just wishful thinking and expectations of post release attention. I look forward to everything that is in store for the game, the developers, and the community of players who pick this up.