Growing up in a rural area, I always enjoyed playing hunting video games. While hunting games are a niche genre, it made sense that I was drawn to the games that mimicked what I would consider a typical and essential part of life in my community. And since I always enjoyed being in the outdoors, whenever I couldn’t, I liked playing games that featured the outdoors. As a result, I always had some hunting games on hand to turn to when weather was bad or I needed an escape to that particular world. With Hunting Simulator 2 set to release on PC and consoles later this month, I thought this would be a good time to look at some of the best hunting video games over the years.
While there are plenty of titles to highlight—from the original Cabela’s Big Game Hunter for PC all the way through the popular theHunter: Call of the Wild—I decided to limit the selection to a handful of console games (specifically, PlayStation since that is what I’ve always had) that stood out over the years. While the selection for current consoles has been fairly scarce, games available for previous generations are plentiful. Conversely, while many of the old games were not critically well-received, those most recently offered have been highly touted (for the genre).
Nonetheless, these are games that were still enjoyable to me, either for their graphics or their breadth or their accurate depictions (or for some, possibly due to my young age when they were released). One might think every hunting game is the same, but they aren’t. While it is true that many of the Cabela’s titles have been fairly similar, there is a surprisingly decent amount of diversity in the genre as far as how the games play out. These might not be the best critically-hailed hunting games ever, but they are ones which I have found to be my favorites over the years. Here are just a few of what I would consider the best hunting video games on Sony consoles.
8. Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2005 Adventures (2004) (PS2)
This is one of the very first hunting video games I fell in love with on console. One of the things that make it the best was its vastness and freedom. The career mode seemed long for its time and it consisted of players making their way through six distinct regions based on different biomes, such as forest, desert, mountain, etc. Within each of these locations were multiple locations and levels for players to work through and a lodge to find and stay the night and gain supplies.
Each subregion had specific animals to hunt, but encounters with other people lend their way to more side missions or the ability to compete against others while hunting a certain animal or competing in trap shooting contests. The player earned money throughout the game which could be used to buy more tags for game to hunt, equipment, or guns. It was also the first game I had played to feature Midwestern states (Michigan and Kentucky), which I felt connected to growing up in Ohio.
For all of my childhood, my video game playing time was limited to a set amount of time on the weekends. What I loved the most about this game was just how vast and spacious it seemed. It took me forever to get all the way through, and while there was some guidance as to what to do, the player had the option as to what subregions they’d visit first, how they’d get there, and what weapon they would use. It was my first hunting game that was more than just “click-explore-shoot” and truly allowed for the player to explore a semi-open world on their own.
7. Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2 (2005) (PS2)
While I loved the original Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts for reasons similar to the previous game mentioned (open-world, self-exploration—but with dangerous animal attacks) it was the follow-up sequel in the series that stands out to me for adding a comprehensive story into the mix.
Other hunting video games until this point, including my first listed game, always had some loose narrative structure holding it together, but this game added an active narrative element that was enjoyable to my youthful self. The game starts with the protagonist meeting a man who has information about an old friend of the player. The player ends up traveling from Alaska to Africa to India to Australia and finally Siberia, completing missions along the way. The game is full of memorable moments from crash landing in the bush and trying to fight off a pack of hyenas, to meeting Wirake, a native aboriginal, and helping to find his fellow tribesmen, to even coming face to face with a mythic creature.
This narrative element provided a reason for his traveling to all these dangerous locations as well as a drive for pushing forward through the game, despite the jump scares. While I enjoy a good open-world experience, I am also a fan of great storytelling. I really liked this game for the way it was able to include a pretty good story in the hunting genre. It made me more invested as a player and was all that more entertaining as a result. Plus—who hasn’t ever wanted to hunt a Yeti?
6. Cabela’s Alaskan Adventures / 5. Cabela’s African Safari (2006) (PS2)
I lumped these two games together because they each came out the same year, and also because each differ from their predecessors in a unique way. Whereas most hunting games have a varying assortment of locations for players to travel to in their hunting exploits, these each focused solely on one area. By focusing on the areas of Alaska and Africa specifically, these games gave the player an opportunity to learn more about the locales, environments, and wildlife of these locations.
While I have always enjoyed having a selection of places to hunt in these games, it was neat for developers to look further in depth at two of the harshest environments on earth. While plenty of previous games had visits to these locations, the species and places to visit were always limited due to the fact that there were numerous places to hunt. Whether it was glacier bears, polar bears, or stone sheep in Alaska, or rhinos, cheetahs, and cape buffalo in Africa, the games offered more species in these locales than ever before.
By focusing on just one location, these games were able to broaden their maps and the amount of wildlife one could hunt. These two were a pleasure to play ultimately due to their bigger maps focusing on the different environments and creatures of Alaska and Africa.
4. Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures (2009) (PS3)
Another game allowing the player the freedom to explore and strategize the way they please, this one also included fishing. While Cabela’s Alaskan Adventure was the first game I had that included fishing, I recall enjoying the fishing in this game more, for some unknown reason. Not only that, but the game features more than 50 hunting and fishing opportunities and players must utilize proper equipment while deploying their own tactics to be successful. The mix of hunting and fishing and ability to play as you please was very fun when this came out.
Moreover, the game was updated over previous iterations, with the addition of the revised VITALS (Visually Integrated Targeting and Lock-on System) shooting mechanism. This helpful improvement allows the players to steady their breath and focus on accurately shooting at the prey’s vitals, which allowed the player to “see through” the animal by highlighting their vitals. The game focuses heavily on the action-centric, visceral acts of hunting and fishing while respecting true-to-life hunting and fishing rules and regulations.
While the game was limited by only having one game mode: story mode, the trade-off is that players are free to play the game their way as well as hunt whatever they encounter, whether it be deer, big game, small game or birds. This title was one which pushed the genre forward in a positive direction and was great fun to play.
3. Cabela’s North American Adventures (2010) (PS3)
While I enjoyed the ability to hunt small game as you walked to and from your objectives, this game was mostly enjoyable due to its unique additions to the genre. This game acknowledges the popularity of hunting TV shows by incorporating this aspect into the gameplay.
As players search for trophy game, a cameraman follows them around as they seek it out. In addition to having the right equipment and waiting for the right time to take a shot, the player is also responsible for ensuring that the cameraman can sufficiently capture the action. This player often has a couple of choices for how they want to approach the hunt, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Regardless of what one chooses, this “footage” is shown after each hunt. This is something that had never been in a hunting game before (along with the first ever addition of a multiplayer mode and custom gun builder) and is a characteristic that sets it apart from others. This was an instant favorite due to its incorporation of something so different and immersive. It was a game I played through multiple times trying different tactics while building various guns.
2. Hunting Simulator (2017) (PS4)
I’ll admit that I just bought this game because a) it was the first hunting game to release on PS4 and b) I was impatient for theHunter: Call of the Wild to come out. While it wasn’t my favorite of the two, it was still a great, fun game to get into. And, within the realm of the hunting genre, it’s not hard to argue that this game still resides towards the top. The animals are rendered to hear, smell, and see the hunter in realistic ways. There are over 37 species for the hunter to track. The scenery is also great looking and fun to wander around in. And, the various maps cover such diverse terrain and are really large enough to get lost in.
While I had some issues with the game, it’s still included on the list for being the first real hunting game to make its way onto eighth-generation consoles. The animals all have different challenges to them and from Alberta to Texas, there are a plethora of great locations to be unlocked and explored.
Additionally, the game is fun for those seeking a more blended experience of simulation and arcade. Its arcade elements stem from animals that seemingly spawn in similar places and there is a plethora to be found allowing for numerous shooting opportunities. While the mechanics were typical of other hunting games, its heightened focus on the stalking system and carefully approaching game, as they respond in realistic ways, is where it earns its simulation credentials. Overall, I did have fun playing this beautifully rendered and expansive game.
1. theHunter: Call of the Wild (2017) (PS4)
This is the hunting game that lovers of the genre deserved. Personally, I thought this was the greatest hunting simulation I had ever played. While no game is perfect and I have my own wishes for things to be improved, that list is extremely small compared to many other games in the genre.
The player has a wide selection of authentic gear that they can unlock and purchase as they progress through the story. Animals look real, respond in authentic ways, and present a challenge to take down. The graphics are stunning and the environments are beautifully rendered. The map or “reserves” are wonderfully huge and provide the players with such large spaces to get lost in that it would take hundreds of hours to effectively search every piece of terrain (that’s with the DLC locations). Speaking of, with the continued release of DLC content going on three years after its initial release, this game has the ability to stick around for a long time as developers have said they will continue to release more content into the foreseeable future, meaning players can purchase even more game reserves full of new equipment, different animals to hunt, and more terrain to explore.
It is because of all of this and more that I would place this at the top of my list of best hunting video games I have ever played. I know I am not alone in this assessment. The game accurately portrays how much of hunting is just walking and planning as well as how aggravating it can be losing a trail or missing a shot. Truly, this is the closest game to the real thing I have found and it is a game which I will continuously return to—to me, it is the pinnacle of the hunting simulation genre.
Reflecting on the evolution of past hunting games, one can see they are more diverse than at first glance and have effectively changed in various ways over the years. While it is fun to reminisce on the past, I also enjoy seeing how much further these games can go and in what ways developers are willing to push the genre. I am hopeful that Hunting Simulator 2 will continue to push the genre in the right direction. I really think it will as it has already been disclosed that players will now be able to use hunting dogs in their efforts, something I only recall experiencing in past PC games. But, if it is not for you and you’re looking for a throwback, there are still plenty of fun options to choose from.
While these are just a few of my favorite hunting video games, I know there are many more out there. For example, one of the higher-rated PS3 hunting video games is Cabela’s Big Game Hunter: Pro Hunts; however, it was left off this list simply because I have never played it myself. As a result, I would like to know: What are some of your favorite hunting video games and why? Feel free to comment on this article or better yet, start a discussion on our new forum!