From a young age, I always enjoyed a good hunting game. While the hunting video game genre is a bit of a niche market, there have been a few great titles over the years; however, there have been many more forgettable ones. Hunting Simulator 2 is a new hunting simulation game developed by Neopica and published by Nacon that is all about tracking, stalking, and hunting a variety of animals. The game is a sequel to 2017’s Hunting Simulator. As far as a simulation goes, HS2 definitely feels more of one than its predecessor. Animals are more skittish and sparse (I spent an hour and a half trying to find one whitetailed deer when I first started), which makes the hunting itself more challenging and realistic.
After playing the new HS2 on PS4, the game appears to have more good qualities than bad qualities, but its flaws are big enough to stop the game from being considered “great.”
Story – A Modern Hunting Sim
Being a hunting simulation game, Hunting Simulator 2 really doesn’t have a story that other games would have. While this was different in hunting games of yesteryear, the hunting simulations of the current generation have mostly neglected this aspect altogether. The only semblance of a story comes in the beginning via a short tutorial.
After selecting a male or female protagonist, a narrator guides the player as they learn to search for tracks, utilize their hunting dog, go on a hunt, and claim their kill. Afterwards, the player is taken to “the lodge,” where they will prepare for their first hunt by themselves without guidance.
While the tutorial was fine, I realized that I have played a plethora of hunting games over the years. This tutorial is very basic, as it just touches on the minimal controls needed to play the game. For further information, the player will have to consult the bookshelf (i.e. the Wiki section) in the lodge. Without discovering or knowing about this section, the tutorial may not be extensive enough for first-time players of the genre.
Gameplay – A More Realistic Sim
After the tutorial, the player starts in the lodge with 5,000 credits, which can be used to purchase scents, calls, and clothing, but most importantly, animal licenses. The licenses range in price, but are necessary to hunt every species at each location. There are three regions: Colorado, Texas, and Europe, with each location having two subregions.
Having to purchase these licenses felt like a good inclusion to me, as it added to the simulation experience. It forces the player to strategize and plan their hunts ahead of time. I was frustrated at times when I would come across a fox or elk with no tag to hunt them, but I had only myself to blame. Ultimately, this feature puts more decision-making on the player and was enriching to the overall experience, even if it was aggravating at times.
Once equipment is bought, the player can choose what they wear, what guns or calls to bring, or visit the shooting range. While all this is standard, I was surprised by the developer’s choice to allow the player to select the time of day a hunt is: morning, afternoon, or evening. In the original game, there was a day and night cycle that allowed the player to hunt as long as they wanted.
While hunting at night is illegal for a good amount of species in most states, I believe this game goes too far by removing this. When I first selected morning, I expected it to just be a “starting time,” and I figured as I hunted, I would watch as the sun made its way through the sky—but that never happened.
Regardless of what’s selected, it appears that you will stay within that time slot until you return to the lodge. While players newer to the genre may appreciate this, it was an aspect that removed me from the simulation. Animals do seem to react in realistic ways, but I feel that, at best, this realism is diluted by the lack of a true day-night cycle.
Dogs, Tracking, and Hunting
Once all of this is decided, the player must pick where they want to hunt and head out into the wilderness. The player starts out at their cabin (there’s one at each map) and from there, they can go anywhere and hunt anyway they like. They can use their dog to track animals, track animals themselves, or find a stand to call an animal in.
The dogs are the newest addition to the series and there are three different breeds, all with different functions, that can be purchased. The dogs can be commanded to do different things based on their breed. Beagles are used to track or flush animals; Labrador Retrievers are used to return downed animals from water and are used primarily for hunting waterfowl; German Shorthaired Pointers will point at smaller game that is hard for the hunter to see.
Your dog’s expertise, drive, and stamina will improve the more that you utilize your dog. As your dog’s skills increase, the better they are at identifying animals, not giving up on searching for animals, and having better stamina to track or retrieve. While the latter two breeds seemed to be helpful all the time, there were times where I was able to follow tracks more accurately and quicker than my Beagle. While utilizing the dogs takes some patience at times while you work with it to improve, it is still an amazing feature that improves the quality of the game overall.
Besides this, hunters may find stands or blinds scattered across the environment that can be used to hide themselves from animals and give them a different way of hunting if they get tired of finding tracks and stalking their prey. Stands and blinds are best used with various animal calls that can be purchased. Tents can also be found and are used as fast-travel between locations. While these points of interest can easily be located in sprawling flat locations with few obstacles like Pawnee Meadows, they are much more difficult to find in dense areas such as Roosevelt Forest. Just as in real life, this requires a great deal of patience.
Also, it should be noted that, in order to claim an animal, the player must first track the wounded animal. Only when they find it can they “bag it.” Then, a bagged animal must be “claimed” at the cabin that players start out at in each map. When a player claims an animal, they may either sell it for money or save it as a trophy. If it is saved as a trophy, the animal will be visible in the lodge whenever the player returns there.
Players can collect multiple animals before claiming them, but if you head for the lodge before doing so, the animals will not be saved. Also, if a player saves trophies of the same species, the better scoring animal will be displayed in the lodge. While this might be viewed as a hindrance to some players, this was an aspect of the game that I truly enjoyed as I felt like it truly added to the simulation by forcing players to claim their game, albeit without any true-to-life tagging and processing.
As for rules and regulations, the game sets out to create a respectable and realistic hunting sim that follows real-life rules of ethical hunting. While these all vary by state and country, the game does a good job of forcing the player to be ethical and responsible in the way that they hunt. Players may receive a penalty (pay a fine) for shooting an animal without a license or with the wrong caliber, not bagging an animal before returning to the lodge, or shooting a female animal of certain species. These are all generalized versions of rules that pretty much any location will have.
However, one thing that players are fined for that I do not believe is based in reality is if a player shoots an animal too many times. During my playthrough, it seemed I was assessed this penalty whenever I shot an animal more than two or three times.
To my knowledge, there aren’t any restrictions on how many times an animal can be shot in real life. Furthermore, it is considered far more unethical to leave a wounded animal to suffer than it is to keep the amount of shots to a minimum. This seems to be one superficial element added to the game—which has been included in other games of the hunting genre as well—that was designed to make the game more difficult for players. While I understand the concept, it became frustrating losing money just for firing one too many shots on occasion.
Audio and Graphics – A Complete Mixed Bag
The audio and graphics are a complete mixed bag. Neither the audio nor the graphics are utterly terrible here, but this is where I found the bulk of the issues of the game to be. There was less inherently wrong with the audio though.
Having played a ton of hunting games over the years, I can say that all of the calls in Hunting Simulator 2 were spot on. These, along with the variety of different sounds they make, all sounded as they should. Deer calls sound like deer, boar calls sound like boar, and so on. The player’s movement and the animals themselves too, all sound really authentic.
The main issue with the audio is the sparse dialogue throughout the game. While the narrator at the beginning of the game didn’t sound too bad, my hunter’s commands to my dog often came across as stiff or robotic. Being a game with minimal dialogue, this wouldn’t have been a huge issue if it wasn’t for the fact that the same few phrases are repeated over and over when using a hunting dog.
The dog’s determination skill improves the more a player praises or pets their dog, so early on, it is imperative to give your good boy or girl plenty of praise. But, hearing the same few phrases over and over became annoying over time, and I wished the creators had added more variety considering how imperative it is for the player to interact with their dog.
Graphics – It’s in the details
The best way for me to describe the graphics of the game is that, they look really good on the macro-level, but get less impressive the closer one gets. The game is truly beautiful while walking around the maps, looking at the landscape. The trees, grass, and water are all wonderfully rendered. Observing your player in third-person as your dog does its work while the two of you traipse through the picturesque scenery is one of the greatest aspects of the game.
Yet, once you closely examine your surroundings, the beauty starts to fade. I was surprised to find rocks with dull, old-school textures or once-lush forests that appeared 2-D when examined up close. It was disappointing to walk through a clump of trees and be able to see just how paper-thin the branches and leaves were as I passed. It was something I would expect if I was playing on a previous generation of console, not on a PS4 in 2020.
This applies to the lodge as well. Walking around the lodge, I was struck by the beautiful interior. The wood beams, the design of the house; the materials used were all so perfect and authentic. But, as I looked closer, I noticed how some items appeared so static and lifeless, such as the trophies in the shelf of the wiki section. It was quite striking to look at the contrast between the plain objects and the gorgeous design of the lodge as a whole.
Likewise, looking through a range finder or scope at deer or bighorn sheep or other game is really amazing. I really liked the fact that the scope or binoculars in the game take up the entire screen while in use. Either of these take up the whole screen while there is just minor blackening in the corners to give it its round shape. It helped me better see what I was looking at, and in all honesty, it made it more true-to-life. I don’t know of any other hunting game that has done this.
But, once an animal is down and you’ve approached your killed prey, the details yet again make it look almost unreal. Some species don’t look as bad as others, but there are still plenty of animals that look unrealistic upon close examination. While I thought many of the faces and antlers appeared normal, there were others that lacked details and had an almost mannequin-like quality to them.
The biggest issue though ultimately comes down to the fur, and this is most noticeable when the animal is downed or at the lodge. For some reason, the mounted mule deer in my lodge, with its darker brown fur, looks fairly presentable. The white-tailed deer, on the other hand, does not. I don’t know if the creators attempted to be hyper-realistic and fell short or what, but here, I was amazed how non-life-like the fur appeared. I honestly felt as if I could see exactly how the creators made the texture as each clump of fur had a clear outline that looked as if they pasted the same piece over and over until the whole animal was covered.
The fur really was the biggest issue of the game to me. For certain species, the fur does not look much like the real animals that they are meant to look like, but for others, the textures seem truer to life. I really am not sure where this inconsistency comes from. This might not hinder some players’ experience; however, I felt that these renderings should have been more consistent than what they were. After seeing a beautiful animal come into view and successfully shooting it, only to see the unrealistic animal up-close afterwards was a bit of a letdown to say the least.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4 from a review key we received from Nacon.