I can hear the crunch of leaves below my feet. The wind picks up and I can hear crickets in the long grass around me. The sun is dropping as evening draws in, with rays breaking through trees. I can hear noise in the distant, it’s a Blacktail deer. The tracks are fresh in the mud, and as I follow them I hear the crackle of tree branches as I push past them. The wind picks up and rain starts to fall, gently at first then harder. I pursue the tracks, and eventually the rain stops, the last bit of sunlight breaks through the clouds, and in the clearing, I see the deer.
I sit quietly. She comes closer. I put my scope to my eye, line her up, and pull the trigger. To my collection now, I have an amazing photo. The deer sees me, is alerted, and sprints away. This is just another fine moment in theHunter: Call of the Wild.
I am not into hunting. I don’t especially like the thought of killing animals, but I don’t like the thought of killing humans either and I play lots of FPS games. At first look you’d be forgiven in thinking that theHunter: Call of the Wild is another FarCry game. Set in the wild outdoors of two very large areas (one in North America, one in Germany), you’re presented with a series of characters and quests which again are akin to many open world games.
Areas of interest appear on the map, with XP dished out for visiting them, towers reveal areas in the world to visit, outposts act as fast travel locations and opportunities for buying and upgrading gear. As you level up, a perk system allows you to scope and spec out your character, increasing abilities. So far, so similar.
Where theHunter differs is the main objective – hunting the wildlife. This is definitely not a run-and-gun, fully automatic explosive shooter. It’s a sedate, calm, quiet experience, defined by moments of shining beauty and natural excitement. A typical hunt can begin with any tracks you find, but the main story arc helps support your journey from introduction to fully fledged hunter.
You learn how to follow tracks, highlighted by glowing icons on the ground. Examining them gives you some information about the creature (more information is available if you level up your perks). Other signs such as damaged brush, droppings or even blood if you’ve managed to shoot and hit (but not kill) one. Don’t be fooled – tracking isn’t easy, and requires a sensible and methodological approach.
My experience of hunting is limited to the Cabela Dangerous Hunt games, which could be described as both ‘not realistic’ and ‘rubbish’ in equal measure. I struggled therefore to get used to this – tracking a hunt can take time, and it simply isn’t a case of sprinting from one highlighted track to the next. You’ll need to walk slow as to not alert your potential trophy (or any others lurking on the journey), you’ll want to avoid certain areas for fear of huge amounts of noise and probably most significantly, you’ll want to soak it all in. The atmosphere here is incredible. From dense foliage, to open plains, long grass, watering holes, broad lakes – the maps provide an incredibly detailed replica of the outdoors. At times I find myself taking shelter (perhaps in one of the blinds that I build using my accrued in-game currency) and just watching. Why play a game when you just sit? Because the environment is calm, tense, immersive and interesting all at once. The movement of the grass and trees in the wind, the sound of insects, animals and nature, and the sun glistening off the water in the distance.
As you can probably tell, this is not a game for everyone. The pace is obviously a significant detour from today’s ‘instant action’ and immediacy of everything we encounter in our daily lives, but the hunting aspect may seem a bit too real for some. On each kill, you’re awarded points based on the quality of the game and your shot, including an x-ray view of where the bullet penetrated and what organ’s being decimated led to its demise. Should you prefer not to do this (although to progress through the missions – which you don’t actually have to do – you must do this), you can simply engage in the tracking and the absorption of nature, and swap your rifle for your camera. I found there is something really lovely about spending 10-15 minutes tracking a specific animal, only to find it, taking a picture and then leaving with it none the wiser. Finishing the tracking with a rifle shot doesn’t always feel the best for me, especially with a clever minded foe outwitting me with a mixed up path of inbetween trees, long grass and then doubling back. Well played.
It’s not all praise. If we are being critical, the UI and tutorial could be better. The UI is small and I had to seek support via Reddit to understand wind direction and a bit more explanation on different bullet types and weapons – further than what the game has. In the big scheme of things, this is fairly minor.
Online co-op rounds off the package. Hunting with friends is a great experience and whilst none of my ‘real’ friends have this, I met a few online and a hunting party is a different but also excellent experience. I fear that this isn’t going to find the same success over here as it will in certain parts of the United States and Canada, and I think that’s a shame. If you’re bored of the typical first-person shooter formula, theHunter really brings something new and does it really well.
As for me, well the sun has gone now and the moon is out. The flashlight is on and it’s time to see what we can hunt at night.
Reviewed on PS4