theHunter: Call of the Wild Review – On The Right Track (PS4)
For those that have an interest in big game hunting and who wish to play a simulation of the real-world activity in the comfort of their own home, times are tough. To tell the truth, they have been for a long time. No matter which platform you play on, you’ll probably be able to find one of the increasingly unrealistic Cabela’s titles to try, complete with a bright orange gun peripheral. The disappointing Hunting Simulator tried (and failed) to right the ship, but the majority of games in the genre tend to go easy on the realism. Most of them reduce things to a simple target gallery that should come with a free plaid flannel shirt and a couple of 40s. Yee-ha.
If you really enjoy any of those games, that’s great. But you should know right out of the gate that the super-realistic nature of theHunter: Call of the Wild means that it probably isn’t for you.
This is is to those games what Project CARS is to Burnout. There’s no slow-motion bullet cam to be found here, that’s for sure. This is a full simulation of big game hunting, where you’re plunked down in one of two open worlds with a rifle, a pair of binoculars, a smartphone-like informational device, and a couple of animal calls to try to lure the wildlife to you. From there, what you do is up to you. The game contains full campaigns for each location, along with a bunch of multiple-event side mission arcs. These are presented via radio transmissions, and should you get bored of your current task, you can switch to another with relative ease. What most people will want to do early on, though, is just head out into the wild and explore.
Those folks will be glad to hear that the development team at Expansive Worlds have allowed you to do just that, right from the get-go, with no restrictions. If you want to take the long walk to the other side of the reserve just as soon as you have control of your character, you can. They’re large areas, too, so when I say that the walk would be a long one, I’m not overstating it. To cover every accessible part of the two locales on foot could easily push your playing time into the hundreds of hours. Handily, you can jump on an ATV to cut the travel time down considerably if you wish, though the sound of the engine will scare any animals that are nearby.
The Wheel of the World
As crazy as it sounds, theHunter: Call of the Wild has a very Firewatch feel about it, in some ways. The game doesn’t pad things out with a million and one collectibles or items to check off a list. The odd outpost or lookout point will crop up if you roam for long enough, as will the occasional hunting structure or point of interest. But the joy comes from finding things that are off the beaten path. You might find a perfect little cove for spotting whitetail deer, or a route up a mountain that awards you a priceless view of the vastness of the landscape. More usefully, you could stumble across a previously unmarked feeding zone for the majestic Roosevelt Elk or – if you’re incredibly lucky – an animal that isn’t paying much attention and that can be added to your trophy list. You can genuinely lose hours just going off on a nature ramble without having to deal with, y’know, the actual outside world.
That’s particularly handy when you consider the nature of the title. Unlike in other games, your hunting targets don’t act as if they’re actively trying to get killed. Neither are there thousands of deer and moose for every square mile of land in the game, just waiting for you to go on a killing spree that would feed the entire state of Nebraska for a month. During my time in the wilderness, I can say that most of my hours were spent planning routes, studying the lay of the land, and tracking my prey. In fact, during my first three hours, I fired a total of four shots. Admittedly, I’d spent a fair amount of time trying to complete a photography mission, but the fact remains that randomly covering the landscape in buckshot is discouraged. Mainly because the peal of a hunting rifle will unsurprisingly scare animals in a wide radius into scarpering for the hills. The rustling of leaves, a human scent blowing downwind into their nostrils, the sound of heavy footsteps coming toward them, or a warning call from one of their herd will have similar effects, so these things all must be watched and managed.
In the beginning, there’s a steep learning curve, and some will find that the game doesn’t do a good enough job of introducing the various concepts. Being told to go and hunt down two coyotes is all well and good. Subsequently finding that the only information the game gives you about hunting coyotes is that they usually hang about in a forest isn’t so great. The same could be said for weaponry. Bows, rifles, shotguns, and handguns are all available, but there’s nothing to tell you which tool is right for each job. Go out hunting black bears with the wrong rifle (which to the layman, is much the same as the others), and you’ll be mauled to death.
There are also some other minor issues with which to contend. Some graphical clipping allows you to pass right through medium-sized rocks and boulders when belly-crawling through the brush. Map overlays take a few seconds to load after the actual map has appeared on screen. ATVs often can’t be requested in the Pacific Northwest map, for some reason. Sometimes you can’t get information on an animal call coming from the distance because you’re standing on a track on the ground at the same time, and both commands use the same button. The list goes on, and while these niggles may seem minor, they can add up when a few of them affect you in a row. The tense gameplay usually manages to survive things relatively intact though.
It survives solely by being as believable as it can be, while not being entirely impenetrable to the average gamer who isn’t a master hunter. During the day, animal tracks, droppings, and splatters of blood all glow on the ground. Blue tracks show the animal that you’re following, while white tracks show the tracks of other beasts and critters. Investigating a track (by pressing square) brings up a directional cone to show you the animal’s heading. This makes it relatively easy to follow along, but you still have to approach the task very, very slowly, so that you don’t give yourself away. At night, these tracks can only be seen if you power up your headlamp which – you guessed it – is another thing that will alert your target to your presence. I followed a fallow deer for a good 45 minutes of real time before the sun began to sink in the sky, and the rain started to fall. From that point, I had to track Ol’ Dumper (given that moniker by me because he was pooping every 100 yards) with very little in the way of help. As I was about to give up and head back to the outpost for a rest until morning, a final survey with the binoculars brought a surprise. There he was. A gold-level trophy if ever I saw one. I’d kept quiet long enough for him to forget about me as he took a drink by the riverside without a care in the world.
I dropped into prone position on the wet ground and put my binoculars away. Switching to my rifle, I channeled my inner Ron Swanson and flattened my mustache. Scope. Zoom. Zoom. Aim. He was right in the cross-hairs. My finger was on the trigger. I held my breath and said a little prayer, even though doing both at once almost caused me to pass out. I felt the tendon in my finger start to pull, then a loud crack of thunder boomed down from the heavens and sent Ol’ Dumper bounding away into the bushes, never to be seen again.
A whole hour down the drain. Thanks, thunderstorm.
Frustrating it may be, but this is the nature of hunting and Call of the Wild does a generally excellent job of replicating it. It should be noted that those without patience will absolutely hate the game, as there are no options to allow you to play it in anything other than full-on simulation mode. As such, you might play for an hour and bag a couple of kills, but you just as easily might spend an hour roaming around without even having the chance to get an animal in your sights. However, the general atmosphere provided makes those strike-outs easier to deal with because exploring and improving your tracking skills and knowledge are often reward enough. Indeed, theHunter: Call of the Wild is aimed at a specific target audience, and if you’re in that group, you’ll be playing this for far longer than you’d expect.
TheHunter: Call of the Wild review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.