Genre : Hunting
Publisher : Arush Entertainment
Developer : SCS Software
Release date : September 28, 2003
Buy 'HUNTING UNLIMITED 2': PC
I cried at Bambi.
I was a wimpy kid, what can I say? Ever since then I’ve had a problem with hunting. I’ve always been intrigued by it -- especially when I continue to find out that people I admire hunt all the time. What is it about taking out a big fuzzy thing that gets people going? Never one to stick to my old ways of thinking I figured it might be a good idea to review a hunting game. The way I saw it is the designers of Hunting Unlimited 2 might have insights into the sport that would enlighten me. After all, they need to understand their subject well before they can make a good game.
Hunting Unlimited 2 offers a number of modes to play in. There are over 75 ‘Challenges’ for the hunting aficionado. Challenges are actually perfect for the newbie since they walk you through the basics of hunting. I got familiar with some terminology and also got some valuable insight into the respect hunters show their prey. For example, there are challenges that teach you how to determine the size of the animal, which gun and scope to use and how to take an animal out with one shot instead of two or more. Starting the hunt is easy enough. You can select from 25 rifles, shotguns and bows and add accessories like binoculars and cloaking scent, which masks your presence to get you closer to your target. I found the Challenges to be the most fun, since they’re task-based and allow me to get some face-time with the animals -- including Buffalo, Goat, Whitetail Deer, Grizzly Bear, Moose and Elk.
But the big draw of the game is probably the ‘Free Hunt’ mode which allows you to explore huge maps at a realistically leisurely rate. Hunting Unlimited 2 uses a relatively robust graphics engine to place the player in a number of settings. You can hunt in the Rockies, the high desert, the deep south and the snowy plains to name a few. The locations are pretty but not photorealistic as the ads claim. The maps are huge and offer you a lot of space to explore. Walking from one side of a map to another can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. The trees, wild grass and hills along the way are genuinely fun to look at, though there are graphics engines out there that would have allowed for more detail. The trees in the distance draw themselves as you get closer which could have been avoided if they’d used the Tribes engine. But overall, the settings are very relaxing and contribute more to the game than they take away. It’s always fun to find a little gully or arroyo where wildlife can sometimes be caught grazing. Free Hunt mode also gives you the ability to choose weather conditions like rain, fog, snow or wind. I felt comfortable from the start of the game that I could start playing quickly and easily. Always a plus.
Though I prefer the Challenge mode, the Free Hunt mode is the most informative to someone who doesn’t hunt in real life. You can wander around for a very long time before you come across anything more than a hawk. I wasn’t used to that kid of game. I’m an Unreal fan so there was a part of me that was looking for my rocket launcher. But soon enough I was just hiking around, enjoying the view…and then it happened. That fateful moment where suddenly something clicked in my tiny brain. I asked myself, “If I were a deer where would I be?” This was a bit of a revelation and I have to give credit to the Challenges mode for teaching me that this question was important. I looked for high ground and saw a patch of wild grass. Maybe it’s feeding time. So I snuck up to the grass and indeed a buck was having lunch. I ducked down, pulled out my rifle and used the scope to go for the head shot. The guy smelled me right as I was about to shoot and my first shot missed as he ran off. But he was moving away from me at a straight angle so I zoomed in further and squeezed off a killing shot to the back of the head (I was, after all, Best Shot in New Mexico for the 10-12 age range back in the day). When you peg your prey you get a Matrix-like shot of the bullet flying through the air and impacting. Though not a realistic touch, it is kind of cool. After the kill you can collect the animal for your trophy room. I’m not nuts about that part but that’s just the Bambi-lover in me.
Other details that add depth to the game are the elusive heart shots. If you hit the animal in the torso section you will usually have to shoot it again before it will drop. Unless you get the heart. If you study up on the anatomy of the beasts you should be able to get a heart shot. Unfortunately, I haven’t been successful yet. Another nice touch is you can search for tracks in the terrain. They’re hard to find (being small indentations in the grass) but when I do find them it’s exhilarating. And then there are the animals themselves. They’re smart little buggers. If you’re upwind from them and get too close you can kiss your target goodbye. But the animals aren’t the only challenge to a getting a good bead. You can also be foiled by other hunters. Gunshots in the distance would often spook my target.
There are some tools to help make your hunt more successful. You can switch your point of view from first to third person to get a better view of your surrounding while you’re ducking down in the grass. I’d imagine this tool is frowned on by real hunters since it isn’t very realistic but I found it to be helpful in understanding the behavior of my target. There are also a number of in-game tools like a tripod and a moose call that you can stock up on before you enter the game.
Added to the mix in Hunting Unlimited 2 is a map editor that you can use to create your own adventure. The interface is pretty obtuse, similar to the one offered in Warcraft 2, but anyone who’s determined to make their own map can do so fast. There’s already a community growing online of map makers.
The target range is a great place to practice with all the different weapons and sights. I would recommend that people play the game with the default weapons until they get around to testing the equipment out at the range. The designers did a great job giving each of the weapons a different feel. As you hunt more you’ll realize that some guns just aren’t as good as others for certain game. The fact that I could learn this from a videogame means the designers got it right.
There are some problems with Hunting Unlimited 2, some bordering on serious. The movement of the animals is supposedly realistic but I saw some glitches in their swagger which makes me doubt that claim. Granted, the deer and buck look great but the grizzlies look stiff to me. The death animations are jumpy too. All the motions are there but it just looks stiff and erratic.
And then there are the sounds. Awful. Really. The footsteps are like listening to my wife brush her hair in the morning. Repetitive and without variation. There’s no life to the sound, just a droning on that made me turn down the sound (the same way I cover my head with a pillow in the morning). The atmospheric sounds are also basic and irritating. There’s surround sound but listening to poor sound in surround doesn’t make the experience better! I hope Hunting Unlimited 3 has some more thought put into this crucial aspect of gaming (especially gaming that depends on atmosphere to make it fun!)
Additionally, and in my mind totally unnecessarily, there are these weird minigames in UH2. ‘Squirrel Bash’ has you shoot squirrels with a bb gun out in the front lawn (complete with an abandoned car on cinder blocks) and another minigame, ‘Mad Hunt’, gives you the chance to pop off some rounds into spastic beasts. This is the kind of crap that gives hunting and hunters a bad name. Sure it might be a way to shoot off some steam but Hunting Unlimited 2 seems to go out of their way to faithfully show hunting for a noble sport and then they have to throw in some white trash cabin scene where Joe Bob can off some squirrels for no reason. Maybe I’m taking it too seriously, but that could be a testament to how well Arush Entertainment got across the more sophisticated aspects of hunting. The final minigame is a timed target practice where you try to hit the bullseye for extra time. The more rounds you go the higher the score. It’s fun enough, but not necessary to enjoy the rest of UH2.
After this game I’ll admit I understand the appeal of hunting a little more. There’s a lot of waiting and wandering and enjoying the view, followed by a moment of excitement that I’d found a big beast and then panic that I would lose him. Later on in the game, as I got better and could edge closer, I found out that you can add terror to that list too. The big ones will rush you if they get wind of you. And if you get off a bad shot you might want to run. Sure, the graphics could have been better, the sound is absolutely atrocious and the minigames are a waste of time. But the game’s large maps, patient pacing and small details (such as weapon/sight options and heart shots) make it a suspenseful and entertaining game that’s taught one liberal, bleeding-heart how to respect nature in a different way.
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