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theHunter: Call of the Wild

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Avalanche Studios
Developer: Expansive Worlds
Release Date: Feb. 16, 2017

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'theHunter: Call of the Wild'

by Brian Dumlao on June 2, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Experience the thrill of the hunt in a visually breathtaking, technically groundbreaking, vast open world.

Pick just about any hunting game on any platform, and it falls into one of two categories. The first is a virtual shooting gallery that was popularized by the Big Buck Hunter series, where the animals run across the screen and you have to hit them to bag them. The second category is more of an arcade/adventure hybrid that's widely seen in the Cabela series, which gives you a large level and a few items to make the hunt go easier. You should find your prey quickly, and the game is more forgiving about prey escaping and hitting the correct spots. theHunter: Call of the Wild plays things differently, as it is one of the few hunting games to give you a simulation of the experience. It's also the paid iteration of a game that is free to play and currently in active development.

You start the game with a basic character selection system, where you choose your hunter's sex and appearance, which doesn't deviate from the given templates. From there, you choose your region, either the game reserves of Germany or the forested Pacific Northwest. No matter the region, you'll go through a brief tutorial on moving and hunting before you familiarize yourself with the environment's major points of interest. These includes lookout points so you can better survey the area, hunting towers so you have an elevated point of view when hunting, and outposts where you can rest and restock on items and ammo. You can take on both story and side missions from there if you want a more guided experience, but you're generally left to your own devices.

No matter which hunting ground you choose, you'll deal with a large hunting area. Each area is roughly 50 square miles, and there's some variety with forests, hills and lakes. Some of the traits you've come to expect are present, like a day and night cycle and occasional rain. What you won't find are vehicles to make travel go faster, and while you can fast-travel to outposts, the scarcity of those buildings in a given area means that you won't use that feature too often. Prepare to walk and/or run to most destinations.

One of the more interesting parts of the game is the inclusion of experience points and the leveling that goes with it. Everything that you discover and hunt yields XP, and achieving levels allows you to gain points that can be used to further improve your hunting skills. Some are pretty basic, like increased health, while others improve your hunting abilities, like better tracking range and improved breath control. One disappointing XP-related function is the gating of items that you can purchase in the store based on your level. Blocking off some of the more powerful bows and rifles may be fine, but it makes no sense to do the same for animal calls and scent disguises.

Speaking of which, just about every aspect of the actual hunting is very involved. Unless you get lucky and have an animal show up in front of you, you'll spend a good amount of time tracking your prey. That involves locating and identifying hoof and pawprints, discovering patches of flattened grass, and looking at the freshness of their stool to determine if they've recently visited the area or moved on a long time ago. Your tracking abilities also involve determining whether the various animal calls you hear are mating calls or warnings that a hunter is after them.

Tracking requires you to hit a button to latch on to a telltale sign with blue tracks that belong to the animal you're pursuing, and white ones denote other creatures in the area. While the tracking seems easy, following them is more difficult since the game takes wind into account. While it won't affect you most of the time, being downwind of an animal means they're more likely to sense you from further distances. This makes following the trail more difficult since those animals have an impeccable sense of hearing, so you must sneak around if you don't want them to scurry away. Walking while crouching does well to muffle most of the noise, but the tall grasses and underbrush can still give away your position.

Even if you finally see the animal in question, shooting it isn't as simple as pointing and pulling the trigger. If you're running or even walking, aiming down the scope means that you'll flail around wildly unless you get your heartrate down and hold your breath. Distance affects the bullet drop, but the location of the hit matters as well. Go for the head and it will lower your score, but the kill will be instant. Lungs and heart make for fairly quick kills, but anywhere else means that the prey will get injured and run. You can then track your kill via the blood they leave behind, and the amount dropped gives you an idea of whether the hit was vital or simply a scratch.

All of this means that performing a successful hunt will take at least an hour in real time to accomplish, no matter the creature. Keep in mind that this mimics real life fairly well, as a real hunt can take even longer. In that regard, the game captures the slow and methodical pace of hunting very well, and you'll want to make every one of your shots count since a bad hit means wasting all that time since a barely injured animal is much more difficult to hunt down than even a healthy one. Having said that, very few people are really willing to invest that much time into a virtual hunt, since the pace is so glacial and the actual satisfaction of bagging a kill is so brief. It wouldn't be surprising if many people trying this for the first time would quit in the first hunt since that's indicative of how the rest of the game will go.

On top of the really slow pace, theHunter suffers from some odd design decisions and bugs. Part of that has to do with the tracking system, which sometimes leads nowhere, even if all of the signs say otherwise. Some of the tracks are so far apart that the path connecting them isn't clear, and other times, you'll get important indicators covered up by grass and other environmental objects. Shoot an animal on a wooden plank, for example, and there's a good chance the blood will only appear below the plank instead of on it. The game also has a hard time recognizing that some of the tasks to complete a mission have already been accomplished. One instance required the player to hunt for a deer near a lake at night, but after that had been done multiple times, the game still didn't recognize the task as being fulfilled.

Despite this, the game has an ace in the form of multiplayer hunts. Up to eight players can come together at one of the hunting grounds and have free rein on the hunts. Everyone working together makes it much easier to hunt down one creature. Online performance is smooth no matter which area is chosen, and if you don't have friends around, you can count on the online community to fill in. What is surprising is that the community is pretty sizeable for the paid version of the game.

The presentation is excellent in almost every respect. The sound effects sell the simulation vibe, and the sounds of nature resonate all around you. You get a good idea of where the animal sounds are, and you have a decent idea of how far you have to travel to find them. Graphically, the game looks brilliant and has some of the best-looking foliage out there. It is already impressive to see so much of it on-screen at any one point, but seeing it affected by wind and body weight makes you wish that more games have what's on display here. It also helps that the rain looks equally impressive, even though some of the drops look thicker than expected.

Where it falters is in the animals, which look great while standing still. There's nothing extraordinary about them, like excessive fur shading, but they're impressive at first sight. Having them move shows off the flaws. The deer animate fine if they're shot and slump over before scampering off, but their pivots are too sudden to be natural. The same goes for the bears, who move fine but there's no transition for them to go from all four legs to an upright position and back again.

In the end, theHunter: Call of the Wild is a more defined niche game in what is already a niche category. There isn't much appeal for hunting games to begin with, and an even smaller group wants a hunting simulator, especially when there is already a free-to-play version. However, this is a game that requires patience for both the hunting process and the bugs that come along with it. If you can live with that, and you're lucky enough to get a friend or two to join in, then you'll find the game to be a good time. Otherwise, try out the free-to-play version to see if this pacing is right for you.

Score: 6.5/10

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