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Open Country

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Funlabs
Release Date: June 3, 2021


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PC Review - 'Open Country'

by Cody Medellin on July 2, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Open Country is an arcade-style open-world adventure game that simulates hunting, exploration and survival.

If you're a fan of hunting and fishing games, there's a good chance that you've played a game made by Fun Labs. For more than a decade, it has partnered with Activision for games using both the Rapala and Cabela's licenses spanning from the late PS2/Xbox era all the way to the very end of the PS3/Xbox 360 era, with a brief stop on the early PS4/Xbox One. The relationship between the two companies may have ended there, but Fun Labs still took on work porting different games to the then-current console generation. Now it has finally decided to offer a game that's completely its own creation, and it has returned to familiar territory with Open Country.

From the beginning, Open Country does something different from other hunting games by including a narrative. The player takes on the role of a person who's bored of office life and city life. Stuck in a rut, you're longing for the freedom of the wilderness, where contact with people is scarce but the animals are plentiful. One day, you finally give in and quit your job. With nothing but your RV, you head off to live in the open country.

It isn't the most compelling of premises, but it works when the competition doesn't even bother with a plot. However, it becomes increasingly unbelievable as you get further into the game. A government employee initially soliciting your help is fine, but that is essentially a relatively untrained civilian helping the government under the table. The same goes for Gary, a lodge owner who offers you free room and board for help, despite not knowing how proficient you are with outdoor life. The oddities around the narrative grow stranger as you progress, and while nothing is ludicrous — and the story doesn't matter much in titles like this — you can't help but notice, especially when you're tasked with turning off a valve at a dam for no discernable reason.

Even though the opening movie depicts you as a man, you can create a male or female character. If you're expecting a bevy of options that can rival the character creation systems of other games, forget about it. The few things that you can change, like skin color and facial hair, are limited to four options. Some of the options, like hair style, look different on the model when compared to the preview image. This bare-bones approach is a preview into what to expect in the rest of the game.

The first few levels (out of 30 levels in the campaign) get you up to speed on the basics. The first mission has you delivering a package to the aforementioned ranger, but its real purpose is to teach you about crafting. The process is easy, since you already have the necessary recipes on hand once you grab your tools from a nearby cabin. Gather the ingredients, all of which light up when you're within their vicinity, find the item you want to craft in the menu, and hit a button to instantly craft it.

The second mission asks you to bag three animals for their meat, preferably something small like rabbits. The shooting is familiar, and the shot location matters in terms of how many bullets are needed to fell an animal, but there is no grading system, so clean kills aren't taken into account. The omission makes the hunting portion feel arcade-like, which may disappoint purists but makes it more accessible.

Additionally, you don't get to learn about tracking animals here. Later levels demonstrate the tracks giving off a special glint, and analyzing them shows a blue path that indicates where the animal went and provides a readout of the animal type, sex, and direction and freshness of the track.

The third mission gives you access to an ATV, and you need to go to a few garages to pick up some supplies that were left behind by Gary. The driving is fine, as the ATV is easy to control on straightaways and around corners, so those familiar with racing games will immediately get their bearings. You aren't given many opportunities to use the ATV or snowmobile for hunting, since you'll be driving in obstacle course races.

Although those missions give you the impression that Open Country is just a basic hunting game with a day and night cycle, there are enough elements to make it feel like a survival title. There are several meters to pay attention to like fatigue, hunger, temperature and thirst, and keeping them up is essential for getting through a hunt. Injuring yourself from animal attacks or jumping from large heights means having to treat those wounds and injuries before it worsens and affects your health. Encumbrance is also a thing, so sprinting is out of the question if you're carrying too much in your pack. The goods have a shelf life, so hunting down all the game and picking up every berry and mushroom is wasteful if you can't use it all before it rots.

The rest of the game takes those elements and gives it more structure instead of having you hunt whatever you want. Some missions involve hunting down a specific animal for a reason, such as how it has a disease or is scaring people away. Other missions have you rescuing a dog and teaching it to hunt for ducks. The reasons behind some of these missions can get ridiculous, especially when the conversations don't go anywhere meaningful, but it makes the title feel like a traditional game with an end goal.

Reading the game description gives the impression that Open Country is a casual hunting and survival title that is a good introduction for newcomers to either genre. The more you play, the more you discover things that drag down the experience to something less than mediocre. One of those things are the various game design decisions that don't make sense. For example, the map and marker system are arbitrarily difficult to use. You can place multiple markers at a time, and you can use several different types of markers to differentiate items on the map, but you can't remove any of the markers. There are three large areas and the missions take place in different sections of those areas, so the inability to remove markers creates confusion.

This is compounded by the fact that some of the missions don't place any markers for significant areas on the map, so a mission where you need to reach a mine for heating supplies becomes even more tedious because nothing on the map tells you where the mine is located. If you're able to wrangle all of the markers, they're still not useful because markers tend to move on their own while you traverse the world. Moving in a completely straight line can cause the indicators to shift, so most of the time you end up ignoring them altogether and using your compass to stumble onto the right path.

The large open nature of the areas makes for a compelling hunting experience, but given the fiddly marker system, there's a glaring lack of a fast-travel system. Most of the missions end with you returning to the RV to drive to the lodge, and almost all of the missions take place away from your destination. Most of your time in the game is spent running around the wilderness, so you have time to appreciate some of the wildlife but it leads to an experience that's usually devoid of action.

Perhaps the biggest issue is the lack of a manual save system. The game automatically does the saving for you, but it does so without any rhyme or reason. For example, the fourth mission in the game has you hunting for elk, and dying means restarting the mission. However, when training your dog, the game saves at the beginning of the mission and after you shoot down and collect your duck. Considering how long these missions can get due to the aforementioned design issues, the lack of a manual save system can mean lots of progress lost and time wasted with one unfortunate encounter.

Should you get injured or need to fill up any of the meters, the game doesn't handle any of that elegantly. Eating and drinking are fine, since you can go to your backpack and eat the food with the press of a button, and while drinking has you accessing your canteen and selecting it. If you get injured, going to the backpack and selecting the bandages does nothing. Instead, you need to go to the health menu, find the injury, and choose to treat it. If you need to use a splint, you need to navigate to the crafting menu to create a splint and come back the health menu to use it. All the while, the game doesn't pause any of the action, so you can bleed out because you were fiddling with menus. It also doesn't make sense that, despite you getting free room and board, none of your meters fill up between missions. You can end a mission with all of the meters near red and begin the next mission the same way, making the story contradict itself.

For a title that experienced a few delays and was released as a full game, the number of bugs in Open Country is enough to make players quit. Cut scenes can show floating sponges and glasses to jittering subtitles. Start hunting, and your stealth movement is never accurate, since you'll take a few extra steps before stopping. Animals completely miss their mark when scurrying into burrows and tree trunks, and some sound effects and animations fail to play. Sometimes the effects play catch-up, so a fight with wolves can be completely silent only to have all of the scratching and gunshots play 30 seconds later. The tracking line is faint enough that you can lose it, and when tracking some animals, they ignore your presence but run in the air in place while you shoot them. Other animals pop into existence and take some time to do anything, so you can get in some free shots, and other animals move in odd patterns, such as birds that fly around a tree in a perfect circle at a low altitude. The tracking can sometimes lead nowhere, as you can replay a mission and find that the tracks are a wild goose chase, since the target animal never moved. Sustaining injuries is random, as falling a few feet can fracture your leg, but you can fall from greater heights and be fine because you were previously injured. Sometimes, committing to an action such as resting can lock you out of other options like getting back up, so you need to restart from the last save.

Aside from the solo campaign, the game features online multiplayer for up to four players across two modes. Co-op mode has you and your party working together to hunt down a specific animal across three different biomes. Versus mode has the same objective, except you're in a race to see who can bag the animal first. Both are fine additions, but we were unable to see if it works well since no one else logged in during the review period.

Like the rest of the game, the presentation is all over the place. Graphically, the best example of this is the environment, which looks quite nice while static but breaks down when in motion. The immense amount of on-screen foliage means that there's a ton of detail pop-up in very visible distances. The animals look good with decent animations, but don't expect anything exciting like fur shading. The people you meet range from acceptable NPCs to dead-eyed, while their animations appear jerky during cut scenes since you catch glimpses of everything being put in place almost a second after the scene changes. Environmental lighting is fine in segments, but the rain gives every animal and your character a sudden dark sheen, and that's more laughable than impressive. It feels like something from two console generations ago but with a higher resolution and frame rate. Those who appreciate tweaking things on the PC will find this lacking, since the only options are resolution, a full-screen toggle, and a v-sync toggle.

The audio is in a similar boat. The character voice acting is fine, but you can tell that they aren't native English speakers due to the lack of contractions, so the dialogue feels more formal than it should. There also seems to be a bug introduced recently that drops the voice volume significantly, so playing around with the sound options is needed if you want to hear anything. The presence of music is something that will throw off everyone, since it sounds out of place. The style is similar to Mumford & Sons, so it works for the theme, especially for the title screen. Start up a new level, though, and you get a new song blaring out of the speakers as if this were a travel montage. The game reverts to the sounds of nature once each tune ends, but it sounds out of place and actively turns off people from the game rather than making them excited to continue the journey.

The concept behind Open Country is solid enough. A more relaxed hunting and survival simulator in a traditional game structure has an audience: those who feel that hunting games are too vague for newcomers. While some of the quirky bits can be forgiven, the busted hunting mechanics and the dated presentation bring everything crashing down. Unless you're the very forgiving and patient type, pass on this title.

Score: 3.5/10

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