Note: The Hunter Call of the Wild is also stlyized as theHunter: Call of the Wild.
Ahh, the great outdoors. What experience could possibly be finer than trekking through the wilderness, taking in breathtaking views, and feeling one with nature? How about fobbing off real life and ‘fresh air’, and just do it in a videogame? Feeling at one with hunting anything that breathes instead? (yeah even you trees, you shifty-looking bastards). At least, that’s how Avalanche and Expansive Worlds’ The Hunter: Call of the Wild sees it.
Here, a good walk is a spoiled one unless you’ve had a pop at a deer in front of a majestic backdrop, a troublesome sounding thing sure, but it’s at least a better, more humane alternative to playing golf, that’s what the real psychos spend their weekends doing. As with golf, hunting in a virtual realm is a much more agreeable activity. In the case of hunting that’s because you don’t have to worry about ticks, accidentally shooting your mates, getting guts all over you, or having to take a shit in the bushes in constant fear you’ll die in the squatting position with your kecks round your ankles (well, unless you want to).
Upon starting The Hunter: Call of the Wild, it gives you two hunting reserves to play with and it’s no overstatement to say they are both absolutely bloody humongous. There’s a central European park, and another in North America, and clearly, they have been made with scale in mind, giving plenty of room for a proper ecosystem to thrive (and be hunted).
I was plonked in the wild with a selection of equipment (a rifle, a phone, a caller, and binoculars among them) and get a gentle tutorial via the chatty, cheerful guide. A deer is pretty much just standing in the open below me The guide coaxes me into using the binoculars to identify the animal (as in what kind of deer, not if it’s name is Steve or Jacob).
Now I’m ready to aim through the sights, and the guide cheerily tells me where my shot would be most successful. Apparently I botch the shot because the deer begins to run in panicked circles, fast enough that I miss the second shot before it bolts off towards nearby undergrowth. The guide chirps up again, telling me to look for its hoofprints, droppings, and blood trail (helpfully highlighted with a blueish glow), in order to track the wounded animal. I’m advised to crouch and move slowly as I reach the undergrowth, lest I startle the deer (in case the bullet in the backside hadn’t already startled it enough). Turns out I needn’t have bothered, as the wound from my bullet proved fatal, so I simply walked up and claimed my ‘trophy’.
That entire first hunt had an incredible level of depth to it. Certainly it leans closer to a simulation than a straight up game, yet the hints and guidance given made some complex systems very easy to understand, a seemingly difficult thing to do in the sim genre. I suppose because there’s plenty of similar ideas found with an whole mess of sandbox action adventure titles. It’s not much of a leap to be a fairly realistic hunting sim when games are so saturated with stealth, shooting, and tool management. It’s not so action-packed here of course, but the basics still apply.
After that first successful hunt, the guide offers you more learning via lookout posts (that map large chunks of the huge game world) and from there you have a choice to either follow missions given to you (take photos of rarer beast, shoot things etc), or just go wander and see what you can find (though you can use an ATV to get about a bit quicker). Personally speaking, doing the latter is best because my word, it’s a quite lovely relaxing time. The hunting becomes secondary because, despite the mammoth size of the two game worlds, they are impressive in their beauty and design. You’d forgive Avalanche if it just stuck a whole bunch of copy/pasted grass, trees, and mountains in there to fill the map out, but instead, everything looks and feels like a real wilderness (albeit one where the occasional pop in and clipping occurs). The ever-changing weather, the small discoveries, the swoosh of wind through trees, it’s almost like playing a grounded post-apocalyptic adventure. If you do get serious about the hunting, having these frankly delightful landscapes is a necessity as you’ll soon find the hunt is for the strong of patience.
You’ll spend infinitely more time tracking, and stalking prey than you will actually shooting it. The animals and environment follow realistic behaviour so there’s no use charging through the bracken, firing off wildly. No, Call of the Wild is all about the hunt, and guess what? The hunt requires time and patience, plus a bit of common sense. Walk through brittle shrubs and you’ll make a lot of noise, stand upright you’ll be easily seen from a distance, have the wind go against you and animals will catch your scent. Bad weather conditions can make you far harder to see and hear of course, but conversely, the same can be said of the prey you track.
The random nature of the ecosystem means you’re never onto a dead cert with any hunt. You could lose daylight as you get close, another animal could holler a warning call, scaring off your prey, or you could simply misjudge how steep a drop is and tumble downhill, making a cacophonous din along the way ( I totally didn’t do that, and certainly not more than once). An eager ear, eye, and that aforementioned patience are essential for tracking, but a bit of knowledge about what works with which prey might be useful. This is one of the areas where the game isn’t as helpful as it could be. Spending an age tracking a trophy beast, only to find you brought the wrong equipment, is likely to lead to your death, and the birth of a whole new level of frustration. Again, Call of the Wild demands top tier patience if you’ve simply come to hunt. Sure, with time, you can upgrade your weaponry, tools, and tracking skills to make it less of a guessing game, yet that in itself, will take a significant amount of time and, yes, patience. Things only a select audience will have.
That’ll be the line in the sand for most. Obviously if you’re into hunting already then you’ll expect that from a game depicting it, and it is probably the best balance of realistic and gamified hunting you’ll find (the competition is pretty laughable in fairness). I admire the effort that’s gone into that side of the game, but I’ve spent countless hours traversing the landscapes, actively not hunting, but exploring. I’m hardly a fan of hunting, yet I found a niche for myself in this game that allowed me to marvel at the achingly beautiful views, embrace the calming stir of the wind, and bomb along roads on an ATV. I still partook in the hunting, but on my terms, and I’m thankful that the game allows that. Should you find that all a solemn and lonely experience, you can team up with others online. I only had strangers to play with mind, and I don’t think they shared my apathetic attitude towards the hunt.
It is clear to see then, that The Hunter: Call of the Wild is very much a game for its niches. I didn’t think I’d be in one of those niches, not having a passion for hunting, yet the level of believability of the reserves resonates with my love of exploration, and when you’ve just spent the past few weeks creating chaos, lopping off heads, and indulging in ultra-violence (sometimes even in video games), there’s something quite uplifting about taking in the vast horizon’s majesty, finding little pockets of history and wildlife along the way. The great outdoors with significantly less drawbacks? That’ll do me just fine.