Coming from developers Expansive Worlds, a creative division within Avalanche Studios is the 2021 edition of theHunter: Call of the Wild. Now, this is going to be my first experience of playing one of these games, so the whole setup and world is completely new. I was kind of picturing a small arena with loads of animals to shoot in the face, but boy was I wrong. So, come with me to the vast open spaces of the world of theHunter, and see if we can hear the Call of the Wild.
So, first off, I have to address the way the game looks. Spawning into the first area, Layton Lakes in the good ole’ US of A, we are greeted by a nice friendly warden on the radio who basically tells us to go and shoot something. And yet I didn’t do this, mainly because I was mesmerised by the size of the area I had appeared in. The playable areas of the reserves are absolutely huge, and it appears that if you can see a spot in the distance, you can set off and either walk or jog to it. You could also crawl on your belly, but that may take a bit longer! Suffice it to say, the first achievement I unlocked was one for travelling a mile on foot.
The graphics of the different reserves are beautifully realised, with distinct landscapes, recognisably different trees and bushes, and also unique animals to hunt. The sound is bang on too, from the crisp report of the gun to the scraping and sliding as you ease your way through the bushes to try and get a clear view of an animal, right up to the noises the animals make themselves, booming out mating calls or sounding the alarm if you approach in any way clumsy. As a mechanic for immersing you in the game and getting you to take care and focus on what you are doing, the sound plays a pivotal role, and is very well-done indeed.
There are a number of reserves built into theHunter as a base game, with many more included as DLC. The ones in place off the bat in the 2021 Edition are the aforementioned Layton Lakes, where the animals range from a tiny Mallard duck right up to the mighty Black Bear and the Majestic Elk. The next reserve is Hirschfelden, in Germany, and features a variety of deer to locate, wild boar and the tiny Red Fox, which despite trailing for about 600 miles I have yet to see, let alone shoot. Other reserves include Parque Fernando – in Patagonia, Yukon Valley, again in America – Cuatro Colinas in Iberia and finally Silver Ridge Peaks, home to Bighorn Sheep and Puma. As you can see, with these and other reserves available to download, you’ll never be short of somewhere to hunt.
theHunter: Call of the Wild 2021 Edition looks great. But how does it play? Well, I wouldn’t recommend you do what I did, which was come straight off of Destiny 2 and expect to work the same magic. The reason is simple: this is much more of a slow, deliberate, strategic kind of shooting game. Charging about all guns blazing, or even just moving through the trees without taking into account the wind direction, will see every animal within a mile run away and disappear. And until you’ve tried to hunt a brown deer in a brown forest, you have no idea how good these animals’ camouflage is. I think so far my proudest moment has been wandering around, seeing some subtle movement in the distance, and then actually hitting a tiny fluffy bunny from 55 metres away. Anyway, what I’m getting at is this: don’t treat this like just another shooting game, because it isn’t. If I had to put a label on it, I’d say it is almost like an armed walking simulator.
It is not unusual in the slightest to spend 30 minutes walking around before you manage to catch a glimpse of your prey, never mind be in a position to take a shot, and so you really have to adjust your mindset to be successful. This is not a twitch shooter; this is a slow, calm and thinking kind of game, using natural gaps in the bushes to make your approach quieter, using the wind so the animal doesn’t catch your scent, and above all making a clean kill. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve managed to not only find but hit a deer, say, only to fluff the shot at the last minute, and have my quarry run away and disappear into the wilderness. If you don’t confirm the kill, it never happened, so getting a good shot on target is vital.
However, the game’s definition of a good shot is different from mine, in that it wants you to go for a body shot, with extra points scored for a heart or lung shot, stopping the animal from running away. Or, in the case of the wild boar in the German reserve, getting hit and then having enough strength to run up to me in a vicious attack. When you do manage to claim a kill, the game gives you a rating as to how you did, and also shows you where you hit the animal. The boar that attacked me, I had shot it in the leg, breaking it, and the bullet then lodged in its lung, but it still managed to attack me. I’m thinking it may have been a Terminator…
This, then, is one side of theHunter: Call of the Wild – the actual hunting – but the flip side is the chance to spend time in some beautiful (virtual) scenery. If you don’t want to shoot fluffy animals in the heart, it is entirely possible to use the same skills to get within range to take a photo instead, and indeed there are achievements linked to photographing various animals. There are people to help in the various reserves as well, little story missions to play out, and so should you wish you don’t have to shoot anything. However, the thrill of sneaking up on an Elk in thick cover and taking it out in one perfect shot (do not aim for the head, as the game for some reason doesn’t treat that as a kill zone) is hard to resist. Maybe take a photo and then shoot it.
There is another element though, and that is the multiplayer aspect. Now, much to my chagrin, the other hunters in the game are not allowed to be shot, sadly, with them defined as “invalid targets”. Other than this, it’s pretty much business as usual, with the same approach required, just with extra eyes scanning the horizon for a prey animal. One nice touch is the way that reserves are handled, as if one person in the party owns a reserve, everyone can go and hunt there. That’s a good mark for the developers.
So, are there any issues? Well, as long as you treat it the game the way it should be treated, there aren’t really. The manly, burly Hunter seems to have trouble clearing any obstacle more than about shin height, I managed to press a button at some stage that seemed to put my gun away, and try as I might I couldn’t get it out again, resulting in a dashboarding, and the animals do seem to be more than a little psychic, vanishing at the slightest hint of a sneeze or a scuffed stone, but other than that it has been a pleasure to play.
In fact, theHunter: Call of the Wild 2021 Edition on Xbox is a game that I have really enjoyed. The slow pace and deliberate way you have to approach the hunts are a welcome change of pace from the frenetic games that frequent the marketplace, the vistas are beautiful, and the approach to your prey needs to be bang on if you are to stand a chance of seeing anything other than a retreating derriere.