Although I have never spent a meaningful amount of time with any other hunting game, I must admit that I’ve always assumed that they were absolute garbage by default. I am vaguely aware that the Cabela series has been increasing in popularity over the past few years, but based on the videos I’ve watched, it looks like a relatively arcade focused experience. Because hunting isn’t really a thing in the UK (at least outside of organised events on specific estates or in national parks) and therefore I haven’t done any, I can’t really say what kind of game equates to a realistic hunting experience. What I will say is that TheHunter: Called of the Wild feels about as realistic an interpretation as I would want to play.
To begin with, it sets an incredibly sedate pace. TheHunter is all about tracking, stalking and often, lying in wait for the perfect target, rather than charging around the map blasting anything that moves. Rifles are single shot and although they feature scopes (which can be upgraded) factors like wind and distance will cause variations in shot trajectory that must be compensated for, which often means that you’ll want the target to be close before you pull the trigger. If the animal detects even the slightest movement, noise or scent from your direction it will bolt and you’ll have to locate it all over again.
More often than I felt was likely, I also found animals survived being shot and had to be hunted via both their tracks and the blood trail they left behind. This was quite frustrating, because on more than one occasion I had head, neck or torso (heart or lung) shots lined up perfectly without any reason to think that wind or distance would be a factor yet the animal survived anyway (usually with only minor bleeding.) On other occasions, I felt like I had compensated for longer shots or wind in the way the game would want me to, yet again, I either missed completely or failed to land a fatal shot.
There are two extremely large maps to explore, both of which are set in North America. The game includes the large mammals you would expect it to such as various deer, boars and even bears, but I would probably have traded realism for a little more variety. That said, introducing African or Asian hunts with more endangered creatures and apex predators (such as those included in the Cabela games) is probably not going to win many fans, especially not when you consider the audience that I think Hunter is aimed at. The two locations that do feature claim to have more than fifty square miles to explore and it certainly feels like it, with beautiful forests, grass and pasture land and watering hole environments to explore.
Hunter does support multiplayer hunts with both competitive and cooperative options, which is a nice inclusion. I haven’t spent tons of time online, but what I did experience was a sense of camaraderie among the generally more mature audience, including a willingness to have proper conversations, help new players with advice and guidance and generally behave in a way that enhanced the game rather than hindered it. Because Hunter is a relatively sedate experience, online play has none of the explosive and unpleasant rivalry that you can find in more competitive multiplayer shooters.
As a solo experience, Hunter allows players to simply roam around doing whatever takes their fancy, but should you feel inclined to focus your efforts in a more rigid way, it will also propose challenges for you and offer supplemental missions such as finding other hunters in the wilderness, or achieving a particular kind of kill. Overall, whilst it is a hard feeling to describe, the main thing that I liked about Hunter is that it felt respectful of the animals involved, and doesn’t simply revel in killing them for the sake of it. There are lots of other features that enhance the experience as you go deeper, including various animal lures to draw animals in, many weapon types (including bows and handguns) and lots of upgrades for more or less all of the hunting equipment you would expect to carry.
In summary then, I actually quite liked Hunter, much to my surprise. It certainly isn’t the most exciting game I’ve played this year, nor the one that I’ll turn to most often when I am bored. But I do think it will garner a decent following of hardcore fans and that they will likely remain faithful to it for some time to come, meaning that I’ll be able to drop in for a multiplayer game whenever I like and still expect to find a game with at least two or three like-minded individuals. If you’ve never tried a hunting game before, but feel curious about them in the way that I did, you should: