I’ve never been a big fan of hunting, which is why I didn’t think I’d be so captivated by theHunter: Call of the Wild. But I don’t love it for the hunting. I discovered that, once you lay down your arms and forget about bringing home the venison, this hunting simulator becomes an amazingly relaxing experience. If you subvert its purpose almost entirely, it’s actually just a lovely walking simulator.
TheHunter has remarkable attention to detail. More than just a bland backdrop for animal slaughter, its locations are living, breathing slices of nature, utterly convincing in their beauty. Step into either of the game’s two game reserves, one American, one European, and you’ll be greeted by the hum of insects and the rustle of leaves. Plants and trees sway gently in the wind, and birds soar overhead. Even before you’ve moved an inch, theHunter has begun to drawn you into its wildlife-filled world.
TheHunter’s animals will do their best to stay out of your way, but just wandering through the reserves is a joy in itself. Each area is so vast that it takes half of a real hour to walk across, unless you purchase the quad bike that Expansive Worlds cheekily offer as downloadable content. Having crashed the bike into a tree and nearly started a forest fire, I opted to travel mostly on foot. But that’s the best way to see the game’s charms, anyway.
With not a care in the world, you’ll wander through woodland groves, splash through steams, and walk alongside a long-forgotten railway track. Every time you step out you’ll discover a new landmark, or spot a minor detail you’d never noticed before -- like the way the clouds periodically cover the sun. The game sports an impressive draw distance on a reasonably powered PC; clamber to the top of one of the reserve’s observation towers and the view is breathtaking. You might even see some of the animals that, for the most part, do their best to stay out of your way.
The elusiveness of theHunter’s four-legged residents makes the chance encounters you have with them all the more amazing. Once, crunching loudly through the undergrowth, I heard movement ahead of me and gaped in astonishment as twelve deer bounded past. They did nearly flatten me as they fled, but it was still hugely affecting.
Actually tracking animals turns a relaxing outing into an almost meditative one. TheHunter gives you enough weaponry to kill a rhino, but it also allows you to pursue animals more passively. Pick up your binoculars and you can observe the animals (which include rabbits, deer, bears and more) from afar as they feed, rest and roam.
You need to be meticulous in your pursuit, picking out animal tracks and moving slowly and quietly so you’re not detected. Grass stalks bend beneath you as you crawl forward and you’ll find yourself listening out for the subtle audio cues that give away the presence of your quarry. Until, there, you’re close enough to go in for the kill. Your prey is in your sights, and you could pull the trigger! But then you just… don’t. Let Bambi go unorphaned. Instead, spend an age watching the deer, transfixed by their behaviour.
A hunting game is perhaps the last place you’d expect to find peace and joy, but TheHunter: Call of the Wild’s world is so well realised that you can immerse yourself in it for hours without firing a shot; put on a pair of headphones and you’ll almost forget the outside world exists.