Pros: Realistic animals, sense of exploration. Cons: Unpolished presentation, intrusive arcade-game elements.
I’ve never played a hunting video game before. Wandering through the forest shooting defenseless animals has just never seemed like a nice thing to do. But recently I realized my moral qualms were a little silly. After all, I’m a pacifist who enjoys first person shooters, and if I’m willing to mow down hundreds of human beings with a machine gun, how can I turn up my nose at gunning down a few deer?
And so I approached the game they way I approach sports games. I don’t play or watch sports, so I can’t play those games as a sports fan, but only as a video game fan who can answer the question of, does this work as a video game?
Developed by: Outdoor Partners
Published by: XS Games
Genre: Hunting Simulation
For ages: 13 and Older
Release Date: Oct. 24, 2011
The Basics: Hunting Mixed with a Few Arcade Gaming Gimmicks
As video games go, The Hunt is rather oddly structured. It is a game built entirely on wandering around looking for animals to shoot. In tournament mode you are trying to kill more and larger animals in order to win, but your opponents are never seen (you do occasionally find hunters wandering around – who, if you’re wondering, the game will not let you shoot - but they are only there to offer mini-games like skeet shooting). A PDA will tell you how well your competitors are doing, and will also let you know what game you are hunting.
The Hunt is bundled with an impressive rifle shell for the Wii remote and nunchuk. You use the analog stick in the nunchuk to move and the remote to look around and aim. Walking doesn’t feel quite natural – something just seems off about navigation – but it’s fine once you get used to it.
The rifle shell would have looked a bit more realistic if the bright orange barrel was, say, gray, but perhaps the fear was that if it was too realistic a player might end up getting confused, grabbing their actual rifle in lieu of the remote and shooting their TV.
The game offers various wilderness locations in which to hunt, representing different seasons and different terrain; summer in Utah, a snowy winter in Alaska. Your goal is to find an animal and shoot it.
There are a few ways to locate an animal. You can simply wander around until you see one, although if you come up on it too quickly it will bolt. You can also track animals. Sometimes you will see a thin pillar of light marking footprints, and you will see a few footprints heading in the direction of the next pillar of light. It’s not a particularly sophisticated tracking system, but you can sometimes find an animal that way.
There are also devices designed to mimic the sound of a particular animal. I would assume in the wild this is no more difficult than blowing into something, but in the game the designers decided to turn using a call into an annoying QTE game in which you have to press a series of buttons indicated on screen. Sometimes you see a cutaway of an animal looking up and heading towards you, in which case you stand and wait for it to show up, but most of the time you get a notice that nothing responded to your call, making the whole thing seem like more trouble than it’s worth. The Hunt often feels like it is having difficulty balancing hunting simulation and video game aspects, and it might have been better to either create something very realistic or something completely arcade-like.
The Heart of Gameplay: Shooting
One way or another you will eventually spot an animal. Sometimes you will see the little fear marks that appear above their head if they are ruffled, other times you will see the animal peacefully wandering about. Point your gun at it and you will be given some information about its size, sex and whether you have a “tag” for it, which indicates whether you will get points for killing it. (The game also offers a free hunting mode in which you can just shoot what you like without rules or rewards.)
The game gives you a choice of guns. There is a shotgun, there is a sidearm (which I ignore just as I do in first person shooters) and there is a bow, which is a little tricky. I mainly stuck to the rifle, which has a sniper scope; sneaking up close enough to an animal to shoot them with a bow is really difficult.
When an animal is near, you can go into stealth mode. Besides making you less noticeable to your prey, stealth mode grays out your surroundings, mutes most sounds except for the footsteps of the animal and the sound of your breathing, and, when you aim, gives you a view of the animal’s heart beating underneath it’s skin. It’s a nicely dramatic touch. If you pull off a perfectly aimed shot then the game camera actually follows the bullet as it speeds towards its target.
Everything I know about guns I’ve learned in video games, so I have no way of gauging how accurate shooting is, but based on my gaming experience it’s a little too easy. In a game like Call of Duty: Black Ops if you zoom in the sight will shake a little, but in The Hunt it is perfectly steady. I shot a BB gun at a target once at a summer camp and my experience was closer to CoD.
Once its dead, you have to walk up to the (bloodless) animal and “claim” it by pressing a button, at which point you will receive points based on its size and your technique, with bonuses for single shot kills or using the bow.
The Good and the Bad: Impressive Animals, Unpolished Presentation
When I previewed this game a while back, I described it as graphically “ugly.” And if you watch someone playing you’ll think the same thing. But if you play the game, it looks different, because you’re focusing not on the splotchy ground or the lookalike trees but rather on searching, where’s-Waldo-like, for that far off moose. Looked at like that, the game begins to feel very real.
The most impressive thing about The Hunt is the animals, which are beautifully animated. Deer walk along cautiously, looking from side to side, starting upright when suspicious, running when startled. Wolves slink along the ground nervously, rarely stopping, making it difficult to kill them. Boars trod heavily, rabbits hop aimlessly, and turkey’s waddle awkwardly, and run so slowly that if they’re startled you can simply run after them until you’re close enough to fire a shot. In spite of the clunky graphics (the game doesn’t even support wide screen mode; I had to change my TV settings to play it in the proper perspective), The Hunt manages to bring nature to life, if only to let you kill it, piece by piece.
Beyond the poor graphics, there are a wealth of little things that make the game feel unpolished. Sometimes animals will run into a boulder and continue running forward, stuck in place. In the tutorial, you are told the B button will zoom in your rifle and a second press of the button will make it zoom in closer, but it doesn’t, because you can’t use the rifle with multiple zooms until later in the game. There are also some perplexing moments. At one point I suddenly had a cutaway to a wolf and was told I could track it by pressing a button, which I did, but then suddenly an elk charged me (charging animals is The Hunt’s awkward but somewhat effective way of giving players a slight burst of adrenaline).
The Verdict: Better Than I Expected
In spite of my aversion to hunting, I wound up rather enjoying The Hunt. Even though it’s slow, and an awful lot of time is just spent walking through the woods squinting your eyes in hopes you’ll see something shootable, there’s something genuinely enjoyable about slowly exploring your environment, watching for those telltale signs of movement. It’s an easy-going, engrossing experience, even though I found shooting defenseless animals less exciting than shooting heavily armed alien invaders.
I will never shoot a real deer any more than I will ever shoot a real soldier, but I found surprising enjoyment in virtual hunting. I suspect hunting aficionados would enjoy this game. I would recommend they try it out, if not that I suspect all the hunters stopped reading after that snarky Bambi’s-mom opener.