theHunter: Call of the Wild

Yours truly is a product of the urban jungle, having grown up and lived for decades in a place much closer to Asian cyberpunk than medieval countryside.

The weather here is hot and humid and muggy, the actual rainforest jungle full of secondary undergrowth (and snakes), not to mention potentially disease-carrying biting insects (or other creepy-crawlies), and god forbid it rains and turns the whole place into a slick muddy uncomfortable (and still stiflingly warm) canopy of misery.

As such, most sane people who can afford creature comforts do all they can to stay within safe climate-controlled air-conditioned entirely man-made cool zones of underground or mall environs.

Actual camping experience: Close to nil, mostly unvoluntary.

Actual hunting experience: Nada.

Actual desire to expend that much physical effort or risk getting seriously injured or slain by a wild animal (those stingrays are dangerous, man): None.

That said, there is something rather captivating about the romanticized aspect of hunting, as described in books like The Hunter’s Way by Craig Raleigh or humorously alluded to in Bill Heavey’s essay collections.

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It’s the idea that hunting is 95% about getting touch with nature, meditatively flowing back in tune with the old animal rhythms in our bones or planning, practicing, anticipating without seeing a living creature, 4% actual animal encounter of which one may never get the opportunity to press a trigger, and 1% or less all-factors-line-up-just-right-for-a-gun-shot-to-ring-out and if and only if everything was planned and prepared well, will you have the satisfaction of seeing the animal drop and have venison for dinner.

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(We will skip over the messy butchery parts and the required preliminary practice to realistically fire a gun so that it doesn’t kill anything – including yourself – that you don’t intend it to, and all the study involved in being able to track and find real life deer and navigate in countryside without being lost forever and dying of exposure.)

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TheHunter: Call of the Wild captures the essence of the romanticized notion remarkably well.

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So well that I’ve been essentially addicted to a virtual walk in the woods these last few days.

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Quests come in via your cell phone, if you choose to heed them. Else you can just roam around as you will. Or deliberately set up somewhere in anticipation of animals traveling to a rest area, or somewhere to eat or drink.

If you’re more inclined to moving about like I am, you might come across animal tracks, or hear an animal calling, or detect some movement or sound. Binoculars help to locate said creature (don’t ask how long it took for me to discover the zoom function.)

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Then begins the slow and deliberate stalk, crouching or going prone and endeavoring to approach as close as possible for a good shot, without spooking the target. And yes, they have a sense of smell, so don’t be upwind of them.

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Once you determine that you’re close enough, up come your gun sights, complete with breath wobble and you need to hold and still your breath long enough to steady your aim and shoot well.

My first tutorial deer was not at all great. (I did say that I had no clue for days that one could zoom, right?)

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Once you pick up the dead animal, it will actually tell you where your shot landed. It hit a shoulder bone, despite my prior vague knowledge from watching a Youtube Let’s Play roughly where the deer heart was located.

Shot placement still is a work in progress and mostly luck. I suppose the starter gun and bullet’s accuracy and recoil, potential game bugginess, and whatever wind or bullet trajectory simulation is in play all do not help.

Still, there is something immensely satisfying when a gun shot shatters the previous silence of the woods and the animal you’re aiming for drops in its tracks, as opposed to bleeding and running and forcing you to follow its trail until it drops dead from blood loss. (The kindness of the game is such that you can usually follow it until it dies, so there are no wounded virtual animals left in the virtual woods to die a slow death from a lingering injury from bad aim.)

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My first such shot broke the neck (completely inadvertently, of course.)

Such moments are few and far between.

One’s enjoyment of theHunter: Call of the Wild is primarily the immensely immersive experience of a walking simulator, set in some of the most realistic environments I’ve ever seen in a video game, complete with ambient sounds like crickets and leaves and rocks crunching underfoot.

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In an almost GW2-like fashion, there are lookout points that act like combination vistas and scouts that point out nearby landmarks.

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The act of visiting each landmark by foot allows you the chance to stumble across local wildlife, if any, and go haring off your intended point A to point B destination to follow deer and boar and fox trails.

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A fox regards me warily from a ways off.

There are also unmarked landmarks to stumble across and just admire.

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This circular ruin feels transposed right out of a fantasy game.

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One has not experimented with night hunting much. Given the amount of verisimilitude the game has, it seems fairly implausible. Tracks can only be seen if you use a helmet lamp, and somehow, I have a feeling that most animals are going to startle and flee at the sight of a bright light pointed straight at their faces (or even stumbling around in the woods at a distance.)

The downside of theHunter is that many conveniences come as DLC, and the Midweek Madness sale on Steam is now over. I refuse to pay full price for anything, especially not DLC that has had mixed reviews from players indignant that such features are buy-for-convenience and not bundled into the full game, and some reporting that the sold DLC features are also somewhat buggy.

The many roads suggest and hint that one should go get an ATV to zip around in and travel from locale to locale – except that vehicles also apparently scare off animals and aren’t very responsive, getting stuck in terrain and all that. It’s okay, I can walk for added immersion until stuff goes on sale.

I would love to have a tent to add to my simulation experience of traveling cross-country, then settling down for the night to have a sleep in, then waking up and beginning from that locale. Except that you apparently still have to pay in-game money earned from hunting animals to own more than one tent, after paying for the DLC. So er, I’m not buying that until it goes on sale too.

Instead, I have to break my immersion and just use a fast travel option back to an Outpost, where one can sleep for the night… or I have to break my immersion and just walk on with no rest through the night until enough time passes for it to be daytime. Either way, immersion doesn’t win here, though gameplay-wise, either is fine.

There are three other reserves that come as DLC, and those seem perfectly fine to pay for eventually, if ideally at a sale price. An African savanna, a snowy wilds and what seems like a South American park of some kind. The base game comes with two reserves, one European and one North American, and given the amount of gameplay I’m getting out of the one European zone, I think those will last me for a bit.

Bugs-wise, there are a few. Some folk are pretty annoyed about this on the Steam reviews, given that this game has been out for two years now. For instance, the waypoint placement on the map is fairly infuriating in its inaccuracy. I’ve been settling for getting a waypoint in the general vicinity as a direction finder and map navigating.

Then there was the time I heard a noise and found a fox dashing around in furious circles in a grass field, completely ignoring me as I approached.

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I presume something went wrong with its AI and pathfinding.

(Heck, I stood in its path and it just shoved me aside and continued in its merry circular way. Classic bot-like behavior. Not at all simulation fox-like.)

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My lore justification is that it was rabid, and thus I put it out of its misery.

Then there was the time I heard this mad and LOUD continuous rustling of bushes. I approached, binoculars-out, wondering as to the source of the sound and saw a deer bouncing vertically up and down in the air, next to an overhanging tree. (WTF? Is this some sort of strange programmed deer antler rubbing behavior?!)

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Turns out, as I got a lot closer, with no right to be up this close, that the deer had gotten stuck in some scenery, despite it madly attempting to run, presumably from me being up this close.

Lore justification for this one was pretty easy. I just Googled “deer stuck in a tree” and found a decent number of instances of real life deer getting their antlers (not to mention whole body) tangled up in a tree, and ethical kind-hearted humans helping them out to live another day.

In this case, since I was roleplaying a hunter, I think this one is a little too stupid to let live and be allowed to breed the next generation. So it got two bullets at almost point blank range, at which point the game managed to free it, and a third bullet right through its fleeing rear and it eventually died and contributed to my xp.

At other times though, the AI feels spot on.

I shot a wild boar at a distance, and while the rest of the herd fled, there was one individual who seemed like it refused to leave the dead female, yet stayed warily far from me. It kept a healthy distance from me, seemed to stare and call plaintively to the boar that I had dropped with a shot that went through lungs and heart, trying to get it to move and come and follow.

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As I walked up, it fled into the surrounding bushes and stared out some more, hanging around for a good two or three minutes, while my heart broke and I guiltily felt like I might have killed his mom or something. I half-decided I would go into the bushes and put it out of its misery if it refused to leave, but it was a rather half-hearted attempt, and my tromping around finally encouraged it to leave.

My most recent stretch goal is to take down a red deer. These fellows seem mightily elusive and skittish, staying mostly out of sight and keeping super healthily distances from anything vaguely human.

It was with some amazement that I watched a gigantic (8 or 9 individuals) herd of them run across the road from my right to left, and race up the ridge in the below picture, naturally, too fast to even consider a shot.

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Can’t see ’em above? Me neither. Here, have a zoomed in view through the binoculars.

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I’ve been patiently tracking them all across creation in this region and they seem to have some kind of migratory pattern to food and drink and eventually to a rest area. I might consider a stake out using the nearby hunting structure, which one purchases with in-game currency to put up.

In case all this talk of killing virtual animals raises your hackles and seems terribly unsavory, theHunter: Call of the Wild also has a camera mode in place of a gun.

So it does seem also pretty viable to roleplay as a nature photojournalist and do all the nature-walking and stalking hunter behaviors, and finish with a snapshot instead of a gun shot.

This side quest teaches you pretty early on about the camera, which eventually clued me in to the zoom functions on -everything-. I had a devil of a time trying to get a photo that counted for the quest, scaring off a herd multiple times by getting too close.

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Much to my chagrin, zooming in was so much easier and it immediately checked the quest off as done.

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Overall, I find the game amazingly relaxing. It checks off a great many of the boxes I like from my games. Immersiveness, the awe of beautiful surroundings, meditative, rewards exploration and a little care and planning.

No regrets. Now to wait for a DLC sale.

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