I’d be lying if I said that I’d never fired a rifle before. I have, but I’ve never had the desire to shoot a living creature. I gassed a mouse, once, with lighter fuel – by accident – as a horrible kid, but I’d never dream of killing an animal now.
I eat meat, though. But if you told me I had to kill it myself, I’d be lining up with the iron-deficient vegetarians in an instant. What a hypocrite, you say. And you’d be right—I am a guilty carnivore.
Killing things in a game is another matter. My digital body count probably numbers in the millions by now. If it moves in a game and I can do it, I’ll probably kill it.
Big Ben’s new game, Hunting Simulator, filled me with conflict. Popping the head of a Nazi in Sniper Elite 4 is one thing, but murdering a doe (i.e. Bambi’s mum), with a .22 rifle, as similarly satisfying as it is, feels just a bit wrong.
There, moral dilemma over. Now, what about the game.
Hunting Simulator presents you with three options: Campaign, Free Hunt and Multiplayer. There’s a short tutorial and even a shooting range to get you going.
You get to choose your own redneck/character. They are all reg’lar guys and gals. Wholesome hun’en types with their own back story. It’s a shame that you can’t play as a bored orthodontist from Manhattan, looking for a thrill, City Slickers-style.
The game is set over 12 different, and very well realised wilderness environments from hot desert to snowy tundra. The downside is that you need to unlock each area my completing the missions in the Campaign. Even the Free Hunt and Multiplayer modes require you to have unlocked the location in Campaign before you can use them.
The Campaign consists of series of mission in each location. You are given a primary and secondary objective, for instance claim a bighorn sheep, with a secondary objective of hitting it in the heart. Each mission starts and finishes as a certain time of day.
There are plenty of games out there where hunting plays a part of the experience. Pretty much every single one does a better job of it that The Hunting Simulator. From Tomb Raider to Far Cry Primal, and even this year’s Horizon Zero Dawn, you can spend hours in these games hunting prey.
The difference with these other games and Hunting Simulator is realism. For better or for worse.
Hunting Simulator eschews instant gratification in favour of realism. Expect to do a lot of wandering, following tracks and carefully avoiding spooking the wildlife. I spend forty-five minutes trying to track a Jackrabbit before I finally shot it. Good, bloody riddance to the pesky thing.
Just as you would in real life, you need patience to track and shoot your prey. Running into a clearing, firing pot-shots at anything that moves isn’t going to work. Frighten one animal and you frighten them all- including your prey.
On claiming your trophy, you get a report card telling you where you struck the animal. Important note: make sure you remember where the creature fell, no claim, no reward.
There’s a full range of unlockables that really highlights the level of simulation going on under the hood. You need to make sure you pick the right weapon from the range of rifles that are made available. There’s also a number of accessories that open up to you. You can equip wind powder- so you come at you prey downwind, animal callers, scent killers, to mask your odour, a drone and even urine to attract animals.
The visuals are not bad at all. The grass moves as you sneak through it and the environments are well populated with trees, scrubs and rocks. The lighting is nice especially in the low light. The fauna is very well animated, the animals moving about very realistically, with deer grazing and foxes slinking around.
The same can’t really be said about the sound design. Whilst I appreciate that the wind may whistle through the tree and across the plains, the roar through my headphones was more like I was standing next to a waterfall. I’m not sure if my hunting avatar was unfit or I had an invisible dog panting in my ear every time I quickened my pace.
There’s no doubt about it, sniping in games is fun. You line up you unsuspecting target, adjust a bit for distance, and perhaps wind, and bam. Down they go. If you are playing a fancy sniping game like Rebellion’s Sniper Elite 4, you may also be treated to a splendid bullet cam ride from your barrel to the victim’s insides. Hunting Simulator is crying out for something similar. Instead we have a bullet cam that stops short of your prey. Whilst I’m not expecting a gratuitous slow-mo bullet penetration view, it would be nice for the bullet to actually look like it hit the target.
If you are mad into hunting, Hunting Simulator may do it for you. It certainly feels authentic. But it’s also a bit dull. The visuals look appealing enough, but you can have a lot more, albeit less authentic, fun playing any number of other games that feature hunting as an activity.
But, at the end of the day, apart from the dodgy bullet-cam, I can’t really fault the developers. They’ve created a hunting simulator that does exactly what it says on the tin.