Platform: PC, Xbox Series X/S, PS5
Rating: Teen for blood, language, violence
Rating: 7 out of 10
For many people, their first experience with a hunting game was “Duck Hunt” for the Nintendo, or maybe one of those “Big Buck Hunter” arcade games with the plastic orange and green guns, where the animals are jumping in front of you and it’s a speed contest to shoot them down.
In the years that followed, hunting simulators were a genre that grew from novelty to hobby. For the past five years, it’s a genre that’s been dominated by 2017’s “theHunter: Call of the Wild,” but the recently released “Way of the Hunter” shoots the champ.
Players will assume the role of River, who takes over her hospitalized grandfather’s Bear Den Ranch in the Pacific Northwest’s Nez Perce Valley.
River must take charge of delivering ethically sourced meat to high-end restaurants, in addition to dealing with the threat of a disease infecting animals and all the while unpacking a lot of old family drama.
There are currently two regions in the game – the Nez Perce Valley location and Transylvania in Europe, both reserves with an area of 55 square miles. There is a wide variety of animals to hunt, from rabbits, red foxes and badgers to deer, bighorn sheep and moose, bears and gray wolves. Bird hunting is also possible, with pheasants, ducks and geese available.
Each region simulates the life cycle of at least 2,500 animals and includes a 24-hour day/night cycle and weather conditions.
Graphically, THQ Nordic’s “Way of the Hunter” uses the Unreal 4 engine and looks pretty good, although there are still occasional graphical glitches for developers, especially on consoles. There are two modes – a 60fps performance mode and a quality mode with reduced frames per second but more consistent rendering. I recommend the latter.
The draw distance for animals to spawn is around 800 meters (875 yards – more than double the render distance in “Call of the Wild”) – which helps in finding and tracking them, although you would probably never want to take a photo in front of about 400 meters (437 yards). Interestingly, you can zero in on some of the best ranges at 1 kilometer (1094 yards), although I don’t think the game can render an animal at that distance, and it would be nearly impossible to hit anyway.
River hunting also has a noticeable effect on animal populations. Apart from ethical hunting, animal conservation also plays a role in this game. Animal habitats are made up of groups that have a common fitness value – hunting low-scoring males will increase the fitness level of the herd, and the hunting for high value males will reduce it, as higher quality males are removed from the gene pool.
Culling lesser males will spawn more trophy animals, which can be stuffed and displayed at the cabin. But be careful, overhunting an area and the animals will leave for safer areas.
After capturing an animal, players can watch a shot review screen that displays detailed information about the hunt and how and where they can improve next time. The review screen shows the firearm used, caliber, wind speed and firing distance, as well as damage to various parts of the animal.
[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » arkansasonline.com/912hunt/]
At the start of the game, River has only one rifle, an old 30-30 lever action that belonged to his grandfather. After using it to control the population of some badgers, River is prompted to upgrade to a more powerful .243 for deer hunting purposes. While, yes, a .243 is generally superior for deer hunting, the 30-30 lever was the deer hunting gun of choice in my family and it worked perfectly for me.
Still, just like in the real world, if you want to shoot longer shots, say 300 meters, you’ll need to upgrade. The selection of firearms is decent and are all true branded models. Currently, there are only three shotguns available and about a dozen rifle types. There are no bows or handguns, but more content – including hunting areas and weapons – is planned.
To aid hunters in their pursuit, the game features a superhuman “Hunter Sense” that can be activated. Hunter Sense allows the player to see important details such as blood trails, resting and feeding areas, animal tracks; and it even helps locate animals by sound. When targeted for a shot, it will provide information such as projected shot distance and bullet strength, so you can make sure the shot is powerful enough to kill cleanly.
Overall, “Way of the Hunter” is very successful. It is full of stunning vistas, an interesting ecosystem, and plenty of animals to hunt. It also has a cooperative mode, allowing four friends to play together online. This is something that most hunting simulators don’t have and can help make a world feel alive, as there are no non-player characters to interact with other than animals.
The publisher provided a copy of “Way of the Hunter” for this review.