Game Review: Hunting Simulator

I am a stone. I do not move. I take my time. I let him come closer, because his deer AI is questionable at best and I am the master of this environment. Deadly and invisible, my body could not be more camouflaged, thanks to a graphical glitch that’s let me crawl inside a boulder. I wasn’t speaking in metaphors earlier. I am a STONE.

Very gently, my finger presses on the trigger. I do not tremble. I have no fear. (The auto-save was not two minutes ago.) My rifle retorts, its bark as unsatisfying as the way my prey eats the dirt like a puppet whose strings have been cut. A sigh passes my lips. Not of pleasure. I’ve been at this an hour already, but I still have to kill the entire cast of Bambi before they’ll let me leave this goddamned starter area.

Paradoxically, non-kill shots in Hunting Simulator are celebrated with a kill-cam moment. They’re not unlike the gratuitous camera slides you’ve probably seen in the Sniper Elite series; only this time you’re watching a bullet sizzle into Bugs Bunny. Sounds kinda satisfying, totally isn’t.

The flights from muzzle to flesh are screwed up by an camera dolly which can’t connect the dots fully. Thanks to an odd camera angle, your perfect headshot will look like it’s gone a foot wide, and then all of a sudden your victim will (somehow) drop dead. It’s the most anti-climactic stag party ever.

Mode-wise you’re staring down the barrel of Campaign, Freeplay, and Multiplayer (read: no frills, online co-op). The middle option is locked away tight from the get go, however, so don’t think you can scoop this game up on the cheap and instantly drop into your very own discount lion safari.

You’re going to need to pick from a woefully shallow pool of pre-made hunters, and put in the hard yards on one nondescript North American level for a long time to unlock things. Expect hours of  murdering several generations of foxes, bison, elk deer, pheasants, and turkeys to appease a checklist. No lions, and tigers, or bears for you yet. Oh my.

A hunt begins with very obvious track markers and a distance-discerning monocle. Even if you graze its aiming reticle across an animal skulking a postcode away you’ll suddenly get a small wiki about your future victim.

Your HUD will populate with their species, weight to within an ounce, sex – everything but their turn ons and life goals become yours to know. From there you need only follow obvious objective markers, employ the most basic stealth concepts to get within egging distance, and then blow their brains out with an easy headshot. That’s basically the whole experience.

If you successfully slaughter a lot of God’s miracles – 37 total – you’ll unlock stuff to make the process easier. Sadly, your ever-growing item stash never becomes as exotic as Elmer Fudd’s bag of tricks, but you can earn better lures, drones, NVG, flashlights, scopes, stocks and the boring stuff you probably should have started out with hours and hours ago. Despite giving the player guns and gallons of animal urine to use, the Hunting Simulator experience somehow manages to not be a pisser.

17 weapons are available to earn, and may be used from either first or third-person view. Surprisingly, first-person isn’t the pick of the litter, thanks to its head-bobby nature and water-logged movement feel. Also, we found that the guns took up an inordinate amount of screen space, presumably to keep the gun-nut target audience perpetually aroused.

While that’s a noble goal, it sure does get distracting and problematic when aiming down into valleys. Crowded screen real estate is a minor irritant, though, when compared to the odd control mechanic that swaps left/right strafe (on the left-stick) to turn left/right when you’re running. Can’t be changed, is the most boneheaded idea ever.

If you can adjust to that, collecting boomsticks / crossbows / longbows will manage to keep things engaging for the opening hours. However, the more content you unlock, the more you’ll come to realise all these guns are anaemic and samey. I’ve honestly fired staplers at people that sounded more impressive and, with a shallow approach to handling and bullet physics, there’s just not enough character in these guns to make you lust after the final few.

A current-gen hunting game bearing the term “Simulator” shouldn’t deliver a light-hearted experience that looks and feels like a cross between the first Cabela’s game released on PS3 and that Buck Hunter arcade cabinet amusing the half-tanked barflys down at your local. A sane gamer would expect a decent challenge with some nuance to the bullet drop, a bit of Coriolis effect and wind considerations. Almost like a Tiger Woods game of skill that replaces Tiges with a redneck, the ball for a bullet, and the Ninth hole with some critter’s eye socket. No such luck, though. Turn all the difficulty assists off, and bagging trophies in Hunting Simulator is still a pedestrian affair that requires next to no shot leading.

You might also hope that the 12 different regions available in the game would offer their own unique challenges. Bleak Arctic tundra, lush European forests and the baking plains of the Chihuahuan Desert must come with their own meaningful weather challenges and dangerous wildlife concerns, surely? No, not really. The fairly modest levels don’t steadily increase in size and complexity.

They’re just different questionably-textured locales that house a new cadre of poorly animated critters. Just another herd of animals you’d swear were brainless if it wasn’t for the post-shot autopsies that insist otherwise.

When the smoke clears, Hunting Simulator reveals itself to be well off target. Only the most rabid trophy hunters – PlayStation players and actual head-collectors alike –  should set sights on it. Everybody else ought to wait until this becomes a PS+ Freebie, or drops to what I like to call “deer testicle” price. (Under a buck.)

Score: 4/10

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