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Way of the Hunter Review

Way of the Hunter Review

Hunting is a pastime I have often been curious about but have never interacted with myself (excluding one disastrous attempt we do not speak of). Being of a soft-hearted temperament, taking the life of anything is not an easy thing, nor something I’d do readily. With this in mind, when Way of the Hunter came my way, I was curious to see how it handled this somewhat controversial sport, environmental act, and necessity. Disclaimer: this is the first hunting game I have played.

Way of the Hunter is a first-person simulation game where you, well, hunt animals. You are dropped into a fairly large and open area, given a base of operations — that being your fairly extravagant hunting lodge — and are set free to roam the wilderness with rifle in hand. Well, there's more to it than that, but we’ll get to that in a bit. At its core, the game is about hunting and succeeds in portraying this relatively well! The feel of hoofing it through dense forests and hills while tracking your prey is done well, the audio design is impressive, and the attention to detail is, to my inexperienced eye, very good. But enough frothing, how do we play?

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That is quite the view

The game offers three modes: story, free-roam, and multiplayer. The latter two can be described at once, as they are more or less the same: choose a location you’ve unlocked and do what you want! Hunt that five-star elk or drive around the countryside in your jeep. It’s up to you! While you cannot do the plethora of challenges and tasks available in the story mode, you can invite friends to hunt with you, spending a nice afternoon failing to catch that one deer or running into a wild bear by complete accident. While I didn’t try the multiplayer option, I can only imagine the kind of shenanigans that would undoubtedly ensue from even two players — at least any I know — trying to hunt anything together. Heavens preserve us if friendly fire is a thing.

In the story mode, you take on the role of River Knox, the grandson of the owner of the local hunting lodge, who recently had an accident and is stuck at the hospital. Since granddad’s business won't run itself, it’s up to River to keep the range under control and the local animal population in check. While you do this, you learn about River’s childhood and his relation to both the land he is currently in and to his family and friends. A rival hunter has started putting up cruel traps for animals, and a rumour is going around that a disease is being carried by the animals, making their meat unusable. As you investigate and uncover these mysteries, you learn more about River and his views, as well as his grandfather and possibly the main theme of the game, ethical hunting. Yes, you hear me right, the game is actually a PSA! Well, to be honest, it goes deeper than that, but we’ll get to it. I found River’s story to be… fine. It’s nothing groundbreaking, with some subpar voice acting and predictable twists, but it is more than I was expecting from a simulator title. I especially found the environmental message fascinating, though it was a bit heavy-handed at times.

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A lot of the story is told via these fun little comics!

Throughout the story, you will do side quests involving the local businesses and other hunters, either going to a certain spot on the map or hunting a certain number of animals following some restriction or other, such as taking down a deer with one shot to the heart. These quests are more or less optional and reward the player with money for new gear and the occasional addition to the area they can hunt in (though these can be purchased with in-game money, too). These activities are fun and encourage you to hunt different creatures, in addition to teaching you how to take down prey instantly and carefully. My biggest problem with them was that I could not do a quest unless it was active, and only one could be active at a time. So let’s say I had a quest to harvest five birds shot while flying and another that had me hunt three birds larger than 2kg. If I were to shoot down a bird mid-flight that was 3.5kg, I would have to choose one of the two to progress. While this makes sense in-universe (we can't really send the meat to both clients now, can we), it’s frustrating for the player. The game does warn you if you’re about to sell or taxidermy prey and a related quest is not active, but that doesn’t warm the heart much.

So. Hunting: how does it work? Well, you have a few neat tricks at your disposal. First off, you have an array of weapons and attachments available to you, that would make an enthusiast blush. While I don’t know much about guns, the amount of weapon types, ammo types, scopes, and minutiae offered was staggering. Sure, you start out with your grandpa’s old rifle (literally what it’s called), but it won’t be long until you have enough money for almost any of the many weapons offered, ranging from rifles and shotguns to crossbows and regular bows, all meant for different uses. In addition to your weapon, you have a selection of different callers that can be used to lure animals and binoculars for spotting animals and judging distance. The attention to detail in the weaponry is quite something, though my lack of experience makes it hard to say how accurate it is. Lots of cool guns, though. Regretfully, weapons and equipment count for little if you don’t know what you’re doing.

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My human senses are tingling!

The player character is a more-or-less seasoned hunter, something the player may not be. To help you feel skilful, Way of the Hunter offers Hunter Sense, a separate vision mode which highlights all things hunting, be it tracks on the ground, blood trails, dropping freshness, or the origin of a weird noise. With the Hunter Sense, you are able to gain information on animals, such as their habits, feeding grounds, how valuable a trophy they´d make (using a five-star system), and how far they are from you. With this system, it was surprisingly fun tracking down various creatures and actually learning a thing or two about actual hunting! For example, the game actively shows you the direction of the wind and its intensity, showing how far your scent is drifting and in which direction.

Using this information, you have to deduce where the creatures around you are and then very patiently make your way to a vantage spot in order to take a clean shot. Patience is the keyword here, as a successful hunt may require you to crawl at a snail's pace for a seemingly eternal length of time, only to notice your target scarpered ages ago because you stood up for a second by mistake. Regretfully, this was a common issue I had with the game, though I will admit to a certain amount of impatience on my part. I often felt like I had no chance of actually getting a good shot in before the deer I was following relentlessly suddenly became alarmed and made for the hills! Especially the rarer animals, such as moose (I still think it’s meese), felt like they were hyper-aware of my presence before I even knew they were there.

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It's a good thing River can see, because I am apparently blind

Now, you could argue that this is part of the experience, as real hunting requires time and patience, and this could be the perfect podcast game, and I agree! The only problem is that you are very reliant on sound to tell where animals are. Sure, Hunter Sense will give you a rough idea of where the sound is, but you really have to listen to pick up some of the more subtle clues, something that works to the game’s atmospheric benefit but to its pacing deficit. Despite my grumbling, however, the game does reward perseverance, as using the different kinds of weapons and techniques will net you skills, which make life easier. One of the game-changers was a skill where I was able to keep Hunter Sense on while walking, no longer needing to stop to view the essential information.

As eagle-eyed readers may have noted, I complain a bit about my challenges in hunting down anything harder than a tin of beans. While it is true that the game has some flaws in its animal AI, I feel compelled to note that I am partly (mostly) to blame. When you start up a new game, you’re given a little questionnaire to fill out: it’s only a few questions long and simply asks if you have any previous hunting experience and how quickly you expect to catch anything. These answers are used to suggest a difficulty. I enjoyed this approach, and it felt like I was given the right match to my wildly inaccurate estimate of my own skills.

Now, to the inevitable buffalo in the room, the environmental message. Throughout the story of the game, our main character, River, will more often than not go into little monologues on the value of ethical hunting, how it’s different from killing for fun and how it's actually important to the environment. The points made are indeed valid and fair, and the game even commits to this in a few ways: if you continuously hunt the best specimens, only hunt males or females, or leave a herd unchecked, it will affect the game world. High-value animals will sire high or higher-value offspring, lack of breeding pairs will mean fewer animals and so on. The game also pulls no punches in the actual hunting. If you miss an animal’s vitals — like hitting its lungs instead of its heart — you *will* have to watch as the animal runs off, slowly losing strength and then dying. I admit to feeling absolutely disgusted with myself after a few of these. But the problem is, it’s still a game.

Look, it's nothing personal. Those antlers are rated five stars!

While Way of the Hunter does an admirable job of emphasising ethical hunting, the fact of the matter is that I’m playing this for fun. I have a lodge filled with empty taxidermy stalls crying out for something to fill them, meaning that when I see a five-star elk saunter into view, my mind does not go to “Ooh, gotta save that for later so it can reproduce!”, instead it’s thinking do I put it on display in the study or the bedroom! This is a natural issue, but the ludonarrative dissonance is a bit disturbing and humorous. I dare say me running over a deer by accident while changing the radio counts as very ethical there, River.

Though it had its flaws, I enjoyed my time with the game and kept coming back to it. The thrill of the hunt, the ambience of the forest, and the obvious passion the devs had were enough to overlook its problems and made me wonder if the genre actually has something to offer, unlike what I previously thought. If you´re curious about hunting sims or fancy a trip to the forest with a gun on your back and a duck caller at your lips, give it a go!

7.00/10 7

Way of the Hunter (Reviewed on Windows)

This game is good, with a few negatives.

Way of the Hunter is an entertaining hunting simulator with a message to convey. The story was charming, and the gameplay was engrossing, though at times it felt like the deer had better detection skills than the hunter!

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Martin Heath

Martin Heath

Staff Writer

Professional Bungler