If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today, you'd better go in disguise. For every deer that ever there was, will wander about, while you get lost - because finding them is so frustratingly diff-icult!
Title: The Hunter Publisher: Avalanche Studios Developer: Emote Games Ltd Genre: Online Simulator Players: 1 Available on: PC Only
The Hunter is the latest game from Avalanche Studios, best known for their reasonably successful third person action title, Just Cause (2006). For those of you who played it, you'll likely remember it for two things: jumping out of aeroplanes; and a massively open ended world, over 1,000 square kilometres large. It's my great misfortune to have to now inform you that The Hunter doesn't incorporate any covert base jumps, stealthy paragliding or counter-revolutionary sky dives (Operation Deer Death from Above, anyone?). What The Hunter does offer, however, is a wonderfully diverse forest environment that itís possible to lose yourself in, which is beautifully rendered by the Avalanche 2.0 engine.
As its name implies, The Hunter is a game about hunting. If the prospect of tracking down and mercilessly slaughtering helpless fury animals straight from a Disney picture doesnít fill you with joy - then good! This may just be the game for you. The Hunter takes deliberate care to teach you great respect for your prey, and portrays the animals as elegant, intelligent creatures.
The Hunter doesnít require you to have any pre-existing knowledge of the sport it digitally recreates. The only things youíll need to play it are; a functional internet connection, a keen appreciation of nature, and the patience of a Buddhist monk.
Oh - one important thing to note before we continue: it's completely free to download and play!
Gameplay is conducted through a first person shooter (FPS) perspective, but allow me to unhelpfully tell you that youíll have to Ďunlearn everything that youíve learntí about this fast-paced genre in order to successfully play the game. You see, it turns out that running into foliage guns blazing will contribute more to deforestation by making lots of bullet shaped holes in the leaves, than it will in demonstrating your hunting prowess. In order to succeed youíll need to be methodical and tactical Ė taking aspects such as wind conditions and sounds into consideration.
You play a hunter. At least, you do after youíve signed up on the games website, created an account, picked an avatar, name, nickname and been given a hunting licence. This licence gives you an all access pass to the Evergreen Hunting Reserve, a 20x20 mile environment, inspired by Washing State. Itíll also give you the rights to hunt certain types of animals. If you choose to pay a membership fee (completely optional) youíll be able to hunt a larger variety of animals than us plebeians who donít.
The game can be divided into three aspects. Tracking, Spotting and Killing. Itís possible to kill an animal without tracking it fully, but by adhering to this order, youíll increase the likelihood of spotting an animal from Ďridiculously insanely smallí to Ďunlikelyí.
Tracking is done with the aid of a chunky hand held device, accessible by pressing tab, which looks like a cross between an old GameBoy unit and an Ammeter. This device, the ĎHunterMateí, serves some major uses. When youíre out in the wild, youíll occasionally find animal tracks or stool samples. If you click on them with the HunterMate in your hand, itíll impose either a cone depicting the direction the animal was moving in onto your HUD map, or a circle of varying diameter showing how recently the stool was deposited. If you find 3 or more of these signs, youíll have successful 'tracked' your prey, a feat which provides you with more accurate readings on where the animal could be headed.
Itís a relatively easy, albeit frustrating task. Tracks are identifiable by spotting small, semi-transparent red bubbles which hover above them in the wild, helping the player by drawing attention to them. One problem I noticed with this is that owing to the intense glare of the sun at certain points in the day, random parts of scenery begin to look red. It then becomes a case of looking for a small red bubble in a forest of small red bubbles. Then again, this isnít a problem thatíll bother you too much, as itíll only occur at certain times in certain weather conditions.
Once you've got an animal tracked, it'll be your job to spot it. This is the really tricky part. As I mentioned earlier, the animals are intelligent. A lot of care and attention has been put into getting their sense just right. As such, if an animal picks up your scent, it'll bolt. Therefore, spotting animals becomes a mini-game in itself. Using wind indicators; one of a number of different items you can equip yourself with prior to going out on the hunt, you can see which way the winds are blowing, and aim to follow an animalís track with the wind blowing toward you, thereby carrying your scent away from the animal. It's a tricky business alright.
The final, and most tense part of the game by far comes by the way of making the kill. You walk the fine line between wanting to get as close as possible to your prey to make for an easier shot, and getting too close so to scare it away. The shooting system is clunky and unresponsive, which really works, dare I say it, to the games advantage. It's next to impossible to hit a moving target, so getting that first shot on target of paramount importance. Hanging over your head is the knowledge that if you do miss that first shot - over half an hourís work in tracking will have been for nothing.
The gameplay system works well, but isn't entirely without faults. For instance, The Hunter is a game which prides itself on realism, and for the authentic behaviour of the animals it recreates. I'm not sure if the bucks I ran into had suicidal tendencies or not, but if you shoot at an animal, it won't run away instantly. Instead, it'll run in a 20 meter wide circle for up to two minutes, while you comically run after it trying to shoot it with a hunting rifle. It was like a Benny Hill skit! My first kill came in this fashion, when a young female buck was running away from me, and got caught in some scenery and couldn't move.
When you do manage to properly take down an animal though, after anything up to half an hourís tracking; you do get a tremendous feeling of success.
It's a pretty game that can be demanding on some lower end PC's. Here are lowest tested minimum specifications, taken from The Hunter website:
Pentium 4 (3 Ghz)
1 GB RAM
256 MB Graphics Card
Video Cards that The Hunter presently supports are:
* 7 Series (from 7600 and above)
* 8 Series
* 9 Series
* X1800 (and above)
* HD 2000 series
* HD 3000 series
* HD 4000 series
The long and short of it is that if you've a power PC, this game will reward you with stunning visuals, that'll make you want to return to the reserve as often as possible. It's been superbly rendered, giving each part of the island its own unique personality and landscape to explore. It's a joy to ramble around in. Even if they hadn't included the hunting elements of the game, Avalanche could market this as a relaxing forest walking program.
There are a couple of niggles which keep the overall score of The Hunter being higher in the graphical department, such distant grainy textures, and bizarre rates of revealing. For example, when you're nearing certain parts of woodland, the top halves of flowers will appear first, and a few seconds later the stems and leaves will appear.
This element of the game is crucial in creating the aforementioned relaxing atmosphere. Have you ever watched a horror movie with the sound off, and noticed that it's laughably poor and entirely devoid of suspense? Without the excellent, simple wildlife sounds, The Hunter wouldn't be anywhere near as realistic or immersive as it is.
Also, there's a lot that can be said for the power of a mechanical, utterly unnatural echo of a gunshot ringing through such a peaceful woodland environment.
If you let it, The Hunter will have a lot of lasting appeal for you. It mirrors real life, so the forest and weather will change to match the seasons. Also, Avalanche have promised new animals, missions and weapons as the game develops.
The real reason that The Hunter will stay so fresh, however, is the supportive and warm community. Due to the way the main website is set up, players create and manage their own personal e-space, similar in a lot of respects to MySpace and Facebook, that allows you to show off your hunting statistics and trophies to other players. It's elements like these which can make gaming less daunting for new players, and more enjoyable for all.
This type of game is only ever going to appeal to a small bracket of players. It'll never achieve mainstream success because of its steep learning curve, and extremely slow pacing. If you're looking for something different, or you're a fan of hunting, then I recommend donning your hiking boots, and going and having a look see what Avalanche have built.
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