‘theHunter: Call of the Wild’ is a more meditative take on the shooter

No animals were harmed in the making of this article

Hit Reload is a weekly column on everything first-person shooter. This week, Jake Tucker convenes with nature. 

Since it’s release in 2017, theHunter: Call of the Wild has been trying to do one thing: create the most accurate depiction of hunting in a video game. I despise the idea of hunting – I’m not a Tory – and so thought I’d get a similarly ick killing digital animals.

This sounds weird, because I have put several thousand hours into shooters at this point and have probably killed hundreds of thousands of AI and player-controlled opponents, but it feels more fair when they also have guns. Animals, as long as they’re not the bastard dobermans in Tomb Raider 2’s Venice level, get a pass in my book.

But regardless of your feelings about hunting, there’s no denying that theHunter presents a pretty accurate depiction of it. There’s a few distinct phases – first you’ll walk around the woods listening intently and keeping an eye out for tracks. Once this is done, you move into a stalking phase where you’ll try to hunt down the animal while also making sure the animals don’t hear, see or smell you – theHunter could be one of the only stealth games to bring in smell as a factor.

theHunter: Call of the Wild. Credit: Expansive Worlds.
theHunter: Call of the Wild. Credit: Expansive Worlds.

Finally, there’s the killing part. There’s a slight art to this in that if you want to kill something like a bear you’ll need to think about where your round is landing. For many animals, the FPS staple of aiming for the head is actually a mistake here as many animal skulls are durable – instead, you’re aiming to put a round through the lung, often a clean kill but almost impossible to judge at 100+ metres. As killing an animal with more than two bullets hurts your score, you spend a lot of time puzzling things out.

The end result is that you need a brain to play theHunter – satisfaction is hard won, and it’s not uncommon, especially on some of the game’s harder DLC maps, to spend an hour traipsing after an animal only to lose it in the forest, or find out that it’s actually been stalking you, seconds before it pounces and mauls your face off. Clever girl.

theHunter: Call of the Wild. Credit: Expansive Worlds.
theHunter: Call of the Wild. Credit: Expansive Worlds.

All of this is doable in co-op too with several friends trawling the map, but it’s rare that you’ll ever spend any real time with your co-op partners. Often you’re just left alone with your thoughts and some light chat, with the occasional crack of distant gunfire as one of your pals makes a shot.

Crucially, that loud shot at the end is a nice reward if you’re that way inclined, but it’s not essential. The fun of theHunter isn’t in the kill but the slow familiarity you gain with your rifle and the tradecraft you pick up as you traipse around the different areas. There’s nothing stopping you from just walking around too: with trees rustling, birds chirping and – although I’d describe myself as firmly anti-rain in games, generally -gentle rain falling, theHunter manages to absolutely nail the feeling of being in the middle of a forest.

Compared to the all-action blasting of a Call of Duty or even recent favourite Trepang2, theHunter is a lovely way to disengage and relax in a digital wilderness. Real hunting remains disgusting, but theHunter is pretty good.

theHunter: Call of the Wild is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S

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