OPINION | GAME ON: ‘Way of the Hunter’ shoots for realism while teaching ethics

"Way of the Hunter" is a hunting simulation video game by THQ Nordic. (Photo courtesy THQ Nordic)
"Way of the Hunter" is a hunting simulation video game by THQ Nordic. (Photo courtesy THQ Nordic)

‘Way of the Hunter’

Platform: PC, Xbox Series X/S, PS5

Cost: $39.99

Rating: Teen for blood, language, violence

Score: 7 out of 10

For many people, their first experience with a hunting game was "Duck Hunt" for the Nintendo, or perhaps one of those "Big Buck Hunter" arcade games with the plastic orange and green rifles, where animals jump in front of you and it's a speed contest to take them down.

In the years since, hunting simulators are a genre that has grown up, moving from novelty to hobby. For the past five years, it's a genre that has been dominated by 2017's "theHunter: Call of the Wild," but the recently released "Way of the Hunter" is taking its shot at the champ.

Players will assume the role of River, who is taking over his hospitalized grandfather's Bear Den Ranch in the Pacific Northwest's Nez Perce Valley.

River must take over delivering ethically sourced meat to high-end restaurants, in addition to dealing with the threat of a disease infecting animals and 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 55 square miles in size. There are 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 pheasant, 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 patterns.

Graphically, THQ Nordic's "Way of the Hunter" uses the Unreal 4 engine and looks pretty good, although there is still the occasional graphical glitch for the devs to work out, especially on consoles. There are two modes -- a performance mode at 60 frames per second, and a quality mode with reduced frames per second but more consistent rendering. I recommend the latter.

The draw distance for animals to appear is about 800 meters (875 yards — more than double the render distance in "Call of the Wild") — which helps in finding and stalking them, although you'd probably never want to take a shot past about 400 meters (437 yards). Interestingly, you can zero in some of the better scopes at 1 kilometer (1094 yards), although I don't think the game can render an animal at that distance, and it would be near-impossible to hit anyway.

River's hunting also has a noticeable effect on animal populations. In addition to ethical hunting, animal conservation also plays a role in this game. Animal habitats consist of groups that show a common fitness value — hunting low-score males will raise the fitness level of the herd, and hunting high-value males will lower it, as better quality males are removed from the gene pool.

Culling the inferior males will cause more trophy animals to spawn, which can be taxidermied and displayed at the cabin. But be careful — overhunt an area and the animals will leave for safer zones.

After taking an animal, players can look at a shot-review screen that shows 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 shot distance, as well as how much damage various parts of the animal took.

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At the start of the game, River has just one rifle, an old lever-action 30-30 that belonged to his grandfather. After using it to enact population control on some badgers, River is asked to upgrade to a more powerful .243 for the purpose of deer hunting. While, yes, a .243 is generally superior for deer hunting, the lever-action 30-30 was the deer-hunting gun of choice in my family and it worked perfectly fine for me.

Still, just as in the real world, if you want to take longer shots, say at 300 yards, you'll need to upgrade. The selection of guns is decent and are all real, name-brand 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 help hunters in their pursuit, the game offers 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 pinpoint animals' locations by sound. When scoped-in for a shot, it will give information such as projected shot distance and bullet force, so you can make sure the shot is powerful enough to make the clean kill.

Overall, "Way of the Hunter" gets a lot right. It's full of stunning vistas, an interesting ecosystem and lots of animals to hunt. It also has a co-op mode, letting up to four friends play together online. That's something most hunting simulators don't have and can help make a world feel lived in, as there aren't any nonplayer characters to interact with other than the animals.

The publisher provided a copy of "Way of the Hunter" for this review.

  photo  "Way of the Hunter" is a hunting simulation video game by THQ Nordic. (Photo courtesy THQ Nordic)


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