Cards on the table, I haven’t done much, if any actual hunting in my life. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did manage to successfully hunt down and capture two mice that had decided to set up residence in my house not that long ago. That was a wild adventure, believe me. I’ve also been waging a war of attrition against an ant colony that has decided my house is part of their sovereign nation. But really, that’s less hunting and more about the strategic deployment of chemical weapons and mass genocide than the silent art of stalking and hunting my prey. Perhaps Hunting Simulator from Neopica games will tell me how far removed my own ‘hunting’ experiences has been.
Hunting Simulator seems to be a real change of direction for Neopica. Their development catalogue is one full of Pet and lifestyle type games and primarily for Nintendo platforms also. So I was definitely curious to see how well they could tackle a genre they are not used to doing, never mind the change in tone also.
Hunting Simulator offers the players a few ways to play. You have a campaign mode which is devoid of any narrative whatsoever but instead, asks the player to hunt a specific type and number of animals in a specific area. As you work your way through each ‘mission’, you are rewarded new hunting gadgets, weapons mods or even new weapons to use. And to be honest, being completely ignorant where hunting is concerned, drip feeding these items as rewards for working through each mission feels like a good way of introducing each gadgets utility and each weapons usefulness in a meaningful way rather than having everything available from the start. This reward system also adds incentive to play through the otherwise sterile campaign experience as well as being the only way to unlock some of the more useful pieces of equipment.
We also have a free Hunt mode, where the player can choose any of the 12 environments to hunt any of animals that graze within that location. You can set up specific hunts, specific times of days and even the length of the hunt. You can even team up with 3 additional players and go hunting as a group which is always a nice addition.
Before starting your hunt, you get the chance to tool up from a wide selection of weapons, from rifles, shotguns, bows to crossbows with each weapon being more effective towards a certain type of animal than another. Eventually, you will get access to the full range of gadgets too which range from animal calls, lures and powders to determine wind direction and to even nullify your own scent which all go towards making your hunt that much more easier. You even eventually get access to a drone which helps reduce the amount of wandering you normally have to endure when looking for your intended prey.
The game can be played in both first and third person modes, with most people, I’m guessing switching to move about in the third person due to the fact that your equipped gun takes up so much screen space while in first person mode. Players will then probably switch back to the first person when getting close for the kill. Thankfully the controls feel solid and responsive enough in both modes to equally feel viable.
Now the actual act of hunting in Hunting Simulator is going to be the factor which either turns players off from the game or draws them in. Finesse, a whole lot of patience and care are needed to get the most out of this and it’s a level of investment some may feel the game doesn’t properly reward you for.
Once you know what you are hunting, the first thing you will want to do is find some tracks. Opening up the map of the area, you are presented with zones where you are most likely to find your prey, such as grazing zones or drinking areas. Heading to one of these areas you will hopefully get close enough to an animal track that the game will highlight for you to examine, which will then give you a general direction of where to go next as well as a time frame of how old the track is. You’ll follow the tracks to 2 or maybe more other locations until you either spot your prey or the game highlights roughly where your prey is hiding. Now, you then decide to either get close to making the kill shot easier, or you take aim and take your best shot and hope you don’t miss, because if you do, then you’ll scare off your prey – and all the other local animals with them, and you may have to start the whole laborious process of tracking your prey down again. And that is basically Hunting Simulator in a nutshell. You’ll rinse and repeat until you either complete all the objectives for the mission or you’ve run out of time.
There is very little else you will do to mix up what I’ve described above and a lot of the mechanics of the game run the risk of frustrating the player rather than rewarding them. For example, while you are not forced to walk, you are at serious risk of scaring off the local wildlife, or potential prey if you do decide to run and it can feel frustrating and limiting, especially with some of the distances you need to traverse – you understand why you shouldn’t run but you want to, just to get closer to where there might be something to shoot. Then following each track until you eventually do find your intended target should feel more rewarding than it actually is, as right now each track is just an indication that more walking is ahead of you. You could easily be spending a good 20 minutes or more walking between zones and tracks before you eventually find your intended target, which I get is a ‘gamified’ and condensed portrayal of the real thing – but it doesn’t translate well into a rewarding gaming experience. It makes messing up a kill shot even more frustrating as you know you then have to go through the whole tracking phase of the game again to find your target. Even the eventual kill lacks any real feeling or reward, with the killing blow just seemingly turning off your targets skeleton physics as they flop lifeless to the ground, their body not even reacting or recoiling from the blow they received. Running over to your preys body and claiming it then gives you a rundown of how many points the kill is worth and whether the kill was good or not. Disappointingly, even if you just injure or graze an animal, there is little consequence from this as your target’s mobility doesn’t seem to be affected and there doesn’t appear to be a visible blood trail. It all feels rather muted and subdued in the end and it’s easy to feel as if the effort involved really wasn’t worth it in the end.
Another disappointing factor is the lack of any environmental effects on your weapons. There is no real bullet drop over long distances making those long and, should be difficult to hit shots feel almost too easy. The game even simulates wind direction in regards to your own personal scent making you think about which direction you should approach your prey less you alert animals of your presence. But the winds direction or even its strength has no effect on your bullets trajectory. It’s a disappointing oversight for a game that uses the title ‘Simulation’ in its title
A big problem I see here is there seems to be a conflict in tones surrounding this game – in some aspects Hunting Simulator tries its best to simulate the art of the hunt, like being aware of your scent in regards to wind direction, being mindful of the sounds you make and strategic use of animal calls. But then in other areas it feels dumbed down, like no bullet drop or wind affecting bullet trajectory, the simple and frustrating ‘follow the waypoints towards your target’ tracking system or the lack of any reaction from a non-killing shot hitting an animal. In one hand it feels like a Simulator, on the other it feels like it’s trying to dumb down some of the experience to make it easier to play and they definitely feel at odds with one another.
On a technical level the game does suffer from some stuttering when the game streams geometry as you move through the environments as well as the odd small pause which can really put your aim off if it happens when you are about to take a shot on your prey. Graphically it’s actually nice to look at. Gun models and the animations seem to have had a good bit of care invested in them and the games 12 environments themselves feel, diverse wide and very well detailed. There is even a day/night cycle which is genuinely impressive to see unfold. The Unreal Engine 4 showing again that when put in the right hands can render some well detailed external environments. The game tries to go for that fluid 60fps experience, but it’s by no means locked at that. Some of the more barren environments, the game finds it easier to reach that target, but as soon as you enter a more detailed and biota heavy environment the frame rate can tank into the lower to mid 20 fps.
Hunting Simulator is, at its core, a collection of good ideas which makes a good attempt at simulating the hunting experience. While some seem to be at odds with that simulation experience, the end result is a game which will only really appeal to those looking for this kind of slow, sedate and specific experience. It has a very shallow gameplay loop, with very little variety which has me question the longevity this game will have on someone who does look for this type of gameplay experience. It’s good to see Neopica try something a bit different to what they are normally used to producing and a more concentrated and focused effort next time and they may get the winning formula right for this type of game. However, at its current full price, gamers looking for this kind of experience may find a more fulfilling experience elsewhere.