NOW PLAYING: THE HUNTER: CALL OF THE WILD
I’m not entirely sure how I got into this situation, but I can tell you I both rue and lament it. Picture the horrendously bleary-eyed scene: it’s 3am, I’m full of cider, and rather than gently slump into a semi-drunken slumber, I decide that hunting a virtual bobcat is waaaaay more important than the inconsequential notion of sleep. Welcome to The Hunter: Call Of The
Wild, by far the most curious game to have ever obliterated my sleep cycle.
Forty minutes later, and now so tired I can feel my contact lenses suck every last drop of moisture from my exhausted eyeballs, I still haven’t bagged the damned thing. Suffice to say, Expansive Worlds’ hunting sim is a deeply taxing, utterly unflinching beast. Not only will it give you absolutely no quarter, if you break any of its ultra strict rules even the teeniest bit, an hour-long pursuit of your furry quarry can be ruined in a hunter’s heartbeat.
Accidentally stumble downwind of your target and it’s critter curtains as soon as the beast catches a whiff of your scent. Run through that shrubbery and every beast within a 300 yard radius will bolt for safety. Miss your prey’s vitals by even the merest inch and the animal will brush off your shot, scamper, and live to graze another day. Elmer Fudd never made it look this hard.
And yet, in spite of these harsh penalties, or perhaps, because of them, The Hunter is a fascinating experience quite unlike anything else on Xbox. I recently got sucked into this taxing sim upon finding it squirreled away at the bottom of the Xbox Games Pass library, and I’ve been weirdly hooked for weeks now.
Snap of honour
That brings me back to my bobcat pursuit. The entire hunt takes me almost a full hour, and the really daft part? I’m not even technically hunting the blasted thing. Instead, I’m merely trying to get up extra close and personal without being detected, then when in range, snap a clear picture of the predator with the in-game camera. If that doesn’t sound particularly daunting, just you wait.
The really evil aspect of this particular mission is that bobcats mainly roam at night. Considering the game is spread over four rural nature reserves, spanning North America, northern Asia, South Africa and Germany, street lights aren’t exactly a thing. With no nearby electricity to light your way, your hunter is limited to a piddling little flashlight that’s lucky to illuminate your own feet, let alone an extra stealthy wild cat roaming 200m away in some bushes.
Call Of The Wild’s fastidious nature can actually work in your favour, though. While the systems that govern hunts are unyielding, the game does give you a very particular set of skills and tools to deal with its variety of deer, elk, moose, bear, and wolves. And no, said skills sadly don’t include having a relentless Liam Neeson covering your back. Instead, you can set up ground blinds to sneakily snipe animals, though this requires a fair amount of patience – often, you’ll have to wait upwards of 15 minutes until your prey finally trots by. For the more impatient hunter – ie: yours truly – a selection of lures can bring your hairy target to you. You’re mine now, Billy Bob(cat) Thornton.
“I’ve been more engrossed in trailing a black-tailed deer than I have for every COD campaign combined”
It’s only around 4am that my catsnapping quest finally bears feline fruit. For some reason, I’d completely forgotten I had a bobcat lure in my backpack; a gadget that may well have saved me a half-hour of fruitless stalking if I’d remembered the friggin’ thing. Lures are essentially callers, and each one mimics either the mating call or warning grunt/ roar/bellow of its associated animal. In the case of the bobcat caller, the resulting sound is somewhere between a xylophone being battered by an unruly toddler, and the most distressed kitty you ever did hear.
Unappealing as the din is to my delicate ears, a few sharp blasts of this ungodly screech brings the bobcat a runnin’ in almost no time… well, around six minutes. Trust me, that’s a veritable heartbeat in The
Hunter. Sadly, as I’m hunkered in a bush, I don’t have a clear sight of the predator, and so am forced to crawl ever so gently towards the eagleeyed critter. Despite finishing Alien
Isolation on its toughest difficulty, and vanquishing Dark Souls III’s Lord Of Cinder with a sliver of health and no estus flasks, I’ve never known tension quite like snapping this stupid cat. Gingerly approaching my target, I physically catch myself holding my breath in real life, which sounds mad, until you contextualise my actions. Once again, it’s 4am, I’m half sozzled on alcoholic apples, and rather than retreat to the Land of Nod, I decide taking a polaroid of a digital tabby is the sensible course of action. In that context, holding my breath because I somehow think it’ll make my virtual avatar quieter as they sneak towards a twitchy cat makes total sense…
Cat’s a wrap
Regardless of my wrong-headed respiratory techniques, my cautious movement pays off. The cat suddenly strolls into a clearing, the shrubbery around me dissipates at just the right time, and for the briefest of moments, a Kodak kitty moment presents itself. One click later, and the photo is mine. Cue a few hundred dollars of virtual currency, a wad of XP, and a blissful sleep that won’t be haunted by nightmares of an escaped bobcat.
For many, the above experience would probably scar them so profoundly they’d immediately uninstall the game the next morning. Not me, though. Instead, I continue to play The Hunter just as feverishly as before my snaphappy adventure. Once you buy into its philosophy, you’re hooked. I’ve genuinely been more engrossed in trailing a black-tailed deer’s hoofprints through the dense undergrowth of the Layton Lake District for 25 minutes straight than I have for every COD campaign combined since Modern
Warfare 2. Go figure. How long will my infatuation with
Call Of The Wild last? Probably right up until the point Red Dead Redemption
II finally gallops over the horizon this October. All I know right now though, is that at time of writing, The Hunter has had its claws in me for over five weeks. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have lures to rattle, animals’ sprays to douse myself in, and a camouflaged blind to erect. Those bobcats don’t stand a chance.
Ab ove Though it can be draining and demanding at times, Call Of The Wild doesn’t half give good sunset.far left On especially rare occasions, creatures, like this reindeer, glitch out, giving you free rein to arrow ’em in the head.