NOW PLAY­ING: THE HUNTER: CALL OF THE WILD

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - START - Dave Meik­le­ham

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.

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