Sim-plicity: I am a failed turkey assassin

Having retired from world-saving heroics, Christopher Livingston is living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week he's following footprints and examining poop in an effort to hunt the wiliest and most elusive creature on earth: the turkey.

Remember that scene near the beginning of Jurassic Park where a kid says a velociraptor skeleton looks like a giant turkey? And Dr. Grant says that raptors are pack hunters, and explains how one raptor distracts you while two of them attack you from the side? And then he shames and belittles the kid in front of everybody by pretending to disembowel him? And we all laugh, because the kid deserves to be humiliated for daring to express his opinion to someone older and more educated than him?

Well, we all owe that kid an apology, because he was RIGHT. Turkeys and velociraptors are one and the same. Trust me, I know. I've been hunting turkeys all day.

The hunting simulation I'm playing this week is called The Hunter . Now, I've never been hunting in real life. I just don't find the idea appealing. First, nature is full of bugs whose instincts tell them the best place to live the rest of their lives is inside my nose. Secondly, I have a poor sense of direction and get lost easily: twice in my life rescue crews have had to pull me, confused and dehydrated, from inside an IKEA. Finally, I don't enjoy hunching over with my face in my hands and sobbing uncontrollably, which is what I assume I would do if I ever shot an animal. I hit a rabbit with my car fourteen years ago, and I still visit his grave every year, flowers in hand, the gentle rain mingling with the tears on my face. I'm sorry, Mr. Hoppers. I'm sorry.

Virtual hunting, though? I'm down with that. Plus, hunting in The Hunter is a lot like detective work. Picture your favorite fictional detective, say, Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, Veronica Mars, or maybe Rick Deckard from Blade Runner. Now, picture your detective walking slowly through the woods where nothing happens for approximately three hours. Then, your detective stops, looks down, and examines some poo. Then, he continues walking for another four hours.

See, The Hunter is not like Far Cry 3, where animals are packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the wilderness, constantly lunging at you in a desperate attempt to be carved into a new wallet or ammo pouch. These animals don't want to die, so they do their very best to not be seen by you, employing a clever strategy known as "not existing." Seriously, it can take ages of walking slowly through the woods before you even hear an animal, and even longer to actually see one. Take this deer I've been hunting all morning.

After ten solid minutes of walking through the woods, I hear a faint deer bleat, which sounds roughly like a frog being stepped on in another country. I examine my Huntermate, a gizmo I carry around with me, which pinpoints the location of the bleat and tells me it was made by a mule deer. I spend another five minutes walking to the area the bleat was broadcast from, then spend another ten minutes poking around the area. Eventually, I find some tracks, which my Huntermate is confident were made by the same deer. I follow the tracks for a few minutes, find another set, and follow them for a while longer. Eventually, I find some poop my deer expelled (and recently, according to my gizmo). Now I know which direction he's headed, and that he's close by. The hunt is about to kick into high gear!

Kicking a hunt into high gear means slowing everything down even more than it already was. When an animal is nearby it's a good idea to walk in a crouch or, better yet, go prone and bellycrawl. I know this is necessary: yesterday I spent about two hours tracking footprints and turdpiles only to discover all the deer I was tracking had fled because I was walking around upright, something they consider suspicious.

So, yes. Hunting amounts to slowly walking for absolutely ages, examining tracks and poops, then crouching for ages, then lying down and crawling for ages, all which results in almost never even seeing the animals you are hunting. Did I also mention it's quite thrilling and completely addictive? It is.

Here's the thing. While the endless walking, crouching, and crawling can be a bit tedious, it also creates a huge amount of anticipation and tension. After a completely uneventful half-hour walk, just hearing a turkey gobble a half-mile away is an absolute thrill. Seriously, I get more of a charge from hearing a pheasant or boar make faint noises in The Hunter than I do from seeing a dragon appear in Skyrim, and it's all due to anticipation that builds up from nothing happening.

Play Skyrim for an hour and you'll kill three dragons. Play The Hunter for an hour and maybe you'll be lucky enough to track and even spot a deer. Maybe. My shortest hunt to date took 48 minutes, ending with me tracking two deer and killing one. Last night, I spent almost two hours tracking a black bear through a rainstorm. I didn't actually see the bear itself until the final two minutes: up until that point it was just me creeping around in a downpour peering at footprints and enormous turds. And it was great, every single second of it.

Okay, back to the turkeys. Earlier I mentioned how Jurassic Park taught us that velociraptors are pack hunters: one acts as a distraction, keeping your attention, while two others rush in from the side to attack you. The turkeys in The Hunter do something similar. I'm slowly tracking one turkey by following its footprints and poops. I've been doing it for about twenty solid minutes. I don't seem to ever be gaining on it. It never seems to stop walking.

The real problem is, while I'm tracking my turkey, I keep coming across tracks and poops from other turkeys. This is maddening . Every twenty feet I find new prints and new dumps made by other turkeys, and every time I do, I feel like abandoning the turkey I'm following to pursue what will hopefully be an easier, closer mark. When I start following a new turkey, the same thing happens: my new turkey starts hauling ass away from me and my path is suddenly filled with the alluring droppings of my original turkey or some other mysterious third turkey.

Turkeys, clearly, operate like raptors. One keeps your attention, while two others sneak in from the side to silently empty their bowels right next to you. Every time I've gone after a turkey it's been a fruitless exercise that results in my wandering in circles, constantly find new tracks and never finding the bird I'm after. I don't even have a single screenshot of a turkey to display here. I've successfully hunted several types of deer, a couple elk, one boar, two pheasants, and a 275 pound black bear. But I just can't crack the turkey code.

Conclusion: The Hunter is a really well-made hunting sim, and you might think about trying it. You can play it for free with one rifle and one type of deer to hunt, but beyond that it's a trip to Micropayment City, and everything (guns, scopes, ammo, lures, camping gear, even individual temporary hunting licenses) will cost you real money.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.