There’s something strangely compelling about The Hunter: Call of the Wild. Developed by Just Cause creator Avalanche, it’s a slow, ponderous hunting simulator where you spend most of your time crouched in a bush waiting for an oblivious deer or coyote to stroll into your line of fire. But it has the same serene, hypnotic quality as games such as Euro Truck Simulator 2. Fundamentally boring, yes, but utterly, irresistibly playable.
But here’s the thing—the hunting is, for me, the least interesting thing about The Hunter. I mean, I enjoy it. There’s something satisfying about quietly, meticulously stalking a moose through a Siberian forest then dropping it with a well-placed shot. I’d never do this in real life, of course. I like moose, and I could never bring myself to shoot one with a high- powered rifle. The hunting mechanics are deep, with a nice scoring system, but they’re never my main reason for loading this game up.
No, what I love about The Hunter is the world the developers have created. It, rather unexpectedly, features some of the most convincing natural environments I’ve ever encountered in any game—let alone a niche hunting sim. Its selection of autumnal forests, grassy plains, and rolling fields are way more convincing and atmospheric than even games such as Far Cry 5, which probably has ten times its budget. And it’s these immersive landscapes that keep me coming back.
At the right time of day, when the sun is at just the right angle and elevation, the forests in The Hunter are genuinely stunning. Golden light pours through the trees, casting a glow over the dense foliage, which sways realistically in the wind. But it’s more than just a visual treat—the sound is just as good. If you stop and listen to the ambient sound, you get a palpable sense of being there—more than any other game I can think of.
Which, I guess, makes sense in a game where you spend so much time sitting still. But it’s surprising to find this fidelity of visual and aural detail in what is, let’s be honest, a pretty obscure hunting game. And it makes just going for a walk in these lush, dynamic forests a real treat. With a good pair of headphones, you can totally get lost in the world around you. Sure, if you hear an animal you can track it and kill it. But interrupting such a chill world with a gunshot almost feels wrong.
What’s cool about The Hunter is that as well as a rifle, you also get a camera. The system isn’t as deep as I’d like—it would be cool if you could buy different models and lenses and so on—but it’s a legitimate way to play the game. I’ve spent more time wandering through the forests of Germany, the African plains, and the Siberian tundra, taking photos, than indulging in the hunting side of the game. The screenshots illustrating this article were all taken by me on my many rambles through the game.
I love it when games are flexible enough to let you play them your own way. I once played Skyrim as a regular citizen, working for a living, buying food and drink, running errands, avoiding quests. It was a surprisingly fun way to experience the game, and gave me a new perspective on that world. And it’s the same with The Hunter. The setting is rich enough that you can enjoy it for what it is, rather than what you do in it, and I appreciate it when a game has that quality.
I’m not saying you should spend money on The Hunter specifically to walk around a forest taking photos. But then again, maybe I am? If I hadn’t fired a single bullet, I still think I’d have considered it a worthy purchase. A piece of advice, though—even though the fact it’s DLC is a bit cynical, definitely buy the quad bike add-on. It’s fairly cheap, and it makes getting around the game’s enormous maps less frustrating.
I reviewed The Hunter when it was first released and gave it 60 percent, and I stand by that, because the mission design is bad and the pace (especially without the bike) can be interminable. But in terms of atmosphere and environments, not much else touches it.
You’ll just have to decide if you want to destroy that nice, tranquil atmosphere by firing a giant rifle at a gentle, harmless moose.