I am well aware that hunting simulators are not the most popular game genre in Ukraine. But it so happened that it is hunting simulators that accompany me throughout my career, so I really love such games. They have a lot in common with stealth shooters (didn’t you expect?!), they are cozy, soothing and very beautiful. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of theHunter: Call of the Wild from Sweden’s Expansive Worlds and it’s a really cool game, but last year it had a competitor – Way of the Hunter from Slovak Nine Rocks Games. Well, let’s go hunting.

Game Way of the Hunter
Genre hunter
Platforms Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
Languages English
Developer Nine Rocks Games
Publisher THQ Nordic
wayofthehunter.com, Steam, Epic Games Store

Redneck games

The genre of hunting simulators owes its birth to the supermarket chain Walmart. Somewhere in the mid-1990s of the last century, in order to meet the trends, they decided to put games on the shelves of their stores. But not full-fledged games for hardcore gamers, which at the time were only sold in specialized stores, but something simpler and cheaper, something that moms and dads could buy for their children during the big weekly shopping just among other things. And what could be more understandable for Americans, especially somewhere in the outback, than a hunting simulator?

Deer Hunter (Sunstorm Interactive / WizardWorks) and Cabela’s Big Game Hunter (Elsinore Multimedia / HeadGames Publishing), which were released in 1997 and 1998, became real hits for the Walmart chain. We are talking about hundreds of thousands, and in the case of Deer Hunter – millions of copies sold. Of course, they spawned huge game series that was updated every year. For example, Deer Hunter 2014 was already released on Android / iOS and was, it seems, the thirty-fifth game of the series.

Why are there dinosaurs?

WizardWorks through GT Interactive offered Kyiv Action Forms after Chasm: The Rift to create a game in the then very fashionable and, most importantly, a very profitable genre of hunting simulators. “Twenty-minute adventure. In and out!”. Initially, the main character of the project was to become the great and powerful Duke Nukem himself, but it did not work out, and the closed Duke Nukem: Endangered Species had to be converted into another game.

Action Forms made a dinosaur hunting simulator without Duke Nukem – Carnivores, which was released in 1998 and also became the progenitor of its own series. The last part, Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunt (remastered remake) was released on Steam in 2022. It was developed by the Kyiv studio Digital Dreams Entertainment.

And about the original Carnivores… At one time we were very well acquainted with the guys from Action Forms, so we had the opportunity to play a pre-release version of the game. In the very first issue of Home PC for December 1998, there was a review of two hunting simulators at once – Deer Hunter II and Carnivores. It is at that time that I fell in love with such games.

Everyone is hunting!

Hunting simulators are a niche, but quite a popular genre. We already mentioned a million copies of Deer Hunter, so according to various estimates, theHunter: Call of the Wild sold 3.5-4 million copies only on Steam. And there were also releases on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Even well-known studios do not shy away from the development of hunting simulators. On the account of SCS Software, the authors of Euro Truck Simulator 2 / American Truck Simulator, there are seven (!) hunting games in the Hunting Unlimited series, released in 2001-2009.

theHunter: Call of the Wild is developed by Expansive Worlds, a division of Avalanche Studios, creators of the Just Cause series. The games even use the same engine – Apex Engine.

Action Forms and Carnivores have already been discussed above.

Nine Rocks Games, the authors of Way of the Hunter, seems to be a young Slovak studio, but it was founded by people who once worked at the Cauldron studio, which made a very interesting shooter Chaser. They then went on to develop the Cabela’s Big Game Hunter series of games for Activision, and then worked on the famous DayZ at Bohemia Interactive. In other words, they are not newbies at all.

But we got distracted, sorry, let’s get back to the game itself.

The word for world is forest

Way of the Hunter is stunning in its visual component. No, theHunter: Call of the Wild also looks very cool, but the Swedish game was released 6 years ago, and the Nine Rocks Games product looks more modern.

In addition, the authors fully utilize the power of the Unreal Engine and know very well how to use the incredible photogrammetric library Quixel Megascans (now part of Epic Games). All those trees, rocks, rocks, herbs, flowers, tree bark, branches, and so on, everything looks incredibly realistic, thanks Quixel!

Way of the Hunter has an incredible variety of forests, mountains, wetlands, rivers, and forests again. The variety and number of trees are amazing, it is impossible to find any repeating patterns. We are talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions of trees on the map, the area of each of which, by the way, is an impressive 144 square meters. km. Some forests are so dense that there is almost constant twilight there. Some are shot through by the sun’s rays.

Grass and undergrowth are a separate story. The grass here is so thick that some unethical virtual hunters suggest reducing the grass display settings to the minimum so that it is easier to find small game – pheasants, ducks, foxes, badgers, etc. Then why play at all?

As for the undergrowth, in some forests it is so thick that you literally see only 2-3 meters. That is, it is almost impossible to find a wounded animal in such a forest, even by focusing on the trail of blood. Especially if it is a fox, a wolf or a small roe deer.

The levels are very large, so you will definitely need the car (three modifications) that the developers added to the basic version of the game. How can we not mention here that in theHunter: Call of the Wild, the ATV (as well as the tent for the temporary camp) was added only in separate paid DLCs for UAH 79 each.

The world of Way of the Hunter is simply a pleasure to live in. Wander aimlessly through the huge cozy levels, listen to the chirping of birds, and the buzzing of insects, and collect screenshots of the landscapes that are surprisingly picturesque here.

Ludonarrative balance

Yes, this is a game about hunting, that is, despite all the comfort and picturesqueness of the world of Way of the Hunter, you have to kill animals. So do we have here the famous ludonarrative dissonance? But no!

If you don’t want to, you are allowed not to shoot at all. Yes, without hunting and getting trophies, you will not see the plot of the game (yes, there is a plot here, which is very unexpected for such projects, more on that later), but if you want to just walk around, then why do you need a plot?

Regarding the killings. First, it is the killing of virtual animals. And secondly, the authors pay very, very much attention to the ethics of hunting. In fact, the plot of the main part of the game is almost entirely dedicated to noble hunting.

And, in addition, the trophy won and the reward for it directly depends on the ethicality of the killing. That is, you should not hunt foxes and badgers with a powerful Steyr Carbon CL II rifle with .338 Lapua Mag cartridges. It’s stupid. Just like shooting ducks and pheasants on land or water: the birds must be allowed to rise into the air, it’s more honest. It is necessary to choose a weapon according to the planned prey, and try to kill the beast with one shot, preferably so that it dies on the spot, and does not suffer. And, of course, it is very bad to abandon the wounded animals.

Duck tales

As we said a little above, Way of the Hunter has a plot, which is very unusual for a hunting simulator. It is not very complicated, but generally interesting. The main character comes to his grandfather’s hunting grounds and remembers his own childhood, the difficult relationship between his father and grandfather, the mysterious death of his mother, etc. He gets to know his neighbors, remembers childhood friends who have grown up, and so on. In fact, there are many tasks not for hunting, but for exploring the world.

Although, of course, it cannot be done without hunting. The main character, among other things, fulfills customer orders for the meat of one kind or another, participates in informal competitions, etc.

What’s impressive is how well the plot is presented in Way of the Hunter. All the characters that you will never see, but only hear, even if they will be literally a few meters away from you (in fact, this is not a glitch, but a cool narrative feature), are very well voiced. What’s more, the actors even play well and convincingly, so these conversations on the walkie-talkie, phone, or through closed doors perfectly convey the characters’ characters and help you get used to the world. And yes, there are definitely some Firewatch vibes here.

Native mountains

In the basic version of Way of the Hunter, there are two large locations. The Nez Perce Valley is the conditional Northwest of the USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana), and Transylvania is the conditional Eastern Europe. Each zone has its own animals, of course, with some crossings: wild geese, wolves, and pheasants are everywhere.

And for Transylvania, I would like to say a special thank you to the Slovak neighbors (in addition to the thanks for the weapons that Slovakia provides to the Armed Forces of Ukraine). Because these are our Carpathians. Yes, this means mostly the Romanian and Slovak part of the Carpathians, but the Slovak part is very, very similar to the Ukrainian Carpathians. The same mountains, meadows, and a similar set of trees, and animals. These are our native mountains, walking through them even in the virtual world of Way of the Hunter is very, very pleasant.

Good morning, Alaska!

Way of the Hunter actually came out back in August 2022, but we missed that game back then. And this review is dedicated to the add-on Way of the Hunter – Aurora Shores, which appeared at the end of February 2023.

Aurora Shores is Alaska. A harsh and very beautiful region. Of course, with its own animals, trees, and curiosities. Among the trophies available are Alaskan deer, Roosevelt elk, wood bison, mountain goats, tundra caribou, Sitka deer, and Kodiak brown bear. Also two crossbows and their sights, new decoys for animals, and a hunting buggy are added to the game.

In addition, Aurora Shores has its own plot and even its own heroine – a forest ranger girl. She has to help tourists, catch young people doing stupid things and fight poachers. Very good and cute DLC. 225 UAH for one map is a bit too much, considering that the base game costs only 499 UAH, but you can buy a Season Pass with two maps and all kinds of goodies for 279 UAH. Or in general Way of the Hunter Elite Edition with everything together for UAH 685; this is the most profitable option.

To snipe

We have said almost nothing about the shooting, but what can we say about it? This is a hunting simulator, that is, the shooting here is done perfectly. Way of the Hunter has realistic ballistics that takes into account the type of weapon, cartridge, wind, and temperature. Moreover, the game realistically calculates the energy drop of the bullet depending on the distance to the target and obstacles.

That is, after you receive the trophy, you will be able to see how the energy of the bullet fell after passing through the soft tissues of the animal, bones, and so on. Very clearly. By the way, the energy of the bullet is related to the ethics of hunting. Each type of game requires a special weapon for the hunt to be considered fair.

The game features licensed hunting weapons from Remington and Steyr Arms. Plus sights and ammo from Bushnell, Federal, Leupold, and Primos. The weapon looks very good and shoots… very loudly.

In my opinion, it is more difficult to hunt ducks, geese, and pheasants with a shotgun. Well, a hunting crossbow requires a very slow and careful “approach” to the prey, or hunting from an ambush with a decoy.

Way of the Hunter vs theHunter: Call of the Wild

It always makes sense to compare a game to a direct competitor. So who do we choose: theHunter: Call of the Wild veteran or Way of the Hunter newcomer?

Advantages of theHunter: Call of the Wild – more hunting grounds in the DLC (2 in the game, 11 in separate paid DLC), that is, a larger number of different maps and animals. But that’s in the DLC. In the basic version, the area of each map in Way of the Hunter is almost three times larger! Another plus of theHunter is a larger number of weapons, including hunting revolvers and bows, even in the basic version, and the possibility of their customization.

The advantages of Way of the Hunter are huge maps, a car in the basic version, an interesting plot, better graphics, better ballistics of weapons and, as for me, this is the main thing, better behavior of animals, both individually and in the herd as a whole. Yes, in theHunter, the behavior of animals that were simply stuck in the bushes a few months after the release was finally fixed, but the sediment remained. Well, in general, the behavior of animals in Way of the Hunter looks more convincing.

So right now we prefer Way of the Hunter. It’s a cool game to try even just as a forest walking simulator, it’s calming. We will monitor the development of this project and wait for new additions and a new map. On the other hand, it will take you a lot of time to explore all the nooks and crannies of the three maps that are already in the game.

Yes, I almost forgot. Multiplayer is available in both games. The base of players in theHunter: Call of the Wild is larger, therefore there are also more active servers. But there is still no special hype, these are mostly single-player games.

Happy hunting everyone!