As it was released 4 years ago I'm not going to attempt to review theHunter: Call of the Wild franchise here, but safe to say it's widely considered to be the best hunting game out there. Emerald Coast–Australia is the latest DLC in a long line, and features a realistic, open world spanning 25 square miles (64km²) that allows you to hunt alone or with up to 3 other players, either co-operatively or competitively.
You play the role of a new hunter called in to help control the population of this stunning Emerald Coast reserve. The Apex Avalanche Open World Engine may be knocking on a bit, but does a magnificent job with scenery and animals. Your Huntermate Digital Assistant keeps you informed of your latest mission objectives–some of which are extremely difficult to achieve.
Now I'm not a hunter or a "blood sports" supporter, and I'm not about to get into a debate about hunting, but theHunter allows us gamers to experience hunting, with only virtual blood spilt, for good or bad. Calling your kills your "harvest" makes killing sound a bit more palatable, just as "culling" sounds nicer than killing. Each and every animal has been superbly, respectfully modelled and animated and their deaths look very convincing.
Here's a list of the huntable animals, of which there are 14, including 2 bird species, 1 reptile species and 11 animal species, 8 of which are unique to Emerald Coast. These are; Stubble Quail, Magpie Goose, Banteng, Red Fox, Axis Deer, Feral Goat, Fallow Deer, Feral Pig, Red Deer, Hog Deer, Sambar Deer, Javan Rusa, Eastern Gray Kangaroo… and of course the infamous Saltwater Crocodile.
I wasn’t expecting to see any spiders but thought it a bit odd that there are no Emus, Koalas, Wombats, Platypus, lizards, snakes or even fish, and a distinct lack of birds–especially various gulls I expected to see along the beach, whether this is because they're protected or not I don't know, but it means the world can feel a bit… underpopulated.
It's not just you, alone with your gun and the animals to hunt. You have aids such as a hunting dog, tree stands and even an ATV to make the vast reserve less daunting to traverse. The ATV (or quad bike) means that it's easier to explore the vast map and find all the points of interest, feeding/sleeping spots and Shelters. Once unlocked (you just have to visit them and raise a flag) each 'Shelter' acts as a fast travel, resupply point and store. Lookout points (usually man-made towers) reveal more of the map and previously unknown locations. Hunting structures (hides) can also be constructed in certain sites–for a fee of around $2000–everything in theHunter seems expensive, even ammo.
The game has a convincing day/night cycle and while you can hunt at night (some animals are best stalked at night) you may prefer to wait for daylight. Once you've found a lodge you can sleep and set an alarm for when to wake.
There are 5 regions to Emerald Coast (From south to north) : Drybone Plateau, Mangrove Coast, Little Darling, Ruby Coast and Cockatoo Forest. I was disappointed to not find any crocodiles in the inland water holes, they seem to be exclusive to the ocean and the mangrove swamps, and the sea on the Ruby Coast is as flat as a millpond, which doesn't really look right.
Every single animal on the Emerald Coast is superbly modelled and well animated–the only slight glitches we saw were when cattle attempted extremely steep slopes and crocodiles dived suddenly–then, animation-wise things can go awry.
Now to the crux of the matter; the basic, unforgiving and unchangeable difficulty of the game. Every single animal seems a bit too skittish to me. Even wandering the English countryside I've startled foxes, deer, cattle and various birds... In the Emerald Coast they seem to hear you or see you from vast distances, and most of them do so and flee swiftly enough that you'll never see them again. This may be realistic, but does it make for a good game...?
Well yes, it probably does if you want a genuinely immersive experience and have a patient nature, but I don't think vast numbers of gamers do anymore, so an "easy" or "arcade" mode would have been a good idea.
Gameplay-wise animations, movement, reloads etc are all really good, but nothing flows together smoothly like I think should. It'd be great to crest a rise, hear a call, spot the animal with your binoculars (which highlights it for a short time), crouch (for steadier aim), equip your weapon of choice, aim down on the creature and shoot, but each animation has to complete its cycle before you can start the next and none seem to run smoothly together. I was also disappointed that when lying prone I sometimes hit the dead ground well below the aiming reticle.
I found theHunter a very "chill" experience–mainly because the animals are psychic, have ears like bats and eyesight like eagles. If you blunder around you could literally go for hours without seeing ‘hide nor hair’ of an animal. After a while I found that tree branches, bushes and even sand dunes can start to look like the animals your eyes are straining to spot!
Thorough exploration reveals known rest sites or "need zones" of the various critters. Having to be at these locations at certain times is both realistic and limiting, but it's actually the only way you'll see some of the animals. Overhunt an area and it'll make a purple mark on the map, camp an area and animals simply won't come back there, regardless of how popular it was. This may be realistic, but it severely limits the use of the various constructible "blinds'' that'll cost you around $2000 each to erect.
I've got to say that little or no thought went into mapping the 'Spot" function to the 'X' button. When tracking an animal with the right stick it's obviously next to impossible to press 'X' at the same time. It would have been much more sensible to have it mapped to the R3 (click the right stick) button but for some reason, in a game clearly designed for PC, you can't remap the control layout. So if an animal is moving the only other solutions are contorting your left hand, moving your right index finger off the trigger or growing a second right thumb.
As previously mentioned, all the animals are skittish and easily startled, so that they run or fly away (apart from occasional attacks when certain animals get defensive or aggressive.) You make more noise when moving quickly so crouch-walking or crawling into position for a clear shot is wise. But herein lies a problem; the sound of your footsteps don't make much sense to me as stalking on sand makes less noise than grass, and even crawling is noisy-ish and can easily startle a target.
Anyway, you probably already know whether you want this gorgeous-looking DLC with its selection of unique Australian animals, at a price of £5.59 and (or only £5.03 with Game Pass) it’s good value, and if it has any faults then they're slight, mostly related to the core game and not game-breaking. Most importantly, relatives who live near the Emerald Coast can attest to its authentic look, and although I've fired scoped rifles I've never actually shot at anything but static targets, but an old friend and fellow Gamecell reviewer that actually hunts in the US can also confirm that theHunter gets most things right–whether that makes for a fun game is likely to be entirely up to you.