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Way of the Hunter

Way of the Hunter

Written by Eric Hauter on 8/12/2022 for PS5  
More On: Way of the Hunter

Here’s a question for you that might determine whether or not you want to invest any time or money in Way of the Hunter. Do you want to play a video game? Or do you want to go hunting? Because if you want to play a video game, I’m going to suggest that you stay far, far away from Way of the Hunter. But if you want to go hunting – meaning tromping through the woods for hours on end without seeing any animals, hiding in a blind for days hoping that your target comes by, or making the slightest noise and watching a critter 200 yards away hear you and skitter away in a manner that borders on supernatural – then Way of the Hunter is definitely for you.

While Way of the Hunter is indeed a video game, it is deeply focused on aligning with what one would experience if they strapped a rifle on their back and wandered into the wild. Way of the Hunter is realistic in an almost slavish way, which leads to some seriously surreally inactive video game moments. The animals the player is supposed to be hunting wander around the enormous open world, and players can either a) wander around and try to find them without spooking them, or b) sit and wait near a feeding or watering area and hope that the animals come by.

This led to situations where I set myself up in a blind, and then went to the kitchen to make a can of soup, popping my head around the corner on occasion to see if the deer I was after happened by. Realistic? Sure. Fun gameplay? Maybe not. I sat at a little table in my living room, looking up at the TV between bites to survey the field beyond my blind. You would think that Way of the Hunter would realize that a bunch of time had gone by and put something - anything - into my line of sight. Nope. If there are no animals, there are no animals.

Everything in Way of the Hunter seems to be built to deliver an authentic hunting experience, from the behavior of the animals to the ballistics of each weapon. In practical terms, this means that I have yet to hit an animal with a shotgun because I can't get close enough to do so, instead popping off shots at ducks and pheasants with a high-powered rifle that practically explodes them on impact. And I have to absolutely pummel bullet-sponge larger game animals with holes before they will finally agree to lay down and die – usually in some out-of-the-way spot where I find them curled up after a day or two.

How tough is it to take down an animal in Way of the Hunter? Well, let’s use my mule deer buddy Hollywood as an example. In the early stages of the story-driven campaign (which does a solid, if weird, job of introducing the player to the basics of the game), the player is tasked with taking down "Hollywood" – one specific dear with a malformed antler that is wandering around with a group of deer buddies in a several-miles-wide swath of field and forest. Finding Hollywood is a task that is extremely difficult. Taking him down was one of the greatest gaming accomplishments of my life. Because Hollywood, you see, is the Terminator of mule deer. He. Will. Not. Die.

In Way of the Hunter, the player uses “Hunter Sense” to locate evidence of animal activities. This allows you to detect “need” areas – places where an animal eats, drinks, or rests. You can also find game trails, which usually link these need areas, providing a natural path for animals to move about the forest. Hollywood the Teflon deer spends most of his time with his harem of deer ladies hanging out in these need areas, which are separated by gargantuan fields of tall grass and darkened areas of dense woods.

If the player attempts to approach the group of deer at a reasonable walking pace, they will instantly detect you and hop like terrified bunnies into the woods. They are sensitive to sound, and can smell you coming depending on which way the wind is blowing. No, the player must take into account the wind direction, and approach in a crouch to prevent noise, which allows the player to move at approximately ¼ MPH.

So, you have to find the deer. You have to get within shooting range of the deer. And then you must take the deer down. Special note: the deer takes off running into the woods after being shot, so be ready to track him by the blood he leaves on the grass and bushes behind him.

And how long did it take me to take down Hollywood? Three days. I don’t mean three in-game days (which pass by interminably slowly - I think maybe the game clock is twice as fast as real time). I mean three real-world days. I spent three days on and off - and entire weekend of video game playing - hunting Hollywood.

Now take a look at this forensic examination of the various shots Hollywood took without dying.

Day one: I find Hollywood munching some greenery with his band of deer hoes. After scaring him off twice, I line up what I think is a pretty good head shot. I squeeze one off, hitting Hollywood in what looks to me like the head. Turns out, my bullet entered Hollywood’s neck, doing damage to his skull that he is able to shrug off. Hollywood runs off into the woods, and I don’t see him again until the next day. My first shot:

Day two: Hollywood is spotted drinking in a river. I creep ever so slowly through some bushes. With my head shot being incredibly ineffective, I instead opt for a body shot. I manage to rip a bullet through Hollywood’s body from his hindquarters all the way to his shoulder, passing through his vital organs and piercing his liver and lungs. Hollywood stops drinking and hops merrily off across a field and into the woods. I follow the blood trail until it dissipates in the heavy brush of the woods.

Day three: I’ve found that I have the best success finding Hollywood early in the morning, so I’ve begun fast traveling back to my hunting lodge and sleeping through entire days until 6:00 AM. It might be symptomatic of some weird form of depression. On what is probably my twelfth attempt, I find Hollywood laying in the grass. I line up another shot, again piercing Hollywood’s lungs. He scampers away again, leaving me cursing madly and clutching my controller hard enough to break bones. Again, I follow the blood trail. Again, I lose the trail.

Later that afternoon, I spot Hollywood laying dead under a tree in a field. A little disheartened that I didn’t get to see him finally die, I still decide that this is a win, and head off on the next mission to explode some ducks in the swamp. Along the way, I made a point to run down some deer with my Jeep, just to hear the satisfying crunch.

Die, deer! Die!

The phrase “blistering difficulty” is thrown around a lot in video games, but I don’t think its strong enough to convey how tough Way of the Hunter really is. Blisters aren’t enough. This is a game that needs a new phrase to be coined – something like “pancreatic cancer levels of difficulty”, or “1988 Yellowstone Fires level of difficulty”, or maybe “Apollo 13 levels of difficulty”. This game is hard as hell.

In addition to the difficulty – which I fully acknowledge that some players will absolutely love – there are a number of quality of life issues that hold back Way of the Hunter. Fast travel points are few and far between, leaving the player to drive massive distances in their fragile Jeep to reach different hunting grounds. The only way to advance time is to return to a camp and sleep, which is wildly inconvenient when you are attempting to stake out an area. And the player’s movement is so, so slow. Again, these are concessions made to keep the game realistic, but they do make the pace of gameplay utterly glacial.

I should also mention that Way of the Hunter – at least the pre-release version that I’ve been playing – is in pretty rough shape technically. I normally don’t call out things like framerate issues or texture pop-in unless they are egregious, but in this case things are looking pretty rough. On the default map, players will occasionally see the game drawing textures on rocks and popping bushes into place (particularly during times of day when the shadows are long), but on secondary Transylvania map the visual issues are near constant. I switched from Quality to Performance mode to see if that would straighten things out, but the issues only seemed to worsen.

And yet – there is something ineffable quality that I’ve been enjoying in Way of the Hunter. When meeting the game’s requirements is this difficult, there is a feeling of achievement when you finally succeed. And offering such a realistic world to hunt in does offer occasional rewards.

One evening I decided to try night hunting. I was creeping around for about a half hour before I saw a sign of movement. It turned out to be a fox. I took what I thought was a pretty good shot, only to see the fox go tearing ass off into the woods. As usual, I tried to track the trail of blood, only to have it go cold.

Two days later, I was hunting for stupid Hollywood when I saw a fox creeping along the river. This time, I lined up a head shot and took the fox down. Upon examining the forensic info to see how my shot was, I was startled to see that I had shot this fox before. Turns out, it was the same fox. This means that Way of the Hunter is realistic to the point where the same animals are creeping around the forest – it isn’t just spawning in any old thing.

There are missions that involve taking down lesser animals to strengthen the gene pool, and the game informs the player that the animals they chose to harvest will have an overall impact on the health of the ecosystem. The fact that the game’s systems run so deep is impressive indeed, as is the sheer scope of the worlds created. The player eventually goes on to discover other people inhabiting these areas, and through accomplishing some tasks for them, gains permission to hunt their areas as well. It’s all very big, very thorough, and – visual issues aside – very realistic.

There is an audience out there that is going to love this game for its devotion to realism, and the graphical issues I called out will eventually be patched up. I can envision some folks out there that will make Way of the Hunter their primary game, likely playing it for years. There are so many animals, so much ground to cover, so many weapons and tools to learn and master. The scope of the game in itself feels like a challenge to the player's perseverance. There were moments while playing Way of the Hunter that I asked myself "Am I starting to dig this?". And though it may have been a symptom of video game Stockholm Syndrome, the answer was sometimes "Yes."

But to many video game fans out there, Way of the Hunter will feel like an endless slow walk through an empty forest. It all depends on your perspective and the sort of activities you enjoy. Some may be bored, but there will be people out there that absolutely love posting up in a blind and popping off the occasional shot at whatever creature happens by. I must it admit, it can be strangely hypnotic. And of course, Way of the Hunter gives you something to glance up at occasionally while you are concentrating on eating your soup.

Crushingly difficult. Glacially paced. Graphically challenged. And yet there is something hypnotic and impressive about the scope of Way of the Hunter and it's devotion to maintaining a realistic hunting experience, for better or for worse. Go into this one expecting realism - and I mean real-life, semi-boring realism - and you will be in the right frame of mind.

Rating: 7 Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Stadia, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, and a super sweet gaming PC built by Joh Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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