Way of the Hunter is a wildly inconsistent game. It’s a hunting simulation game with everything you’d expect, from cabins to fill with stuffed creatures, to rifles to shoot and a huge map to explore, but it gives a bad first impression. The opening cutscene looks very pretty for a few seconds before the frame rate starts to stutter as the camera swoops awkwardly around some birds. It’s a microcosm of what to expect throughout the rest of Way of the hunter – that expectation being disappointment.
I wouldn’t say I’m really a fan of hunting wild animals, but I do enjoy it in games. It’s basically stealth, but set in the woods and with animals that all basically have super senses, because why the hell not, right? Way of the Hunter has done a good job of spoiling that experience for me entirely, at pretty much every step of the hunting trips that are its core.
First, you get in your jeep that has some of the worst handling for a vehicle in a modern video game – seriously, this thing can turn like it’s been glued to the road and it’s slow enough you’ll never need to brake – and you head off somewhere to hunt. Along the way you could quite accidentally drive within 100 metres of a deer, get out of the jeep, pull out your rifle and shoot it. A successful hunt!
Just kidding, you’re not here for that dear deer, but you can sell it anyway – thankfully this can be done from the body of the animal. After you get back into your jeep and make your way to your hunting ground, you look for a trail or an area where they feed/rest with your hunter sense. This makes things related to hunting glow, like feeding spots, trails, foot prints and resting areas. It’s just like augmented senses in other games, except here it stops working when you’re moving. Prints are difficult to see reliably through the foliage without the hunter sense on and animals don’t walk in straight lines that often, so this soon devolves into constantly stopping every few feet to double check that you’re still on the right path.
After you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time following prints that criss cross, double back on themselves, and occasionally seem to disappear, you might be able to hear your quarry. And by hear, I mean see that you can hear it on your screen with your hunter sense. This gives you eight whole circles on screen, each representing one animal that you can then aim at to get detailed information about distance and what type of animal it is, even its age and gender. So you start crouch walking towards them to be quiet – they’re 200 metres away, so this takes ages. Again, you stop every few seconds to check you can still “hear” them and you’re moving so slowly it feels like it’ll take forever to get there, but you’re downwind of them and moving silently.
It’s going well until you’re about 100m away, at which point there’s no longer any sign of the animals. The sound indicators are gone, and there’s no prints shown with hunters sense either. The entire herd has just evaporated without leaving a single sign of their presence behind, like a major plot point in a sci-fi Netflix show. Why? Surely they didn’t hear you crouch walking, the wind didn’t change so they didn’t smell you, they can’t have seen you or you would have seen them. And earlier I drove up tof a deer in plain view and it didn’t even notice me! So what happened!?
This is what happens every time I try to hunt in this game, and it makes no sense to me. If deer can hear or see me sneaking, painstakingly slowly through the woods, why don’t they react to a jeep they can see clearly? Why aren’t there any prints to follow? If I did something wrong, could I have some feedback so I know? Add to this the unbelievable drudgery of following a trail, constantly staring at the ground and stopping every few feet, and it’s difficult to enjoy the game at all.
This is a shame, because as mentioned, the game is inconsistent. The overview of a kill you’ve just made is stunningly detailed. Not just the details about the animal, but the game shows you the path of the bullet as it passed through, tells and shows you which organs you hit and how much of the meat was damaged, and you can rewind and fast forward to bullet’s path like it’s the X-ray killcam in Sniper Elite. It’s quite remarkable.
The game generally looks good on PlayStation 5, but mainly when you’re standing still. The first view you get when you’re given control of your character is stunning, but the stuttering and texture streaming from the opening cutscene had already made me suspicious. Once you start moving around foliage disappears and reappears around you randomly, textures are unloaded and then replaced with a higher quality one, when you walk on the bank of a river big stones are constantly appearing beneath your feet, and whole hills will disappear out of existence and then reappear in the distance. Switching the settings to performance mode only serves to exacerbate all of these issues and still doesn’t have a consistent frame rate. It’s like the whole world is in flux, completely destroying any sense of immersion. You can’t feel like you’re sneaking through the bushes when they keep disappearing around you and that hill in the distance wasn’t even there a moment ago.
Outside of the hunting itself you have a story about returning to your uncle’s hunting cabin after your father has died. Your father disliked hunting and explicitly told his brother he didn’t want you hunting, but the uncle took you anyway. Obviously it’s unreasonable to not want your young child killing living creatures just for fun. Way of the Hunter seems to want you to sympathise with the uncle, rather than the father whose child was introduced to a barbaric pastime against his parents’ wishes.
The game also discusses ethical hunting and has you gathering meet to sell to restaurants in the main story, but in the next breath has you kill a buck deer you’ve supposedly known since you were a child because the aforementioned uncle couldn’t bring himself to do it. You then display said buck next to one of its parents in the middle of the cabin. Why that deer only needs to be culled now for the good of the herd due to its lame horn after you’ve grown up knowing it your entire life is anyone’s guess.
But even if you don’t find trophy hunting icky, you probably won’t enjoy this story because the voice acting is rough at best and is spread out between missions that seem like they are intentionally wasting your time. One early mission had me drive all the way out to a bush, and then fast travel back to the cabin to sleep and drive back out there again. It served a purpose (the bush was a feeding spot) but to structure your objectives so that the majority of a mission is just the commute between the same two spots twice is particularly uninspired. You’re better off playing until you get the hang of the hunting and ignoring the story completely, especially if you want to go hunt a bear rather than some pheasants or ducks anytime soon.