It seems like a lifetime ago now, but there was a time when I woke up before dawn, geared up in blaze-orange attire, and took to the woods of Maine in pursuit of the elusive whitetail deer. I was a freshman in high school and desperately wanted to fit in at our new school where hunting, not “playing Nintendo,” was the preferred hobby of my peers. It turns out I much preferred staying indoors and playing video games to standing outside in the frigid Maine autumn while nothing happened for hours at a time. Thankfully, Hunting Simulator 2 combines a hobby I didn’t enjoy too much as a teen with one I still love to this day.
While I don’t go hunting anymore, almost everyone I know is obsessed with it (I still live in Maine), and I have been known to stalk whitetail with a camera rather than a loaded rifle. Hunting Simulator 2 scratches the primordial hunter-itch I didn’t know I still had, while allowing me to stalk prey from the comfort of my home office. Plus there are zero bloodstains to contend with, which is another bonus. As a simulation, it does a great job, and as a game, it also succeeds. It sacrifices some realism for the sake of quality of life, sure, and it lacks any kind of concrete goals, but at the end of the day, I found Hunting Simulator 2 a fun and oddly relaxing way to spend some time.
Yes, You Can Pet the Dog(s)
I’ll just get this one out of the way immediately: you can pet the dog. In fact, it helps build your bond with the canine companions that venture out into the wilderness with you. You start off with a beagle, adept at sniffing out tracks and putting you on the path to a trophy, but you can add more dogs to your kennel as you progress. Each dog breed is specialized for a task: pointers will “point” in the direction of a hidden animal, while retrievers do exactly what their name implies.
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I found out the importance of bringing along a retriever (I named him Puppers and he’s a good boy) when I went duck hunting and discovered I couldn’t swim out to get my trophies. No respectable outdoorsman would leave carcasses like that, and I was appropriately fined when I returned to my hunting lodge. I really like how Hunting Simulator 2 requires you to bring along the right dog for the job. You can choose to hunt without any companions, but they’re super useful for small prey, and if you’re going to hit your bag limit, they’ll expedite the process by retrieving, pointing, and following scent trails.
There’s more than just dogs to add to your hunting lodge: you can purchase gear, new guns, and even bows to spice things up a bit. The selection of hunting guns is huge, and Hunting Simulator 2 has officially-licensed firearms from companies like Winchester, as well as officially-licensed outdoor gear from outfitters like Browning. The licensed apparel and firearms make for a more realistic setting, with names instantly recognizable to anyone who hunts as a hobby.
On top of guns and apparel, there are binoculars and range finders, as well as consumables like scent lures, scent-covers, and wind-direction indication sprays. They’re easy to use: pushing a button brings up your item wheel and it’s a simple matter of hitting the action button to use them. They’re all really useful, particularly the wind indicators. Initially I didn’t think the wind direction made a difference, but after my virtual-scent alerted my presence to a trophy elk, I made sure my item list for the next hunt included a bottle.
After you’re fully outfitted with your guns and gear (and dog, of course), you select from one of six different locations, grouped into three geographical areas. There are two Colorado locations, two in Texas, and two European hunting grounds. Each location has its own different geography and animals, although there is some crossover between them, as is the case in real life (for example, real whitetail deer are damn near everywhere in the US now).
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Aside from the different animals to hunt, and different scenery and terrain, maps are tied together with campsites, a cabin, and different towers and blinds to discover. Campsites are fast-travel locations, only unlocked after discovery, and they’re spread out pretty well over the massive maps. My instinct was to run around the maps like a madman, but you actually get penalized for doing so: animals are much more likely to hear you running than walking, and you actually see fewer.
Walking feels incredibly slow, almost to the point of frustration, but once I learned to zero in my patience, I was rewarded by finding more animals, and even finding more evidence of animals like tracks and droppings. It’s truly a walking simulator, but once I adjusted, I found it relaxing rather than annoying, especially with the ambient sounds of the wind and birds chirping in the distance.
Since this is a simulator and not a “game,” the hunting is pretty realistic insomuch as it takes a lot of walking and waiting before you see anything worth aiming at. Hunting Simulator 2 also doesn’t allow you to just blast away at every animal no matter what the caliber rifle or gauge of shotgun you have. A .30-06, ideal for large game like deer, elk, and bison, would completely obliterate a bobcat or wild boar. If you aim at one with the wrong gun, Hunting Simulator 2 warns you you’re using the wrong caliber. If you fire anyway, you ruin your trophy and the prospect of collecting the credits needed to buy more gear and licenses.
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As fun as it is walking around the maps, I wish Hunting Simulator 2 had some kind of mission structure. There are achievements, sure, but what ended up happening is I’d grab two guns (one high-powered, one smaller-caliber), pack up my gear and wander the countryside shooting as many of God’s creatures as I could before I reached my license limit or ran out of ammo. A mode asking me to, say, bring home my bag-limit of mallards or hunt only whitetail deer would have narrowed down the focus of what’s currently a pretty open-ended experience.
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The license system works to prevent you from bringing home a Noah’s-ark’s worth of trophies, but you need to make sure you have the right licenses before you head out into the field. Each geographic location requires a license to hunt, with separate licenses for the different kinds of animals. For example, you can hunt whitetail with a Texas whitetail license, but you need to get a Colorado whitetail license to hunt them in Colorado. I learned that the hard way when I spent 20 minutes wandering the Texas backcountry only for Hunting Simulator 2 to warn me I was unlicensed when I finally aimed at a pronghorn in the distance.
The actual act of hunting is thrilling. Stalking an animal through the wilderness and waiting until just the right moment to fire off that perfect shot holds a lot of the appeal of the real thing. Thankfully, Hunting Simulator 2 pumps the brakes a bit after you down your prey: you’re not required to gut it out or drag it out of the woods to your cabin. Just approach it, push a button, and it’s magically delivered there. I appreciate the quality of life touches, because hauling a deer out of the woods is, quite literally, a drag.
This article was originally published by IGN.COM