Ah, hunting. The finest of all life’s pursuits. Truly, there’s nothing nobler than rushing through the wilderness, wind in your hair, as you attempt to mow down a deer with your ATV bike.

Okay, I haven’t actually been hunting, nor do I have any desire to do so. And if you’d told me that, one day, I’d enjoy playing a hunting simulator, I’d have said you were out of your tree. Yet theHunter: Call of the Wild is not only an excellent hunting game, it’s a surprisingly meditative experience. Not for the animals that is, I’d imagine a bullet to the third eye would really mess up your chi. But the game’s locales are so utterly breathtaking that merely wandering through them is likely to reduce your blood pressure.

Even when you’re tracking down your quarry, it’s easy to get distracted by the sheer beauty of your surroundings. Insects flit by and trees sway gently in the wind, just two of the little touches that sell the game’s immersion before you’ve even fired a shot. But animal murder’s what you signed up for, and Call of the Wild doesn’t disappoint. Despite my initial squeamishness, I found dispatching the game’s virtual inhabitants to be curiously satisfying.

Call of the Wild Body 1

About as far removed from Duck Hunt as you can get, Call of the Wild requires you to take great care in pursuing your prey. You’ll gain just as much from the game’s auditory cues, like the sound of branches cracking under your feet, as you do from glancing at the on-screen indicator that indicates how stealthy you’re being. Patience is absolutely critical, not least because of the size of Call of the Wild’s arenas; one with a North American theme, the other inspired by European hunting grounds. The inclusion of a mere two maps may seem stingy but they’re so vast, taking a minimum of twenty minutes to traverse on an ATV, that you won’t feel the least bit short changed.

Nor are the hunting grounds endless forests of procedurally generated trees; aside from pushing your way through the undergrowth you’ll clamber over rolling hills, cross abandoned railway bridges and traipse through cornfields.  Fast travel options do become available, as does the aforementioned ATV, but it’ll still take you at least twenty minutes to drive across each of the massive maps. As a result, if you spook an animal it won’t simply round the corner and slam into an invisible wall, it’ll bolt to safety in the undergrowth. Far from being mere dumb targets, Call of the Wild’s animals act in a realistic manner, to the point of requiring sleep and sustenance.

Call of the Wild Body 2

If you manage to wound an animal there’s a good chance you can follow the blood trail till it expires, but if not, then it’s advisable you find another set of tracks and try again. Yet far from being frustrating, losing your quarry just reminds you to take more care next time. You’ll spend far more time trailing your prey or lurking in wait near a water source than you do taking shots. Just laying there, waiting for an animal to wander into view is oddly relaxing. Animal density is a little on the low side which may well be true to life, but if your idea of hunting is dispatching seven animals in the space of as many minutes then Call of the Wild isn’t for you. Be prepared to take your time, however, and you’ll end up losing yourself in the hunt.

Conversely, if the idea of killing virtual animals is anathema to you, then the game’s still worth a look. I spent a good ten minutes wandering alongside a river, just marvelling at everything around me, doing a double take when I saw a deer emerge from the undergrowth. Though, the lack of a proper photo mode does the game’s stunning scenery a disservice, an issue that could easily be addressed with a patch. Another oddity is that while you can, in theory, be killed by the animals, none of them showed any inclination to attack me, all preferring flight to fight. I didn’t expect to find myself duking it out with laserbears or robodeer, but at no point did I feel remotely threatened, even when stalking a group of grizzlies.

Call of the Wild Body 3

Nevertheless, theHunter: Call of the Wild is a beautiful time-sink which will satisfy both hunting aficionados and those with a taste for more sedate, less intrusive open world exploration. If you fall into the former category you’ll be catered for by the game’s varied animals species, from foxes through to bison, the wealth of experience-linked weaponry and upgrades and the slow-paced but ultimately rewarding nature of the hunt.

If you wouldn’t normally touch a hunting game, I’d urge you to view theHunter: Call of the Wild as the ultimate “walking simulator” and give it a fair shake of the shotgun. I don’t regret the many rewarding hours I ploughed into this engaging, immersive safari and can see myself returning to theHunter: Call of the Wild’s wonderful wilderness again and again.

I still want laserbears, though. And I never did catch up with that deer.

theHunter: Call of the Wild is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.