Well I suppose since I’ve been playing the game now for at least 2 months that I can recall, in my blurry, half-awake, semi-conscious dream state. All self-inflicted of course, from endless hours of ground pounding, tree sitting and blind sitting with my trusty 7mm single shot in my hand. From the game, I’d fancy it to be a Ruger Number 1 rolling block.
How’s that for an intro? Few games stay on my machine these days and even fewer have the addiction factor provided by Trophy Hunter 2003 by Infogrames. As an avid sportsman, when I can’t be out in the woods at any opportunity, I’m generally despondent and stare with mute anticipation of the next hunt. I would clean my guns, breath in the gun solvent and wipe the gun down with oil. That was before TH2003.
Now, to heck with the cleaning materials, I can clean them once and put them away. The rest of my time I sit on tanned deerskin and have my mouse do the walking. My trigger finger operates the button. The only thing missing is the smell of gunpower in the air and the thump on my shoulder as I send a projectile downrange.
This isn’t simply a game, it’s immersion in an environment.
As you could tell, the gameplay in this program is very tight. A variety of firearms, attractants and hunting aids, and vehicles can all be purchased to enhance your ability to acquire a “world record” trophy animal. As many games, you create a character profile, provide your character a name, cloth it from some precanned models and equip it with the funds provided at the beginning of the game. Now you’re ready to go out on your first hunt.
As the game progresses, you acquire both credits to purchase more equipment, and also experience points which can be applied to various skills which you may select as you deem important.
Skills include the normal skills one should possess when hunting in the real world; Stealth – the ability to move quietly and undetected, Tracking – the ability to follow and acquire your quarry and even Presence – the ability to sense what is around you and distinguish direction by noise, among others. Be careful, because once assigned, they cannot be reassigned later. Points accumulate to a maximum of 300 and credits accumulate to the point where you can buy everything the game has to offer. The bigger the kill, the bigger the credits offered.
Equipment in the game includes a wide selection of firearms, from “Old Smokey” , a black powder rifle to firearms provided in various calibers through 30-06 and 7mm. Bows, Compound Bows, cross-bows, shotguns and the like are all provided to challenge your abilities.
Also a selection of vehicles is also provided. A truck, an ATV and a horse affectionately named Mildred. As you’ll find in the multiplayer environments, only the “nubs” use them. If you want to guarantee that you can keep the animals moving on the map and never find a thing to shoot at, albeit you may stumble on some hapless creature running around, go ahead and use them. They are entertaining, but not for the hunt. Use them by yourself and plummet off a cliff if you can, just don’t use them in my game.
After making your proper or improper selections based upon the quarry available in your map, you join your game and begin hunting at the point where your push pin is located on the topographical map in the game. If you’re lucky enough, you may land in the exact spot where some critter is standing nearby and you will generally have the moment to watch as it scampers well out of view before you even have the ability to raise the firearm to your electronic shoulder.
A GPS screen is available (if you bought one) to locate your position on the map as well as wind direction and strength which are indicated by a wind sock of varying colors from a light breeze (blue) to a full out gale force blow (red).
You mover about the map as you prefer, walking among the varied terrain, rocks, trees, stumps, boulders, cabins, airplanes, rivers, waterfalls, streams, mountains, trees, lakes, swamps… you know, the outdoors. Sneak up on a animal and shoot it, if you have the tag for it. Failure to only shoot those animals for which you have license, promptly removes all the trophies you had acquired for that round and prevents you from acquiring any others. Doh! Yes, just as in real life, there are rules.
At the conclusion of the hunt, either by time or by the sunset, you go back to your camp, count your kills, view your trophies, and count your money. Take a break, allocate your points, pick up some new items and go do it again and again (and again).
I’ve played the game on a variety of systems from a PII 500 with 128MB and a GF2 through to my gaming platform on an P4 1.4Ghz, 512MB, GF4 Ti4400. The graphics and sound are scalable enough to provide for adequate graphics on almost any platform of reasonably recent technology. The only machine I had problems running the game was on my Fujitsu Lifebook PIII 800 with 128MB and an ATI Rage video chip. Ugly is the only way to put it. The game does, however, perform just fine as a dedicated server on the same laptop (provided I have the patience and the 5 minutes required to fight my way through the menus). This may be a driver issue that I haven’t uncovered yet.
The animals, and environment objects are all very realistic, even to the point of distance shading and shadows. When fired upon, a wound can be seen on the animal, depicting the point of impact, or the arrow shaft can be seen where it hit, tree, ground, animal.. it’s there. Most of the hunting sims to date have been blocky and the animals stilted and not life like, moving in predictable manner. TH2003, the animals are fairly lifelike, move like real animals and an AI that does a remarkably good job of imitating the true habits of their real life counterparts. The smallest details are ever present, even the fine blades of grass swaying with the breeze, or the mist rising from a waterfall as the predawn fog lifts in the morning sunrise.
The sounds are probably the weakest and strongest part of the game. With stereo speakers, the player is able to distinguish wind direction, animal calls from a particular direction (remember the presence skill?), the roar of the waterfall and the footsteps and tires of the players, animals and vehicles. Sounds great huh? Well it is, but the footsteps of the player are far too loud, despite how good you get at stealth. After many hours of gameplay, I really begin to hate hearing myself walk, with the same endless staccato on and on and on. It’s like a bad sound clip from Lawrence of Arabia.
I suppose we all have our own measure of playability. Mine is that “unquantifiable” measure of addictiveness. For me, I am surprised at how addicted I am to the game. I suffer withdrawal. I have an insatiable desire to have a world record trophy in every species and gender, (3 down 15 to go). Hunting enthusiasts will love the game, particularly if you compare it to Deer Hunter, which in my opinion, was an appalling waste of my money and an utter wasteland of anything I could recommend about it. What DH2003 lacks (everything), TH2003 shines. You have $20.00 to spend on a hunting game? This is it. I only hope that Infogrames continues to improve the product.
Something you didn’t expect to see in a review? Well there are a number of people constantly producing a number of add-on maps. The game ships with 6 default maps to choose from. All play very well and are for the most part disparate from each other in the way you need to play them. Make sure you take the time to find some of these maps and add them to your game. You’ll be surprised at the quality maps being produced to support the game.
Scalable playing platform that easily adjusts to system performance.
Great graphics and modeling. Superior to all other hunting games I have played
There has to be some, right?
Sound could be enhanced with a greater selection in the ambient sounds and in particular the foot steps.
Limited statistics available on what game you’ve taken. It would be nice to have a text file log that could be referenced to support the growing number of clubs to provide detail like shooting statistics across the entire history.
Additions I would like to see
Customizable firearms would be a great addition to the game. Being able to shoot with a Browning .300 WinMag or a Sako .270 would be a fun complement.
Skins for the hunter would also bring another element to bring the player into the game.
Automatic animal regeneration would also be a great element to enhance the long-term game. Often times in a multi-player game, it’s a race to get something before someone else does, rather than being selective on what shot to take to fill the tag. The main reason I run Best trophy hunts rather than most points.
I would like to be able to pick up the “ambient” critters we all fire on. Squirrels or beaver for example. They’re there, they are accounted for on the “Super GPS”, why not let them become another type of game?
Server switches that can be run from the command line, or at least a config file so that you don’t have to go through all the menus every single time you want to fire up your game server. Need a reference?? Look at the Valve games.
Finally, the ability change habits of the creatures would be an excellent adaptive element. For instance, create a “man killer” bear, or maybe the elk here stay up in the hills during the day and come down in the evening. Less aggressive wolves, or even more aggressive wolves, who know? But the server or player could change the environment and be adaptable as the animals have to be.
It’s a great game, worthy of my dollar. I’ve played more than 300 hunts and reached the ultimate rank of Master Hunter. I’ve started some new characters and played online for countless hours. I’ll likely continue to play as I have been doing; every spare minute I have.
Get the game. Play the game. You won’t be sorry you did.
In staying with my usual scoring system the game gets an overall rating of Smokin’
--Written by Dale Mottram