Atari NYC Media Day: PETA doesn’t want a Deer Hunter Tournament hands-on, we do

The next game I saw yesterday was Deer Hunter Tournament on PC. When it comes to hunting games, Deer Hunter has always been the premier name in the genre, but the franchise has been dormant for a while — the last entry in the series was 2004’s Deer Hunter 2005. This time around, Atari and developer Southlogic Studios are bringing the series to the Xbox 360 as well as the PC (check out Hamza’s impressions of an eyes-on demo of the 360 version here).

I got my hands on the PC version of Deer Hunter Tournament, and as a highly accurate simulation of real-life hunting, it’s shaping up quite nicely. Follow me to the jump to find out how to take down a 500-pound grizzly bear.

Deer Hunter Tournament ships with ten varied levels ranging from dry desert climes, like Sedona, Arizona, to the coniferous boreal forests of Alaska, as well as a few international locales. You can change things like time of day and weather, as well as the rate at which time passes. There’s a solid variety of weapons, including typical hunting rifles (with attachable scopes) and some more oddball stuff (there’s a muzzle-loaded rifle and a longbow). Only two weapons can be held at a time. You can also select from many types of ammunition (7 mm, .375 caliber, etc.). As for accessories, trust me: the thermal goggles are very useful.

DHT image 1

Transportation takes the form of a horse or an ATV, and though the latter one seems like the obvious choice, its roaring engine has a much greater propensity for scaring prey away. Speaking of which, the animal AI is fantastically advanced in DHT. Of course, they have superbly attuned senses of sight, hearing, and smell, but aside from detecting you as a hunter, they also behave like real-world animals — you’ll see them doing “animal things” like scratching themselves for fleas and traveling in families. The species in the game are quite diverse; you’ll see game like mule deer, elk, buffalo, caribou, cougar, and grizzly bear.

Since the animal AI is so realistic, it also makes sense that the hunter sometimes becomes the hunted. In other words, if you get too close to more aggressive beasts, such as bears and mountain lions, they’ll attack you, and they can certainly be deadly. The game’s HUD has a compass in the top right corner that shows which direction the wind is coming from; the idea is to stay downwind of your prey so they don’t catch on to your scent.

You’ve got a lot of tools and tactics at your disposal to catch your prey. DHT has nine in-depth tutorials where you can learn all about advanced tracking techniques, such as following blood spatter once you’ve wounded an animal. But much of your time will be spent traveling through, and orienting yourself in, the environment. Each of the levels is massive, and it’s not like your kills will be glowing, waiting for you to pick them up. So once your prey goes down, you’re going to have to seek out the corpse. Of course, if you didn’t have a “kill shot” (where the camera follows the bullet, Stranglehold-style, into your target), but tagged an animal, you can, again, follow its blood trail.

DHT image 2

When I got my hands on the controls, I decided to try hunting in Alaska. The area had lush green hills, and a river split them. After locating a bear with thermal goggles, I made my way over to a group of trees near the clearing where he was sitting. I fired twice, and it appeared as if I hit him, but I wasn’t sure. I equipped the thermal goggles again, and found a noticeable dark mass (it wasn’t emitting a heat signal anymore). I had done it! The quarter-ton beast was mine. When you take down an animal, the game records the appropriate statistics (weight, distance at which you fired, etc.) for its online leaderboards.

My main qualm with the game — and really, it’s my only one — is the graphics. A game like this, where there’s very little happening on-screen most of the time, really should look significantly better. Vegetation is very two-dimensional, and there isn’t a great deal of detail in the environments. Regardless, Deer Hunter Tournament aims to provide a faithful representation of hunting, and in that respect, it excels. It’s set for release on October 14th; hit up its Web site for more details.

Samit Sarkar