E3 08: Wolf Quest

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Feel free to put your own “how many wolves must die” joke here, but Wolf Quest, part of the Serious Games Initiative, is as straightfaced in intent as that banner ad we all love to mock.

Designed to teach the player about the hunting and mating habits of wolves while promoting wildlife conservation and wolf protection, Wolf Quest is not only free, but currently available for download at the official Wolf Quest website.

I only played it for a few minutes, but hit the jump for my impressions of the only game I played at E3 which was both free and already available. Thus making my impressions sort of moot.

Whatever.  Just hit the jump.

Firstly, I think the idea behind the game is cool. I didn’t think I’d be even remotely interested in the real-life hunting habits of wolves (never having watched Balto as a child, I tend to look at wolves more as deadly predators and less as amiable cuddle-buddies), but playing the game and talking with one of the producers left me impressed.

I played a section of the game where you, the wolf, have to track and bring down a deer. WASD or the mouse controlled the wolf’s movements, and the spacebar initiated a bite once the wolf was close enough. What I assumed would be a pretty standard “oh look a deer run run run chase bite nom nom nom” bit of action-oriented gameplay quickly revealed itself to be long-term war of attrition against a single deer who quickly earned my hatred.

Fuck Bambi.

Basically, the player uses his “scent” skill to find deer tracks. Following them eventually leads to a deer pack, at which point the player can target any individual member and check their health (though health bars presumably don’t exist in the wild, the mechanic is meant to replicate a wolf’s ability to detect injuries and tiredness in its prey).  After finding the weakest member of the pack, I took chase: Q changed my movement speed, and after getting close enough to the deer’s rear, I was able to bite him.

I thought that’d be the end of it, but after a few seconds of sustained biting on the deer’s rump, it kicked me off and sped away again, albeit at a significantly slower pace. Just chasing the deer had lowered my stamina, and being kicked by the deer lowered my health (which can only be replenished by gnawing on a deer carcass – an unexpected Catch-22). I had to wait a few seconds for my stamina to regenerate before giving chase again, at which point the process repeated: run run bite bite kick ow pant pant run.

“Does it really take a wolf this long to bring down a deer, in real life?,” I asked.

“No,” the producer said. “In reality, it actually takes hours of this if you’re a wolf hunting alone. We had to condense the whole process for the sake of the game.”

This was certainly a far cry from the simple, instant, blood-splattered horror I envisioned most wolf  hunting rituals entailed. The battle with the deer didn’t just exist to showcase the reality of a wolf’s everyday life, but to instill a sort of respect within the player for just how goddamn hard it is for a wolf to eat and survive every day.

Finally, after two more bites, I had the deer on the ropes. Once he’s down to something like 5% of his full health bar, the deer stops running, faces the wolf at all times, and defends every lunge and bite by kicking forward with its (powerful) front legs.

“See, this is where it’d be really useful to have a mate,” the producer said. “That’s the goal of this episode, to find another mate. It makes hunting much easier: she could distract the wolf from the front while you circle around and attack her from the rear.”

Since I had no wolf girlfriends to speak of, I decided to man up and attempt to kill the deer myself. I ducked and weaved, always trying to circle around to the deer’s vulnerable back. I was incredibly low on health myself, so my next movements would be crucial. I circled to her back and got a good hold with my teeth, but she shook me lose and, at the same time I tried to bite her a second time, she kicked me in the face.

Simultaneously, we both fell over dead.

It was pretty awesome.

I didn’t get to see the rest of the episode, but I was told that the plan was for the rest of the planned trilogy to be free as well. The second episode would be about raising the pups you have with your mate from the first episode, and the final chapter would involve hunting alongside your relatively mature pups.

Though it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Wolf Quest was informative and reasonably entertaining – and the price was definitely right.

Anthony Burch