When it comes to video games, I'm pretty open to what I'll play. It doesn't matter whether it's an FPS or a simulation racing game, I'll give it a go, and probably enjoy it to some degree. But, Open Country by FUN Labs is an exception. After spending a few hours unpacking some of what this hunting simulator has to offer, I've doused the flames of my campfire and decided the big city isn't actually all that bad.
The core design is pretty simple. You play as a person who has travelled into the great wilderness of North America to show the world who is boss. Using your skills as an outdoorsman, you'll have to hunt, craft, and make a name for yourself in a diverse outdoor world filled with various wildlife.
In regard to the diverse outdoor world and the various wildlife, Open Country does deliver. This game is really quite beautiful, and the developer has done a great job at making the lush lands catch the eye. And, as for the animals that you'll encounter, they are believable and slot well into its world.
But, with Open Country being a hunting simulator for the most part, admiring animals isn't really the main goal. It's about hunting them for food and other resources, so that you can survive in the harsh outdoors and really prove your physical fortitude. Doing this means having the ability to track animals, and likewise having the gear to slay them, and the shooting system that you are provided (which is in third-person) allows you to do this pretty well, and in a relatively realistic fashion.
The problems start to arise when we look at the survival aspect of the game, which is equally as important as the hunting part. Essentially, in Open Country, you have to ensure your character eats, drinks, gets sleep, all the usual survival mechanics, but they are so oppressive and designed in a way that you can't sprint an even plausible distance before being out of stamina, and have to take a sip of water every five minutes or so of real-time. It's like this because the game time moves several times faster than real-time, and days move along quickly, so in the grand scheme of things, the survival mechanics make sense, but in-game they are hard to see as anything less than annoying.
I understand why this is a major part of the game, but its intrusive nature makes this title incredibly hard to enjoy. And unfortunately, the problems don't cease there. Open Country's quest design is about as drab as it gets, unless you're a firm believer in dull fetch quests. From what I've played for this preview, which is the first few hours, I've had to mainly complete activities for a man that runs a local bar, activities that ask me to head into the wilderness and hunt a number of animals.
You might be thinking, isn't that the point of the game? Well yes, but usually in these you fast travel to an RV in the middle of nowhere, walk for two minutes to where the animal is, kill it, pick it up, walk back to the RV, and fast travel back to the bar to turn the quest in. There was even a quest that asked me to go to a local ranch to grab an ATV (a quad bike) to pick up some gear. It made it seem like I was going on a grand adventure, when in fact I had to travel around 100m from where the ATV was found to press a button to load the gear onto the quad (via a black loading screen) and drive back - and the worst part was that the quad's controls felt like I was using an Atari CX40 joystick to drive the thing, it was truly abominable.
There is also a crafting system to dive into that allows you to for example, create a shelter in the wilderness to sleep in, or to create some rudimentary gear, such as a wooden bow or a stone knife. The crafting system is a pretty cool feature that will require you to scour the local area for resources, but considering the majority of this game revolves around hunting creatures, it is more a means to an end attached to the survival mechanics.
One of the most polarising areas for Open Country is between its voice acting/narrative and soundtrack. The soundtrack is genuinely great. It's upbeat and brings a lot of charisma to the title, but it's voice acting on the other hand is the opposite. The accents don't feel believable and the narrative the characters look to convey is far from engaging.
If there's one thing the time I've spent with Open Country has led me to appreciate, it's how much potential there is in survival hunting simulation games. Open Country does do well in offering up pretty and gorgeous environments, and there are few different areas I personally am a fan of, such as the soundtrack, but from what I've seen so far, it's let down by too many other issues for me to remain excited for its official launch in a few weeks, unfortunately.