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Bird Hunter: Wild Wings Edition

Score: 65%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: WizardWorks / Infogrames
Developer: Sunstorm Interactive
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Sports (Hunting)/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics are improved over the previous editions of Bird Hunter with which I am familiar, but Wild Wings still leaves quite a bit to be desired. Objects tend to be a little blocky even at the highest resolution, and the shorelines and contour lines of the land are still comprised of mostly straight lines with sharp corners as in previous versions of Wizard Works’ hunting games. The trees are still two-dimensional and, although they look nice at a distance, appear paper thin when viewed close up by looking up at a sharp angle. The biggest letdown, however, is with the movement of the birds themselves. They fly fairly realistically at first, but become extremely jerky when landing and turn too sharply in the air. In fact, they sometimes appear to land in mid-air, take a few steps, and then take off again. I thought this was my imagination until I saw it happen through binoculars. A duck actually folded its wings, planted its feet, and walked around some 30 or 40 feet up in the air.

On a more positive note, it is now possible to identify ducks visually when they get close. In Waterfowl Edition, all ducks were solid black with light bills. Also, the dogs look much better and move more realistically than in previous versions of Bird Hunter. Still, the quality of the graphics falls short of the quality I’ve seen in other genres of gaming. I suspect that the first manufacturer to employ really high-end graphics in an outdoors game may tap a virtually untouched market.

The sound, on the other hand, is very well done. In addition to being visually distinguishable, the birds make the appropriate calls for their species (as far as I can tell with my somewhat limited knowledge of game bird species). Mallards sound like mallards, teal sound like teal, and quail sound like quail. The sound is also highly directional. I was able to almost intuitively find birds that I heard first by looking in the direction of the sound. It is even possible to determine their range to an extent. This is not a new feature by Wizard Works, but is very skillfully incorporated into Wild Wings Edition. Good job on the sound, guys.


Gameplay:

While the graphics could be better, the improvements that were made in Bird Hunter: Wild Wings Edition make a world of difference in the gameplay. A big part of real duck hunting is identifying the species and gender of the duck on wing and carefully choosing shots that conform to rather complex bag limits; all of this has been built into the game along with the ability to identify ducks. Also, in the turkey hunting portion, gobblers actually identify themselves visually by strutting as well as audibly by gobbling.

In addition to identification, the game mimics the dynamics of real hunting closely enough to make it fun. Wind direction, camouflage, decoys, appropriate shotgun shell selection, and other factors actually make a difference in the success of the hunt. On several occasions I happened upon turkeys while upland game hunting. However, I never succeeded in making a clean kill with the fine shot I had selected for the smaller birds. Yeah, I know, you think I just missed, right? Think again. I wounded the turkeys and was able to track them for some distance by blood trail and prints, just like a deer, before finally losing them. When using heavier shot designed for turkeys, I almost always made clean kills within proper gun range.

Another big part of real bird hunting is calling. Both hail and feed calls are possible while duck hunting. Turkey hunting employs an owl call in addition to multiple types of turkey calls. Real gobblers often view owls as a territorial threat. For this reason, they will often gobble when they hear owls calling. Owl calls are used by turkey hunters to find out if there are turkeys in the area. The same tactic can be used in Wild Wings Edition. Nice touch.

In fact, there are enough nice touches to make the game enjoyable despite the aforementioned drawbacks. I actually spent quite a bit more time with the duck hunting portion than necessary to make an evaluation. The skeet range is also a fun way to practice and burn a lot of shells without taking the time to set up for a hunt.


Difficulty:

All three portions of Wild Wings Edition are a little too easy. On my very first attempt at duck hunting, I was able to bag a large number of ducks. The biggest problem I had was not exceeding the various limits before learning to identify the ducks. Turkey and upland game hunting took a couple of attempts each, but were still a little too easy. Also, unlike Deer Hunter 4 by Wizard Works, there is no adjustment for difficulty level. The skeet are more difficult to hit than the birds, and I can tell you from experience that it’s the other way around in real life.

Game Mechanics:

The mouse and keyboard controls are easy to master and quickly become intuitive. Thankfully, Wizard Works has not deviated from their standard scheme. When in Look mode, the mouse can be used to turn the hunter, or whatever vehicle the hunter is driving. The left mouse button moves the hunter/vehicle forward and the right mouse button exits look mode, leaving the mouse free to select the gun, make calls, give commands to the dog, reload, etc. by clicking buttons on a menu at the bottom of the screen. The arrow keys can also be used to move the hunter/vehicle whether Look mode is engaged or disengaged.

The movements of the objects in the game are another drawback, however, because they often lack realism. In addition to the huge problem of birds landing in mid-air, for example, the dogs literally walk through blinds, trucks, etc. Debris in the water appears to pass right through the bottom of the boat while motoring over them, and land bound vehicles can navigate impossible grades with ease. Although I put less emphasis on the realism of vehicle movement than on the actual hunting experience, it would be nice if such glaring problems were fixed. I did notice that the truck slides around a great deal when on ice, however. Shooting the gun is easy enough. Just click on the gun to raise it, aim with the mouse, and left click to shoot. Objects in flight do need to be “lead” while aiming, however skeet seem to require a more precise lead than actual game birds, which is why skeet are harder to hit.

Despite some rather glaring graphical and mechanical drawbacks and the relative ease of mastering the game, Bird Hunter: Wild Wings Edition does have a lasting appeal. It’s fun to play, it’s not a highly complex hunting simulation, but does provide enough realism to appeal to the real life hunter. There is a novelty factor involved in playing a game based on something I like to do in real life. However, with improved graphics and game mechanics, Bird Hunter: Wild Wings Edition may appeal to a much larger market. I am personally still waiting on an outdoors game with exceptional graphics. Surely one is in the making.


-The Outdoorsman, GameVortex Communications
AKA Greg Brignac

Minimum System Requirements:



266MHZ processor, 110MB drive space, 32MB RAM, 4MB PCI or AGP Video Card.
Preferred System Requirements: 350MHZ processor, 445MB drive space for full install, 65MB RAM, 12MB 3D accelerated video card
 

Test System:



650mHz AMD Athlon, 64MB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce DDR video card(32MB), Windows 98 2E 650 mHz AMD Athlon, 64MB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce DDR video card(32MB), Windows 98 2E

Windows Call to Power II Windows Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated