Saturday, June 09, 2007

Ultimate Duck Hunting Review

Ultimate Duck Hunting, developed and published by Mid Carolina Media.
The Good: Accurate, competitive online play is fun, different armaments beget strategy adjustments, career mode where you train your dog
The Not So Good: Lack of variety in general execution, outdated graphics
What say you? An exact representation of waterfowl hunting that’s commonly entertaining: 6/8

There are a number of sports that used to be universally socially acceptable, but now are frowned upon by the general public: boxing, dog fighting, and hunting. Waterfowl hunting has gotten progressively downsized by the hippie environmentalists and their obsessive tree hugging. There are places you are still allowed to aim a shotgun to the sky and kill living things, and Ultimate Duck Hunting simulates all of the heart-pounding action of sitting in a swamp waiting for birds to pass by. This way, you don’t have to get wet, own a dog, or kill real birds: it’s win-win!

While Ultimate Duck Hunting might have good graphics for a budget hunting simulation, the game looks quite outdated when compared with contemporary first person shooters. Obviously, some leeway has to be given because Ultimate Duck Hunting is developed by a small company and graphics are obviously not the focus of the game, but the title could still look a lot better. The game’s graphics are comparable with Operation Flashpoint, and that game was released six years ago. The environments look best at a distance: the background images are quite well done and approach the quality of Theatre of War. Up close is where Ultimate Duck Hunting lags behind the competition. The character models are blocky, the trees look bad, the environments are generally bland (although the game does take place in swampland), and your dog lacks the animations required for fluid movement. There are a few moments of “cool” in the game, such as watching feathers fly off of shot ducks, but these are few and far between in a game that generally offers poor graphics. Most people will be able to forgive this, as they won’t be terribly concerned about the graphical quality of the game, and I am coming at this from a PC gamer perspective instead of a hunter’s perspective, so I have higher expectations than a lot of the people who’ll play this game. The sound design is exactly what you’d expect for a duck hunting game: accurate duck calls, birds flying overhead, and general peacefulness interrupted by the sound of accelerated buckshot. For an independent title, Ultimate Duck Hunting looks and sounds OK and most people who don’t frequent computer games won’t find the game too awful to look at.

Ultimate Duck Hunting features waterfowl hunting in six real world locations scattered across the United States. All of these locations are swampy (these are the locations that attract ducks) so there isn’t too much variety in the scenery. You can play a quick game, where you simply choose a location and are given a dog, or you can undergo the career mode. You’ll alternate between training a dog in a mini-game that gets monotonous after a while (thankfully it’s short) and going hunting. Hunting successfully will give you points to train your dog even further and improve his speed, stamina, sense, and behavior. Before going out in the swamp, you’ll need to choose the number of decoys you’ll bring, your gun type (short, medium, and long range shotguns), and camouflage for different environments. Out in the bog, you’ll use short, medium, and long range calls for ducks and then shoot them. There doesn’t seem to be any need to lead your target since the shotgun pellets spread out, but hitting a moving object at a distance can be difficult. There are also blue bonus ducks and red penalty ducks among the flocks, although sometimes the ducks are too far away to see their highlight. You’ll earn more points for shooting ducks that are further away, so equipping yourself with the long range shotgun might be a better option. You are limited to killing six ducks per game, and once you reach your limit you’ll send your dog out to find them. Downed ducks appear on a radar display, and you issue commands with the arrow keys to guide your dog to the prey. As you improve your dog’s stats through the career mode, he will get better at finding ducks and obeying your commands. Your dog can’t continuously run, as fatigue builds up and he’ll need to periodically rest to regain his strength.

The single player experience is a bit repetitive, since each hunt is similar to the last. You can mix it up by changing your weapons and strategies, but it’s still shooting ducks and there are plenty of ducks in the game to shoot and no time limit to worry about. Because of this, online play is where it’s at. Ultimate Duck Hunting has an internal server browser where you can find up to four other hunters to compete against online. You are still limited to only shooting six ducks, but you can collect other hunter’s ducks. This is where all of the training pays off: if your dog can find the ducks more quickly, then you can rack up the points and put the other hunters to shame. You can’t shoot and gather ducks at the same time (no doubt a game balancing decision), so you must choose between downing more ducks or collecting ones that are on the ground. Playing Ultimate Duck Hunting online is a fun experience and it’s easily worth the low price tag of the game.

Ultimate Duck Hunting is pretty much everything you would expect in a duck hinting simulation. Although the ballistics seem a bit simplified (hitting ducks is easier than I thought it would be), this makes for a more approachable game. Training your dog in career mode and then bringing him online has a sort of MMORPG twist to it, and online play is the highlight of this game. The single player experience just becomes too tedious after a while, since you’re essentially doing the same thing over and over, but the challenging of playing competitively against human players is very enjoyable. This is as close to an accurate hunting experience as you can expect, and most people, especially those with a non-gaming background, will be able to forgive the outdated graphics. For only $20, Ultimate Duck Hunting is a well designed game and a fun gaming experience that features robust online play and an auxiliary career mode to improve your dog’s performance. Plus, virtually killing things is less messy than actually killing things: ducks from around the world thank you.