Coming from developers Fun Labs, Open Country is billed as an outdoor survival game. When looking at the trailer, I got a Minecraft meets the theHunter: Call of the Wild kind of vibe from it, and as I like both of those games, the premise did have a certain amount of draw. The question is, can these two different games be married successfully, and what will the children look like? Pull on your hiking boots, we’re going in.
You play as a person sick of the city rat race and dreaming of an escape to the country. Not to buy a nice house, however, as the TV show would have us believe, but to live out of the back of an RV, or caravan as we would call it. You escape to the wilderness, and when you stop at a lonely bar in the middle of nowhere, you meet Gary. Gary runs the bar, which appears to be suffering from an acute lack of anything resembling a customer base, and as luck would have it, he also has a job that needs doing. Yet there is no one to do it for him. Can you see where this is heading? Yes, Gary asks us to go and find his friend the Ranger, who needs something or other, and so we hop in the RV, park it in a suitable spot, and then set off into the woods to meet a strange man. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, from the outset, quite a lot. The camera appears to be operated by a drunken man, as any attempt to pan around, or even walk to the exit of Gary’s bar, sees the point of view lurching wildly around as you attempt to have a view of anything useful. This is the only game, in my entire history of playing and reviewing games, where I’ve had to go into the settings and reduce the camera (and aiming) sensitivity. And then when you are out in the open country, trying to hit anything other than the sky with a rifle on default settings is a massive no-no, and that is despite some of the most amazing aim assist I’ve ever seen. If you see something move, pressing aim when pointing in even vaguely the right direction will see the sights snap to the target, and a simple trigger press is all that’s needed to complete most hunting missions. Even the adorably cute rabbits can’t escape a bullet to the face with this system.
So, Gary gives you missions, with each seemingly broken up into several parts. Usually, these involve going somewhere, a particular location, and then either killing small critters and skinning them, or gathering materials and building a camp. Now, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of building a camp whenever you set foot in a new area, as these are the only locations where you can save. You can’t save at Gary’s gaff or in your caravan (although you can go to sleep in it), so camp should always be priority number one.
To build a camp, you need to gather wood, but this is not like it is in something like Minecraft – if you go and punch a tree in Open Country nothing will happen. Also, although you will have a hatchet in your pocket, again hitting trees with this doesn’t do any good at all. No, if you want wood, the only way to get it is right out of the realism handbook – look for the yellow outline in the undergrowth. Branches, logs, mushrooms, stones, animals that you have shot, they all glow yellow, just like in real life. Once you have found the wood and built your shelter, you can also then build a campfire, and then cook food to keep the hunger meter up. The same goes for water: if you drink the contents of your water flask, refilling it from a river makes it tasty and nutritious, while filling in a pond requires that the water be boiled first.
The crafting in Open Country owes more than a nod to Minecraft, and luckily you already know how to make a lot of things. Each item has a list of components that you need to find to make it, and then it is as simple as selecting the item in the menu, pressing A and then placing your completed masterpiece on the landscape. Or should I say, ‘in’ the landscape due to some remarkably interesting clipping issues, where if you try to place an item on the map on rising ground, the majority of the shelter, say, will be in the landscape. It still works, mind. But please imagine me rolling my eyes here.
Graphically Open Country is okay, with reasonable draw distance and only a little bit of pop-in as you get closer to trees and the like. The wind blowing through the grass of a meadow is quite a nice effect, and the water effects are also pretty good. Sound is minimal mind, with only the wind and that of your footsteps being heard the majority of the time. Obviously this is punctuated with the sound of gunfire as you wage single handed war on anything small and furry that dares to cross your path.
In conclusion, Open Country is an okay game to actually play. It doesn’t look amazing, the camera controls are bonkers and the gunplay isn’t going to give theHunter any sleepless nights, but if you just ignore Gary and his stupid fetch quests, the actual game, the exploring and wandering about, is pretty relaxing. Taking a stroll through a forest and building a shelter – with the added bonus that zombies don’t come out at night – make this a relaxing affair despite its structure, rather than because of it.