Review – Open Country
I’m going to be upfront with this review and say that I didn’t finish Open Country, hell, I don’t think I even made it half way through. Not because I didn’t want the game or I didn’t have time to finish it. This is unfortunately due to the many issues I had with the title. I played it for close to nine hours and had nonstop issues and game breaking bugs. Within those nine hours I restarted the game three times due to a save wipe and in-game bugs that stopped my progress. On top of that, there are plenty of general bugs from falling through the world to floating animals. Fun Labs did push the original date back a week to pump out more updates. Unfortunately, I don’t think an extra week is going to make that big of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
I don’t want to only crap on Open Country because I do see the possibilities of a really fun game that mixes survival, hunting, and story together. So don’t go writing off this title just yet, and maybe hear me out. Open Country‘s premise is a simple one, but something some of us can relate to. The opening cutscene starts off in the hustle and bustle of a heavy city traffic commute to get to a cubicle office job. You start reminiscing about the outdoors and the last time you really spent in the wilderness. Seizing the moment, you decide to pack everything up in an RV and head out. Where? Anywhere that’s not a city.
Coming across a small town, you decide to go into the nearby hunting lodge to meet some of the local outdoorsmen. Sharing your story with the owner, he decides you may be just the right person to help out with some of his troubles. This is where your story starts. You’ll gain quests from the lodge, help out the Ranger, as well as help other people in this area. You become close with these people, even helping the lodge upgrade and expand which offers you more hunting gear and options. Completing quests also provides you money and XP to level up perks that increase your survival and hunting prowess.
For fans of hunting or survival games this premise seems like a home run. Not many hunting simulators have a focused story nor do they offer in-depth survival elements. Unfortunately, Open Country has some great ideas, but heavily lacks on its polish and execution. Which a lot of its issues can be solved with performance and balance patches, but its current state is not great. The perk system almost eliminates the need for the survival aspects if you level up certain ones first. Fully upgrading your hunger, thirst, and resting perks makes it so you will almost never need to craft shelters to sleep and cook food. Just pick enough berries while you’re out hunting since that refills hunger and thirst and you’re good to go.
Hunting gameplay has all the main features you’d expect in a hunting game, however, some things are streamlined. Unlike Hunting Simulator you don’t need to worry about your smell or making sure you have the right gun and ammo for the animal. You won’t be fined if you shoot an animal with the wrong ammo or if you don’t have the proper license. In this way Open Country has a much more arcade feel, which I enjoyed. Hunting upgrades are fairly standard and range from increasing your accuracy to being stealthier.
Your missions take place in large map areas where you’ll have your main entrance parking area, but the rest will be explored on foot. The maps are pretty large and feature varied biomes that host all sorts of living creatures. For the most part the missions will provide a landmark in one of the maps and then you’ll explore to find your objective. This provides a nice balance of freedom to explore and survive while still offering a bit of story structure. Besides your main objective, you’ll want to do a bit of extra hunting to bring back fresh meat and pelts to sell. This will allow you to purchase new weapons and equipment items like animal calls, bed rolls, flint to start fires, and other essentials.
I’ve given the rundown of the gameplay systems and to be fair, I like all the ideas and features here. Unfortunately, where Open Country starts to fall apart is when you actually play it. Animations are extremely stilted and that is universal for the human characters and the animals. It doesn’t feel smooth to play since everything is so ridged, and you’ll easily get stuck on rocks and logs in the environment. Getting stuck in the environment also ran the risk of needing to reload a save or even falling through the map.
You do get a dog companion that will help you track animals and will even fetch fowl out of a lake for you. However, this comes with its own problems with the bad AI and environmental issues. I’ve had multiple times where my dog would not go grab the bird or it would get stuck on the way to it or even fall through the map itself and respawn.
Besides the movement, there are some really bad balancing issues that don’t make sense. Predators, no matter the size, take three shots from the rifle. Yes, a bear and a wolf both take the same amount of damage. This also applies to prey animals; an elk and a rabbit only take one shot to kill. I’ve already mentioned before how the perks needs some balancing. Maxing out certain stats early in the game makes a lot of the survival aspects pointless. For all the great ideas Open Country puts forward, it’s a shame it’s so sloppily slapped together. That’s really its biggest downfall outside of the performance problems.
Visually there isn’t much to praise here either. I’ve always been one to prioritize gameplay over visuals, but there are times where the visuals get in the way. There are small moments, while standing still, and the lighting is just right where Open Country can look good. However, as soon as you start moving and the foliage starts popping in and out, it’s an eyesore. Textures are muddy, draw distances are low, animals have no fur textures, and the humans look plastic. Even on PC there isn’t graphical options, so it’s not an issue of hardware limitations on my side.
One bigger issue I would have is while hiding in bushes or low branches is the depth of field. While aiming it would focus on the branches in front while my animal in the distance is blurry. On top of that, trying to track down and spot animals is a lot harder when pop-ins are happening a few feet away. Is that an animal moving or just a patch of grass loading in? All and all the visuals were more distracting than enjoyable.
Sound design also lacks quality and attention to detail. For instance, animals can sense sound, but it seems to just come down to how fast you walk. There isn’t a difference in sound loudness or even sound effect for some of the foliage walked on. The biggest one is walking through water. There is no sound effect for this nor even a splashing sound. The voice acting leaves a lot to be desired as well. Almost as if the voice actors are trying to match the stiffness of the animations. It’s also apparent that some of the voice actors clearly have issues doing a Southern American accent.
Various ambient sound effects of the forest and bugs are fine as well as most of the animal calls. There may be an intensity missing from a bear growling at you, but it does at least sound like a bear. The soundtrack is solid, but you only hear it at the lodge or during the first minutes of a hunt.
I was really excited for Open Country and was hoping it would bridge that gap between arcade hunting and hunting sim. In spirit, this is what it set out to do and you can see that from the game. It’s just a shame that the execution just isn’t there. There is still something special here that I think hunting and survival game fans could love. However, it needs a lot of work from bugs, crashes, and overall balancing of its gameplay systems.
Open Country is not a visually appealing game, but there are small moments with lighting where it can look decent. The draw distance is horrible with massive pop-ins, and the character models and animations are rough.
Movements and animations are stiff and there are definitely balance issues with the survival and RPG systems. There is plenty of variety in the gameplay, it’s just unfortunate that the implementation isn’t solid.
Sound design is a bit hit and miss, but the soundtrack does standout as a positive. The voice acting is not great featuring some really stiff delivery and not so great Southern American accents.
There is promise in this semi-open world, story focused, survival, hunting game. Unfortunately, I ran into so many glitches, game ruining bugs, and save wipes that even if I wanted to have fun, Open Country wasn’t going to let me.
Final Verdict: 3.0
Open Country is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, and 16gb DDR4 RAM.
A copy of Open Country was provided by the publisher.