Review - Wolf (DOS, 1994)

Wolves are pretty cool. I know this because I occasionally watch nature documentaries with my family and a lot of them tend to be about the habits and lifestyles of wild canines. I'm no authority on 'em, but I've absorbed plenty. Apparently, so have the folks at Sanctuary Woods, the software company responsible for that ungodly release called "Dennis Miller's THAT'S NEWS TO ME". Their newest product, Wolf, is a few steps up on the Quality Ladder for sure.

If you've seen the advertisements or even the box for this game and you still don't know what kind of game it is, you're not alone. I found myself in the same position before I popped the CD into my drive. Was it a simulation or a strategy game? An arcade game or some piece of "info-tainment" garbage? The only thing I was pretty sure of was that it wasn't a shoot-em-up, but I wasn't positive. Well, what Wolf turned out to be was a little bit of all four of those things, rolled up nicely in some places and poorly in others.

After a nice animated intro, Wolf threw its main menu at me. You can choose between three different species of wolves to control . . . plains, timber, or arctic . . . in either scenario or simulation modes. Each species offers different scenarios and obstacles. They probably could've been a tad MORE different, though . . . several scenarios were shared between species. Each scenario is assigned a level of difficulty, with easier ones having objectives like "find a carcass" or "kill a hare", and the harder ones requiring you to "survive a week" or more. The wolf that you will actually CONTROL is preset . . . he/she even has a name. With a mouse click or two, you can examine the history of your wolf, including who his/her parents are, his/her age and gender, his/her kill record, and his/her pack status. I found most of that information to be pretty useless during gameplay EXCEPT for pack status. Knowing your place in the pack is quite important . . . it determines your mating status and your place in the hunt, among other things.

Playing Wolf is a complex task. Upon starting a scenario or simulation, you're presented with a blimp-like overhead view of your wolf and any other wolves that might be around in the pack. Movement can be done with the keyboard, but I found the mouse to be just fine. The further away from your wolf you move the cursor, the faster he travels in that direction. Constant running can take its toll, though, as fatigue can set in. Therefore, it's important to eat and drink whenever the opportunity presents itself. Hunting is performed by chasing a creature until you get close enough to it to click on it with the mouse. If you succeed in doing this, your chances of bringing the creature down are dependent on its "power" level, represented by a graphical bar during the attack. By comparison, YOUR power bar is pretty puny to say, a buffalo's, but if you get a couple good wolf buddies to help you out, he'll fall like the Roman Empire. Drinking is possible only from puddles or pools during dry days, although it can done at any time when it's raining. I found this to be an odd quirk, but I'll live . . .

On a more education-oriented tilt, Wolf includes a handy wolf encyclopedia which not only contains valuable general information akin to what you'd find in the World Book, but also good gameplaying tips. I took advantage of it often. The metaphor used is very intuitive . . . a picture of a wolf and her cubs is displayed and you click the mouse on the area you'd like to know more about.

In the end, I found myself second-guessing a few decisions made by the designers of Wolf, though . . . specifically the gameplaying perspective. The ad campaign and the cover art strongly implies a first person, "see-what-a-wolf-sees" perspective that, I feel, would've been terrific. Hunting, and certain other "doggy" acts, would've certainly been more realistic. Even without a DOOMview, the graphics should've been upgraded somehow, as the detail is low and the colors are bland. Nevertheless, I can see Wolf scoring big with animal lovers and even young children, as its interface is pretty easy to learn. I just hope that when "Moose", "Eagle", and "Whale" come out, they look and feel a little better.