“Forgotten Classics” is a celebration of obscure PC games that weren’t released to widespread fanfare – or simply fell of the radar of gamers at the time of their release – and deserve a second look. In this instalment: Wolf, a unique 1994 simulation game by Sanctuary Woods that placed gamers in the role of canis lupus seeking to survive in a sometimes hostile environment.
Perhaps a game about learning how to be a wolf, the dangers they face, and what challenges they overcome does not sound like it would be fun, but it was. Wolf was a unique simulation, and a completely different subject matter than what gamers had ever seen before. The 40-some scenarios were fascinating, and included diverse goals: hunting down caribou to avoid starvation, challenging the alpha male pack leader for control of the pack, and even just surviving a single day in their stark environment. For the comprehensive wolf experience a player could choose to play the campaign mode, which ran them through the full gambit of the wolf life cycle.
The game mechanics really sold the “be-a-wolf” concept. Sound effects of birds and other noises of nature provided ambience, while the graphics were crisp and the scenic vistas marvellous to look at. As your wolf travelled it became either hungry or thirsty, and needed to be satiated. The game simulated a wolf’s incredible sense of smell by showing various scents that your wolf discovered, some close, some far, and all trackable. Humans were a severe danger and were to be avoided at all costs, and could be detected by both sound and scent. You could even howl!
Fortunately, the game designers didn’t just read a Jack London book and whip up a game based on it. Wolf Haven, a wolf reserve near Olympia, Washington, was tapped to provide the expert knowledge on what challenges wolves face and what behaviors they exhibit. Wolf Haven is a nonprofit organization devoted to the study and conservation of wolves, and has around 80 acres of land used for the purpose. They have been in existence since 1982, and continue to provide sanctuary for wolves today…and they even offer group tours! (The game designers even based five of the wolves portrayed in the game on actual wolves that lived within Wolf Haven.) With this level of expertise behind them, it’s not surprising that Sanctuary Woods was able to offer a world-class simulation that both educated and entertained.
Critics agreed on the quality gameplay of Wolf, winning the “Best Game of the Show” Award from Electronic Games at its debut at the Winter, 1994 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), as well as earning praise from such heavy-hitters as PC Gamer Magazine, receiving a score of 88% and a PC Gamer Editor’s Choice award. It performed well enough to merit a sequel, Lion, which followed the life of the King of Beasts on the Savannah. All in all, Wolf was a great game, and well worth locating a copy and playing, even today!