Look out! It's coming right for us!
Ripping up the PC charts for months, Deer Hunter by Wizard Works has become the most popular hunting game of all time. You're probably saying to yourself: "Was there ever any competition?" Well, not really. Originally designed as a Wal-Mart exclusive, Deer Hunter rapidly caught the eye of sport hunters and soon after, the entire gaming industry. It took the mighty StarCraft from Blizzard to knock this behemoth out of the number one spot. At one time, Deer Hunter and Deer Hunter: Extended Season held the top two spots. Not bad for a game whose production cost a fraction of the overhead of most popular games today.
Let's get things straight. Deer Hunter is not a "game." It's a hunting simulation. It simulates hunting. This is important, because real hunting is nothing like mowing down monsters in Quake. If you don't get this straight, then the rest of this review won't mean anything. Got it? Okay.
Journal of a virgin hunter:
I've never been hunting. I've been fishing, but that's the only time I've ever set out to kill food. On my first trek into the virtual wilderness of Deer Hunter, I didn't know what to expect. I opted to hunt with a rifle, because the shotgun and compound bow looked a bit advanced for a beginner/city slicker. So there I was, in the middle of the Colorado Alpine Meadows with a gun and without a clue. I moved around the map, searching for signs of deer: droppings, rubbings on a tree, tracks, or a bedding area. After about half an hour of droppings but no deer, I was getting a bit restless. So this is hunting. At least it's kind of peaceful standing around listening to nature.
Now I started to get bloodthirsty. I had to kill something besides tree stumps that looked like deer. I started to use my mating call and antler rattles in a feeble attempt to sound like a horny buck. Soon enough, I spied my first victim. It was the highlight of my day. I immediately drew my high-powered, assassin rifle and aimed for the "kill zone" of the deer. My aim was a bit shaky, but I soon had him/her right in the crosshairs. Blam! I've never seen a deer run so fast! I had missed completely. I tried pursuit to no avail. Oh well, back to square one. Later on I actually scored my first kill and it felt great. Now I have a deer's head hanging on my virtual trophy wall. The outcome is kind of sad, but overall it was quite a thrilling experience.
So that's what the Deer Hunter experience is like. Quite similar to real hunting, I assume. No wonder this game is so popular with the hunting folk.
Graphically, Deer Hunter does mother nature justice. The 360 degree head-cam portrays the winter scenes, forests, and meadows well. There aren't any breathtaking views, but no one buys this game to go sight-seeing. There is an overhead, square map that you actually move around on. Once you find a suitable spot, you can click on 'hunt' and the perspective changes to that of the hunter. This view only rotates 360 degrees. The animals look alright; no fancy 3D effects, but they look like deer.
Soundwise, Deer Hunter also captures the feel of hunting well. As you stand around waiting for deer, you hear the howling of the wind or the chirping of birds and gurgling of rivers. It's like one of those new-age, "sounds of nature" tapes. Quite relaxing. You also hear your buck call and antler rattle, which I guess sound real. Finally, the hunter gives you great, constructive advice while standing around. Things like "Nice shot. That's a good way to scare off all the bucks.", or "I'm getting cold."
The options in Deer Hunter are pretty much what you'd expect. There are the three aforementioned weapons and three optional hunting aids: a tree stand, cover scent, and deer attractant. Just picture yourself standing in the middle of the forest dressed as a tree with a bottle of deer cologne. While hunting you also have a compass, binoculars, buck call, and antler rattle. No heat seeking missiles or motion trackers.
Probably one of the most attractive points of Deer Hunter is the ease of the interface. Everything is mouse driven and the help menu gives you enough strategy to be a successful hunter. Computer users of all levels will be able to step right into the game without much hassle. Hunting was never this easy.
I had few (if any) problems with Deer Hunter. I did have a few wishes though. Instead of rotating the head-cam, I would rather have been able to walk around in the environment. This would make the simulation all the more real. It would also be more interesting and realistic to have other animals in the maps instead of only deer. Finally, after scoring a few kills, the thrill of it all kind of died. Killing a couple of deer was alright, but I won't be burning the midnight oil trying to bag the mythical Yeti-buck of the Andes. I'm sure hunting fans will get much more replay out of the game.
Deer Hunter: Extended season just adds a few options to optimize Deer Hunter. You get an extra weapon: the black powder muzzleloader (circa Revolutionary War). There are also three new areas to hunt, which means more bucks for the buck (bad, bad, bad pun). Finally, there is a new map editor so you can make up your own wilderness. Overall, it doesn't do a whole lot for the game, so this is definitely optional.
For the low price of $20, Deer Hunter is a must buy for hunting fans. I don't hunt but I still found Deer Hunter to be a satisfying experience. It's an excellent hunting simulation and shows that you don't need big bucks to make a best seller (Clint, don't make us hunt you down... - Ed.). Other gamers should re-read my warning above that Deer Hunter isn't a Bambi bloodbath or killfest. As for Deer Hunter: Extended Season; if you didn't get enough of Deer Hunter, then go and get it. Otherwise, it doesn't offer much to gameplay and you can save the money for Rocky Mountain Trophy Hunter...