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Review by: Emil Pagliarulo
Published: April 16, 1998
You walk into your local software retailer, fiddling with the credit card that will soon close the gap between reality and fantasy. It’s a ritual you’ve performed countless times before, but this time, something is oddly different. You completely bypass the new release wall, oblivious to the glossy shrinkwrap and seductive images of death and carnage. Still walking, you pass the 3D shooters and RTS games, leaving greats like Quake 2 and Total Annihilation in your dust. Pausing for a moment, you bend down to examine a set of fresh tracks which lead deeper into the store. No! Someone else is on the trail! Then you see it, the unique orange box that has lured so many before you…and it’s the last one on the shelf. Now motivated only by sheer instinct, you charge through the aisles, knocking customers and game boxes aside with reckless abandon. Nothing will stand between you and your prey! “Step back now!” you scream at the little old lady moving in on your kill. She gasps, drops the box, and shuffles away as fast as her walker can take her. Finally, the prize is in hand, the last of its kind, that elusive species known as…Deer Hunter. Huh? Deer Hunter? Hey, I don’t make the news, I just report it.
No, Deer Hunter is not a Russian Roulette simulator featuring full-motion video sequences of Christopher Walken or Robert DeNiro (hmmm…now there’s an idea…). It’s an “interactive hunting experience” brought to us from Wizardworks and Sunstorm Interactive, the publisher/developer team most known for their great 3D game add-ons, like Duke it out in D.C. for Duke Nukem 3D, and Cryptic Passage for Blood. Little could they know the effect their unique new title would have on the gaming community as a whole. Believe it or not, Deer Hunter has shot right to the top of the charts, outselling even Riven, Quake 2, and Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith. Walmart stores can’t even keep the game in stock, and its popularity shows no sign of waning. So, the big question is, what’s so special about this Deer Hunter?
Much of Deer Hunter’s popularity can certainly be attributed simply to the original nature of the title. For whatever reason, there has never been a realistic computer hunting simulation. That’s not to say the PC has never been home to similar, less mainstream sports. Fishing simulations have been steadily increasing in popularity, as have boating and racing games. So any myths or stereotypes about these so-called “redneck” activities have pretty much been dispelled by thousands of gamers who’ve gladly spent their hard-earned money on PC representations of them. Like it or not, Deer Hunter is a game whose time has come.
Playing Deer Hunter is pretty straightforward. The object is to track and kill deer within a variety of outdoor environments, so that their heads can be forever displayed in a virtual trophy room. Just as in real life, the bigger the buck, the better the kill, with size being measured by the number of “points” on the deers’ horns.
There are three distinct hunting areas in the game, and each offers a unique kind of experience. The autumn woodlands of Arkansas probably make for the greatest challenge, as the brown and red fall foliage makes spotting deer a challenge in itself. The snow-covered woodlands of Indiana provide the least challenge, since monster-sized bucks are commonplace, and are all too easy to spot against the largely white background. The alpine meadows of Colorado make for a good middle ground; there are plenty of bucks wandering around, but the many trees give them plenty of natural hiding places. And last but not least, there is an outdoor target range where the player can practice with each of the weapons, and get a feel for their ranges (spending time here is particularly essential when learning to use the compound bow).
Basically, that’s it. The player chooses a weapon — rifle, compound bow, or shotgun — and some extras, like a tree stand and attractant scent, and heads off in search of that elusive big buck. But don’t be misled by the game’s simplicity. Deer Hunter really is a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of gameplay to be found in this little hunting sim. I’ve spent more time recently waiting patiently in the Colorado woodlands than I ever would have expected. You may not like the subject matter, and maybe you’ll dismiss the game in favor of other biggies like Starcraft or Quake 2, but Deer Hunter accomplishes what it sets out to do: It captures the look and feel of hunting deer, and even makes it…fun.
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