My theory that certain nationalities are historically, temperamentally, or technically suited to producing certain types of simulation holds up well enough in the tank and aircraft arenas (all the best WW2 armour games do come from Germany and the Ukraine, the finest jet recreations from USA, UK and Russia). In other areas, however, it starts to look shaky. For instance, if you want to visit the birthplace of the greatest Stalking-And-Slaying-Ungulates sim ever made, it's not Scotland or North America you must make for, it's Brazil.
Deer Hunter 2005 hails from Rio Grande do Sul, a region better known for its gauchos and wine than its backwoodsmen and Bambis. Southlogic ended-up working in the genre primarily because its Aspen 3D engine was so bally good at rendering forests. That flair for foliage is still impressive today. Riding or walking through one of DH2005's wooded spaces remains one of the most outdoorsy outdoors experiences available on PC.
At the end of a fraught house or office-bound day, nothing beats an hour or two amongst Oregon's lofty Douglas Firs or Illinois' quivering maples. There's something about the rhythmic clip-clop of the horse, the whisper of the wind through grass and trees, and the chiming birdsong melodies, that banishes anxiety and balms the soul.
The effect could be soporific if it wasn't for the fact that you were constantly scouring your surroundings for signs of movement. A glimpse of furry flank or velvety antler through the branches and, suddenly, watchful reverie morphs into something quite different. In a flash you are statue-still, binos or spotting scope trained on the possible prey.
If it's something big or rare, an old stag with more prongs than a Menorah, then your heart accelerates accordingly. Should you be hunting the way DH2005 veterans hunt (without scoped firearms) then things just got even more exciting. Any clown can down a buck at 200 yards with a thermal sight-equipped Winchester rifle, but it takes real skill, patience and nerve to kill from 30m with a bow or antique muzzleloader.
Like a U-boat captain with a sound contact freshly pencilled onto his plotting table, you plan your intercept. Depending on wind direction, weapon, terrain and quarry behaviour, this could be circuitous or direct, a bold crouching scamper or a slow stop-start slither. There are moments during the approach when you lose sight of the prize and start to flap, moments when its twitching ears and wary glance swivel in your direction and you lie still, hardly daring to breathe. Am I close enough yet? Another few metres would give me a better angle, but the wind seems to be shifting.
In a fluid motion practiced countless times on the target range, you eventually rise, notch an arrow, and let fly. Fate clears her throat, then speaks... equivocally. The arrow has found flesh, but thanks to a slight range misjudgement, it's not the soft yielding flesh of vitals, it's the hard muscle of haunch. In the time it takes you to hiss a four-letter profanity, the wounded beast is away into the underbrush.
All is panic now and self-reproach. I should have got closer. I should have aimed a fraction lower. At least you watched the fleeing animal (and what an animal it was!) until it disappeared from view. There's still a chance to right this wrong, wipe this hunting crime from your conscience. At a canter you make for the crooked tree to the NNE and begin to scan the ground beneath it like a man that has dropped a priceless jewel. Eventually that jewel is found. An accusing Rorschach blot of ruby-red blood upon the rust-coloured pine needles. Close-by a hoof-print points the way toward absolution. Time to move.
The badged earth guides you through thorny thickets and across gravelly gullies, until, beside a slow-moving brook, the trail goes cold. No amount of desperate zigzagging and retracing of steps reveals further signposts. You are left to wander speculatively, anxiety and annoyance rising in you like a startled lark. A stag, the like of which you haven't seen in weeks, has eluded you. No, actually it's worse than that. A stag, the like of which you haven't seen in weeks, has been left grievously wounded by your carelessness. Guilt swells in...
Wait a second. Wait. One. Second.
As you splash across the stream for the third time, something in the middle-distance snags your gaze. A naked branch protruding from a patch of waving grass. It couldn't be, could it? By the time you reach the spot, you are breathless and the spark of hope has kindled into a camp-fire of satisfaction. There, lying motionless in a hollow you're convinced you'd already checked, is the strangely beautiful carcass you seek.
Contemplating the perfect pelt, the majestic rack, and the wayward arrow still lodged where it struck, something not dissimilar to sadness alights on your shoulder. You quickly shoo the emotion away by jabbing the 'bag kill' button, and basking in the glory of the points tally that briefly flashes onto the screen. This hunt is over. You'll go to bed beatific tonight.
At their worst (Cabela's Trophy Bucks), hunting games deserve all the lazy, snobbish jibes they routinely attract. At their best (DH2005), they can rival the likes of Hidden & Dangerous, Hitman, perhaps even the Thief series, for atmosphere and stealthy thrills. The oft-repeated criticism that because deer can't fight back, diversions like this are somehow unfair or unworthy, misses the point by a country mile. It's like saying F1 2010 isn't worth your time because Stowe Corner or La Rascasse can't win races.
Let's field another fallacy too. Just as it's possible to play Red Orchestra as an SS man, or Left 4 Dead 2 as a shambling abomination, without signing away your humanity, it's possible to play DH2005 without transforming yourself into a blood-lusty redneck. I am the sort of person that shepherds wasps out of windows and helps hedgehogs out of cattle grids, yet I can slay virtual deer without a qualm. (Except of course when they're fawns or nursing does. Only a MONSTER kills mummy and baby deer.)
DH2005 does actually come close to offering a play variant for the squeamish and the troubled gamer. All of the half-dozen locations can be hunted in three different seasons, but there's also a scouting mode in which you hike the hills and tracks armed only with optical aids and various hides and feeders. The idea of this mode is to reconnoitre, finding the paths the deer use, and places where they gather, then prepping these locations with tempting food sources and screened shooting positions (hides can be placed during hunts, but are less effective). Apply a dash of imagination and these preliminary rambles become Afrika-style photo safaris: spot, sneak up on, and screenshot the wildlife without spooking it.
Another facet of the game my earlier hunter's tale doesn't touch-on, is luring. Each of the six species respond rather plausibly to having a sweaty hominid upwind of them, but in other circumstances their hyper-sensitive senses can be used against them. Pack your nine-slot rucksack with a few electronic or blown calling devices, scent sprayers, and deer snacks, and you can attempt to tempt prey closer.
The success of each technique depends a lot on the season and your skill level (abilities like stealth and calling are determined during character creation then slowly improve as you gain experience). When they work though, the success warms the same dark part of the soul as Thief's noisemaker arrows or Commandos' cigarette packets.
Remarkably, all this deviousness, drama and atmosphere originally came with a modest $20 price tag, and marked the end (until a disappointing revival in 2008) of the Deer Hunter brand. It would be five years before DH2005 had a truly worthy rival and even then that rival, the improbably handsome The Hunter, came with its own disadvantages like perpetual summer and a potentially dear MMO-style subscription model.
Any gamer with a taste for stealth, fresh air, and wild spaces, still has every reason to seek out hunting simulation's IL-2, its Falcon 4.0. And sadly, you will need to actively seek it out. None of the big digital delivery sites deign to stock this misunderstood Monarch of the Glen.