Retrospective: Deer Hunter • Page 2

The buck stopped here.

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.

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To have any chance of encountering 'rares' and really big stags, you must hunt on the highest difficulty setting.

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.

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Southlogic abandoned the planned taxidermy mini-game.

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.

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