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Retrospective: Deer Hunter

The buck stopped here.

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.

Pass the time by reciting Robert Frost. Or skewering squirrels with your bow.

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.

We have Ricardo Coimbra da Rocha to thank for the deer defecation animation.

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.