Deer Hunter Online isn’t quite a bullseye, but this social hunting sim still hits the mark.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say Deer Hunter Online was satire. Barely three minutes past the starting screen, I’d picked off four deer and elk with all the indifference of chain-popping M&Ms, and this wanton slaughter extended well past the tutorial. In some dark way, this accelerated realism makes for a darkly humorous experience. True hunters spend hours or even days tracking down a single deer, but I’d killed enough deer within 10 minutes to land me in jail in several states. Never before had the ludicrous lengths games go to make killing fun stood out so starkly, and yet at the same time, I couldn’t deny that I was indeed having fun.
If you’re not reading so much into it, you’ll find that Deer Hunter Online captures the experience of hunting about as well as a Facebook game can. It’s beautiful for one (especially cranked up to the highest settings), and the missions you pick up at the local lodge drop you in sprawling maps modeled after Oregon, Alaska, and other hunting favorites. But the experience is more Skyrim than Duck Hunt. Rifle in hand, your customizable hunter can amble across the environment with the WASD keys, and he can crouch, lie prone, and–for that true deer hunting experience–while away pointless minutes or hours in a deer stand.
Deer Hunter Online thus establishes itself as another testament to how far social games on Facebook have come since the arrival of the unity engine, as we’re now approaching the complexity of console games from just a few years ago. It’s all done so well that you may have just as much fun with Deer Hunter Online if you’re the type who prefers to shoot deer with an SLR rather than a 30-.06, as the deer themselves enjoy a level of beauty that outshines the woodlands they graze through.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Most of you are here for the primal pleasure of bagging a buck for venison and display, and Deer Hunter Online delivers the experience you’re looking for. More than once I marveled at how the wobbly crosshairs approximated the difficulty of holding a rifle still or how it handled the challenges and consequences of particular shots. Let’s say, for instance, I shoot an elk in the head. As in real life, the buck might go down with one shot, but the resulting bullet hole through the head devalues the carcass since there’s no way you’re mounting that unsightly thing on a lodge’s wall. Or let’s say I botch an attempted shot at the heart. I now have to follow the deer’s blood trail across the landscape, and upon finding him I’ll let loose another shot to finish him off. Deer Hunter Online thus rewards good hunting, as you’ll get the most cash from smooth, clean kills.
The core mechanics work quite well, although it’s sometimes not so clear how to finish the objectives doled out at the lodge. As early as the second mission, I was asked to clean up trash left behind by neglectful hunters, and I bagged at least 20 deer on the mission (with a point of energy deducted for each shot) before I ever found the trash. Deer Hunter Online is also occasionally pushy in its social requirements: if you want to head to Alaska, for instance, you’re going to have to ask five friends to tag along. Its most frustrating problem, though, is that sometimes when I’d move my mouse off the main screen to check my e-mail or paste a screenshot I’d taken, the prompt to use the mouse again wouldn’t activate as it should (although the keyboard shortcuts worked just fine). Getting back into the hunt would require an annoying reboot.
Get past these shortcomings, however, and there’s a lot to love here for weekend deer hunters chained to their desks or those wanting a virtual take on the real thing. Its premium currency model isn’t as demanding as those found in other games. Gear and special abilities (such as tracking) enrich the experience further, as do the wide range of guns available and their associated missions. Exploring the massive maps is a reward in itself, and the deer generally exhibit intelligent AI that discourages pumping out bullets like a refugee from Call of Duty. Deer Hunter Online is an impressive game despite its few hiccups, and with its leaderboards and trophy rooms, it provides plenty of reasons to bring your friends along on this social hunting trip.