We live in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Technology has become so intrinsic to our everyday lives that losing Wifi for a few minutes feels like the first sign of an impending apocalypse. Smartphones have made everything available whenever and wherever we want it. Put simply, it’s hard not to feel a little overwhelmed at times.
It’s completely natural to feel this, and it’s even more natural to want to rebel against it. What could be more soothing than ditching all the extraneous technology in your life and, well, getting back to nature? Think twice about that digital detox, though, before you give Deer Simulator a try (you can play it here); it just might be the salve your computer-addled conscience needs.
Before we continue, put all thoughts of Goat Simulator out of your mind. Deer Simulator is an altogether sweeter, simpler and less “hilarious” affair than the former, which also makes it a lot more relaxing (and a lot easier to spend an extended amount of time with). Let’s back up a little and take a look at exactly what Deer Simulator is.
In Deer Simulator, players will, astoundingly enough, take control of a deer. When starting up Deer Simulator for the first time, players will be invited to create and name their deer, as well as assigning it a gender. From there, a few quick tutorial messages pop up on screen informing players about the game’s basic mechanics, then it’s off to essentially do whatever you please, as long as it befits the bucolic lifestyle of a deer.
In gameplay terms, this translates to a relatively standard third-person action-adventure sandbox game in which players can traverse the open world, defeat enemies, gain experience, level up (yes, level up) and earn currency with which to customise their deer and purchase items and upgrades. Structure comes in the form of quests, which might task players with defeating hunters who are encroaching on their land, collecting objects in a certain amount of time, or playing minigames to earn coins and experience.
Whether or not this all appeals to you will depend entirely on what you’re in the market for. If you need a rigidly structured narrative experience which tells the gritty story of a deer displaced from its home and forced to fight for its life, then Deer Simulator certainly ain’t for you. There’s no storyline to speak of apart from macro-storylines contained within each quest, and those aren’t usually more complicated than “hunters are attacking us and you must defeat them”.
If, however, you’re in the market for a slightly slower-paced, more contemplative action-adventure open-world romp, then Deer Simulator has plenty to offer and you’ll almost certainly fall in love with most of it. The game’s visuals are a little patchy, but mostly impressive. Deer, animals and other sentient beings are rendered in a very endearing cel shading-style blocky aesthetic, with the landscape around them presented in bright, vivid block colours.
The animations here are also pretty darn good. We found ourselves cooing and ahh-ing over our deer as he galloped through his idyllic surroundings, headbutting antagonists and generally having a deer old time (ho ho). Deer Simulator is not a game suffused with realism, but the animations and general visual style are close enough to real deer that we were en-deer-ed to our creation (okay, we’ll stop now).
There are also a few neat twists on the standard open-world formula to keep seasoned gamers interested. Deer Simulator offers players the chance to maintain a “homestead”, to which certain features can be added in order to grant boons like extra life, extra energy and more attack power. In-game currency is used to buy these features, which creates a delicate balancing act between adding features to the homestead, upgrading the deer and just making your creature look cooler (a noble pursuit in itself, we know you’ll agree).
There’s also the opportunity to start and care for your very own deer family, which is as adorable as it sounds. Players can feed and upgrade the deer in their family, with the opportunity to make more kids arising as their main deer levels up. This is all done through a fairly sedate menu system, which doesn’t perhaps feel as tactile and animal husbandry-ish as it should; an opportunity was perhaps missed here for a cute little feeding farm-style minigame which might make the family feel like a little more than another upgrade.
The quests could perhaps be a tad more involving, too. There isn’t a huge amount of variety here; quests are usually either combat-focused or centered around fetching an item and bringing it back. You might find yourself wanting a little more out of Deer Simulator than it’s willing to give you if you’re looking for a meaty, substantial experience.
That said, it just doesn’t feel like Deer Simulator wants to be that game. What it wants to be is a sedate, chill Skinner box-style risk-and-reward game for those who just want to relax with a podcast or some music after a long, difficult day. Deer Simulator probably won’t tax you too much, and it certainly won’t change your world, but it offers a very pleasant, sweet and occasionally rewarding diversion, and we really need to make more room in the world for games like that.