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Deer Hunter

Added to the lair: 8/31/20

Note: Includes Deer Hunter, Rocky Mountain Trophy Hunter, and Wild Turkey Hunt

Genre: Hunting / Sports / 1st Person

Developer: Sunstorm Interactive

Year: 1997 / 1998 / 1999

Platform: Windows

Emulator: None / PCem

Wikipedia: Sunstorm Interactive

Sunstorm Interactive Hunting Pack

Alright, let's find some bucks...

I had a relative that used to refer to Deer Hunter as his "coffee game". That's a pretty accurate description. I'm not someone who's ordinarily into hunting games at all, but it's a pretty zen experience here, thanks largely to the simplistic gameplay and relaxing nature sound effects. It manages to create a great atmosphere and does a lot with very little. Subsequent games in the series added more features and more depth, but this is a case where I actually think less is more - the simplicity of the original is a big part of the appeal for me, the later games felt too much like work; even if that's a more accurate representation of hunting, that doesn't necessarily make it more fun (for me). This is probably why I'm a Burnout guy instead of Gran Turismo.

Sunstorm Interactive were a small studio that started out making expansion content for Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, Redneck Rampage, and Shadow Warrior. This afforded them the ability to work on their own original games, one of the earliest being Deer Hunter a.k.a. Deer Hunter: Interactive Hunting Experience. It was a budget title released for $20 and is often cited as the first hunting simulator.

...they sold about a bajillion copies of it.

They'd found something with this game, and others were quick to notice as a slew of other hunting games started to appear afterwards (and are still released endlessly to this day). Its considerable success shifted the company's development focus primarily to hunting games for the remainder of its existence. Like Myst, Deer Hunter was a game that reached beyond the range of the typical gamer demographic and sold to people that really didn't play video games. Some of that was probably for the (at the time) novelty of it and some of it might have been an avid hunting crowd but I think a significant portion of it came from its ability to make hunting fun and approachable for people like me - someone who, admittedly, has never stood in the woods at 5AM covered in deer urine. As much fun as that sounds, I think I'll stick with this.

Deer Hunter's gameplay is, as I said, simple - you pick from a couple different weapons and supporting equipment, choose a location, and you're dropped on the map. Here you scour around searching for signs of deer - droppings, tree rubbings, bedding areas, etc. Once you find something, you shift to a first person view and pan the perspective left and right (you don't actually move while in this view, you just turn in place), look for any movement, and occasionally use the deer call and antler rattle. Then you wait or eventually move to a different location. Once you spot a buck, you have to wait until the deer is within range of your chosen weapon and aim carefully. That's basically it. It requires patience, and there are a few considerations like trying to stay downwind of the deer relative to the signs you locate, but by and large that's it. It's more fun than it probably sounds.

Rocky Mountain Trophy Hunter feels like a real evolution of Deer Hunter without diverging as much as Deer Hunter II and later entries. The basic gameplay is largely similar except that there are more tools at your disposal - and you have to actually be smart about what you take with you because you can't use them all at the same time - a variety of animals that you can encounter rather than just deer, a larger array of animal signs to track, significantly larger maps, and it even has wounded animal tracking so that if you wound a target and it gets away, you can move in the direction that it went when it left the area, find signs of blood and locate it again. If you enjoy Deer Hunter, you should enjoy Rocky Mountain Trophy Hunter as it's essentially a bigger and better version of the same thing, without alienating players familiar with what came before.

Wild Turkey Hunt, on the other hand, is zero steps forward and about twenty steps back. It came out two years after Deer Hunter yet somehow feels like it's about two years older than that game. It even looks significantly worse, somehow. I'm not sure what the story is behind its development, but I feel like things must have been on the downhill slide at Sunstorm Interactive by the time it came out (they shut down in 2003) because it's, frankly, awful. There is no map - you choose from one of 5 set locations but you do not move around at all - and there's no equipment or weapon selection. You pick one of the locations, use one of two absolutely horrific-sounding turkey calls, wait for a turkey to walk right up to you, and shoot them with your shotgun. That's it. It's garbage. It's included here essentially for novelty and because it's still using the engine from Deer Hunter and Rocky Mountain Trophy Hunter. It's really not worth your time at all. It's the kind of thing I would have expected to find on one of those "50 Best Shareware Games!" discs they used to sell in the 90s for $5.

Sunstorm Interactive isn't a well-known developer today, but their work spawned an entire genre of games so their influence is still felt today; and they did it with just a handful of people and released it at a budget price. Hats off.

Grab a coffee, boot up Deer Hunter and chill out. It's a good time.

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Rocky Mountain Trophy Hunter