Urban life can be a bit hectic, can’t it? Cars rushing everywhere, people bumping into you because they’re glued to their smartphones, endless noise, and much more besides. You could be forgiven for wanting to retreat somewhere green and pleasant, where you’ll never be bothered by pesky humans again.
If that sounds like you, have you ever considered becoming a deer? You’d live in a forest, so your food and exercise needs would be well taken care of. You might have to develop a bit of an appetite for grass and twigs, but trust us: after a while, that’s quite easily done. What’s more, you’re relentlessly cute, and everyone who sees you will want a picture. You’ll be famous!
No? No interest? Well, no matter. You can get the essential experience of being a deer without actually transforming into one thanks to open-world action-adventure game Deer Simulator. We’re many worlds away from the weird world of Goat Simulator here, but we’re also not in the same ballpark as podcast-’em-ups Euro Truck Simulator and Farming Simulator.
Indeed, Deer Simulator might not be a particularly helpful name for the experience. This game is less a simulation and more a chilled-out, lightweight action RPG with an unusual protagonist. Deer Simulator shares way more DNA with the action RPG and open-world genres than it does with its vehicle-focused cousins (and, indeed, with the jokey Goat Simulator).
As Deer Simulator opens, you’ll be able to “create” your deer, which is to say you’ll be able to give it a name and assign it a gender. Naturally, there aren’t many other options available besides “deer”, so if you’re looking to play as a different species or change the fundamental biological makeup of your deer, perhaps you’d be better off looking elsewhere. That said, there is a surprising amount of leeway when it comes to adjusting your deer’s dimensions, so if you just want to do a little tweaking, you’ll get the opportunity after the initial naming process.
Once the deer is named, it’ll pop into a verdant, vibrant wilderness dotted with trees, other fauna (or fawn-a, ha ha), a dinky human village and a few other things. A few brief tutorial messages will send you on your way and explain the fundamentals of movement and combat (there’s one button for combat, so that one’s pretty brief), and away you go.
The first thing to say is that the animals in this game are actually pretty satisfyingly animated. The deer won’t give David Attenborough a run for his money in authenticity terms, but there’s a pleasing weight and heft to the character’s movement that makes the game feel fulfilling and fun to play. Combat is a little more lightweight, but it’s not really the principal achievement or focus of the game, so that doesn’t really feel like too much of a problem.
Indeed, this could be considered Deer Simulator’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness at the same time. There isn’t a particularly strong sense of purpose or direction throughout Deer Simulator, so if you’re a very checklist-oriented individual, this might be somewhere you don’t want to go. There are quests, and they’re the central thrust of the game’s challenge, but they aren’t really what the game is “about”, per se.
What Deer Simulator is “about” is being a pretty straightforward and enjoyable small-scale iteration of open-world MMO-style games. There’s the aforementioned kinda-rudimentary quest system, but there’s also a levelling system in which you’ll receive XP for killing enemies, an upgrade system which uses in-game currency to enhance your stats and those of your family (more on which later), an achievement list which tracks your progress through the game, and more.
Although it doesn’t look particularly fully-featured at first glance, Deer Simulator is actually quite a well-rounded package when all of these elements are considered together. Add to this a homestead system in which players can purchase new geographical features which will also upgrade their stats, as well as the ability to find and nurture your very own deer family (yes, that includes fawns, adorably), and you have a game which will probably take up a surprising amount of your time.
Deer Simulator isn’t an absolutely perfect game. There are probably other games which do each of its constituent elements a little better than it does. It’s worth reminding yourself here, though, that Deer Simulator is not only completely free, but can also be played from inside your browser, and with those two caveats attached, the game’s myriad achievements (both in-game and in development terms) become much more visible.
This game is the perfect afternoon relaxation tool. Penalties for death and failure are nowhere near harsh at all (die and you’ll simply respawn back at your starting point), while combat can usually be brute-forced with a little tiny bit of XP grinding. Deer Simulator wasn’t designed to be played by twitchy thumb junkies chasing a high score desperately. If you’ve an eye for chilling out with a video game and perhaps a nice relaxing podcast or some music, and you don’t mind the tiniest bit of repetition, Deer Simulator is a fantastic choice to while away an afternoon or two.