1997 saw the release of Deer Hunter, and prior to this, virtual hunting wasn’t a thing. Deer Hunter itself seems mostly designed as a game to get on the shelves of Wal-Mart. See, in the U.S. in the 90s, Wal-Mart was the largest (still is?) chain department store. They were the ones that could afford to set up shop in every small town in America, and roll out pricing and a “one stop shopping” experience that snuffed all the local competition. They were also notoriously conservative.
Still, the numbers they brought in couldn’t be ignored – you got Wal-Mart to stock your stuff, and you’d have access to an unrivaled distribution channel, at least until online shopping came about. That’s why so many games popped out censored versions specifically for the ‘Mart, or in Deer Hunter’s case, created a game all but pandering to America’s heartland. It did surprisingly well, back when nearly a million copies was considered a breakout hit. Xatrix, and/or Interplay, fresh off of Redneck Rampage, saw this popularity and within their own catalog, an opportunity.
Redneck Deer Huntin’ is, essentially, a stand-alone mod. It runs off the Build engine, reuses some assets from Redneck Rampage, and even has you playing as Leonard on a huntin’ trip outside Hickston, Arkansas. The back of the box promises are clearly taking Deer Hunter head on – you roam environments in 3D instead of panning back and forth, you don’t use an overhead map to spot animal tracks, etc. And indeed, some attempt has been made here to have this be a legitimate simulator.
You have four locations (and yes, fans have created more), consisting of a lake, and a wooded area during three different seasons. You’ll track and hunt four different animals – duck, deer, turkey, and wild boar – with five different weapons – shotgun, rifle, scoped rifle, revolver (the same one from Redneck Ramapage) and crossbow. Successful kills get a randomized attribute, either animal weight or points for deer, and your best “bag” is listed in a trophy section off the main menu. There’s also two target ranges, with varying targets and distances, where you can compete for a best score.
As said, this tries to be a sim, so modifications to the Build engine allow considerations for wind direction, scent, and noise. Crash around at run speed, or step on stick textures lying around the level, and you’ll scare off any nearby animals. Approach a deer with the wind on your back, and he’ll smell you and bolt. You can spot deer crap on the ground and know that prey is nearby. Each weapon has two types of ammo, switched with F3 – razor arrows for deer vs swift arrows for boar, bird shot vs 00 buck, and so on. Sharp-eyed hunters can even spot tracks meandering through the level, and follow them accurately to the animal that made them.
As nice as this all sounds, it’s not executed that well. Levels are surprisingly huge, which is great, but your foot speed is also realistically slow. Because I have nothing better to do, I timed a run around the first pond in the lake map – three minutes. There’s two more ponds further on, with minutes of walking through some restricted woodsy “corridors” to get to them. Your walking (non-animal threatening, and thus encouraged) speed is half the run speed. So, watch the clock for 3-9 minutes, doing nothing but thinking about animals without seeing any, and you’ll get a sense of how the game plays.
The tracks system is nice, but useless in practice. I consistently spotted the motion of a deer on the horizon before I ever saw its trail. Memory limits mean that trail also starts to disappear in the order it was created. You’ll get, maybe, half a clearing before the tracks start covering themselves up. The engine also maxes out at 800×600, making said horizon a pixelated mess – motion is the only way you’ll ever spot an animal. There are a series of calls for each animal on F5-F8, and none of them ever attracted the animal to me. Every time I was close enough for them to certainly hear it, it caused them to run. There’s no bait, which seems like an odd oversight.
You have two extra items on the F4 key, depending on the level you choose. Scent canisters let you lure a deer in if you’re upwind of him. This was confusing to me, because I never found the spot where the deer would be able to pick up the scent I’m placing, but not smell me first and run. Ducks get decoys, which are useless. There’s no camoflage or “blind” system at work here (you just crouch and hope for the best), so maybe I never got a sense of when the ducks could see me. Still, I laid out decoys in the lake, backed off to the tree line, and blew the fucking duck call for about 15 minutes. The ducks I could see nearby never moved. When I gave up and started to approach them from a slow crouch, they flew away.
The tracks system does give a glimpse of how the underlying mechanics work. Animals don’t roam very far from the point they spawn in. If you scare one, they will charge for the boundaries of the map and disappear. And, again going by tracks, there doesn’t appear to be a system to spawn new creatures in. It’s entirely possible I missed fresh tracks on my excruciatingly boring return loops, but it seems like what you get when the map loads is all you get for the level. Animal calls don’t appear to spawn creatures into the world, and you can wander for longer than you care to without seeing a new beast. Reload the map, and the one you killed will be right around the same spot you killed him. For damn sure, that duck call doesn’t trigger new ducks to fly in.
Making matters worse is the lack of incentive to play at all. There are no goals, no mission structure, you simply pick which of the four maps you want to hunt in, then go at it until you’re bored. Animals you kill don’t actually appear in the trophy room, just the numerical stat of the best one. You get nothing for hitting a particular part of an animal, like the heart or head. The value of your kill is randomized, so all you can do is keep trying until you beat your personal best. As far as I know there’s no secrets – Sasquatch won’t show up after you nail a 10-point buck or whatever. You literally just play until you’re bored, and with the slow foot speed and sparse fauna, that’s pretty quickly.
There also seems like a real identity crisis at play here. “Redneck Rampage Goes Huntin'” might have been a good concept, using bombastic weapons to hunt mundane critters, while implementing some of the original’s humor. I even thought a funny mode would be to hunt actual rednecks, following discarded beer cans or pork rind bags instead of droppings. There’s nothing like that here. This is a serious attempt to compete directly with Deer Hunter, and the name “Redneck Deer Huntin'” seems to be an attempt to only kind of use the brand, while not mocking the very crowd they hope will buy it. That didn’t work.
Audio is a let down. Burton Gilliam returns to voice Leonard, but with no humor or vulgarity (again, Wal-Mart). Guns must be reloaded with the F2 key after each shot, and his primary line is to remind players of that (“I guess I oughta load my gun!”) He also likes to throw out “Shoot-fire, I missed!” when you obviously have missed, and know that you have missed. There’s no music here. Animals are mostly quiet, except for the chatty turkeys, so don’t count on using sound to find them. The worst part is the background ambiance. It’s far too loud, and repeats the same wolf howl and shrieking bird-of-some-sort in every location. You cannot turn this volume down independent of the rest.
In fact, all options are limited. There’s no video options other than brightness, and no control options other than mouse sensitivity. You can’t rebind controls. Trying to do so in the config file didn’t reliably work, presumably due to the Build hacking Xatrix did here (you can’t remove that green crosshair either). You’ll be stuck using the arrow keys to move, or the right mouse button to charge forward.
There’s some nice textures here and expansive, pretty environments. The ability to follow animal tracks, and the necessity of watching sound and wind direction, are crucial additions. Unfortunately, there’s just not much to it. Four maps and four animals doesn’t feel like enough, and absolutely no goals or structure make it too easy to lose interest. Plus, the actual hunting mechanics are clearly just engine hacks, and it’s exceedingly difficult to get in range of some animals (usually the fowl) before they’re scared off for arbitrary reasons. Serious hunters need not apply, and neither should anyone expecting the humor of the Redneck Rampage series.
Maps are huge and fairly pretty. Follow animal tracks and signs to their source. Some realistic considerations (wind, scent, noise) have been added.
Annoying background audio. Huge maps mean lots of walking around and not finding animals. Animals are smart, but what causes them to bolt feels unreliable. Animal calls seem totally useless. No structure or goals.
*Yawn* “This is a little too much like REAL huntin’…” — Leonard