If you want to make the case that video games have been dumbed down in terms of complexity and required strategy, hunting games constitute your most glaring example. As I mentioned in my recent theHunter review, the genre's focus went from sandbox-style simulation with respect for actual hunting laws and the principals of conservation, to reflex-driven shooting galleries. But I'm not one to look down my nose and scoff; by introducing elements of variety, time-crunch strategy, and continuous progression, developers such as Glu Mobile have produced a number of engaging arcade-style hunters. So when it came to my attention that Glu were releasing a new, console-centric Deer Hunter for 20 bucks (get it?), I got curious. Is Deer Hunter: Reloaded an all-new title or merely an overpriced port of the identically-named 2013 mobile release? Well, after playing it, I can assure you that the latter would've been far better. Oh yeah, this one's a doozy.
Deer Hunter: Reloaded features three different states with several little areas for you to trudge around in. Each state features its own set of goals, such as "Kill 2 Elk," which are given to you by expository characters over the radio. Your goal is to walk between vantage points and shoot the appropriate animals. When the radio dude says anything to the effect of "there's some (insert animal) over at (insert location)," just find the area for your next set of quarry (don't worry; it's highlighted on the map) and warp there. Then do it all over again. I truly don't know how much potential this concept had, because it's buried under a heap of terrible execution decisions.
But hold on. There's no discussing the content of Deer Hunter: Reloaded without first pushing that huge graphics-performance elephant out of the room. Frankly, this is the ugliest game I've played on PS4 or even last generation for so many reasons. Textures are blurry and garish. Models are simplistic and, in cases like our hunter's Andre-the-Giant-thumb, distracting. The draw distance swallows up the ground but leaves two-dimensional trees floating on what would be hills if only you could get closer. Shadows flicker eerily on he ground. And - somehow - it runs poorly. Reloaded has some serious frame pacing problems, resulting in a nauseatingly staticky pseudo-jitter that permeates every movement. Gunshots are also frequently accompanied by performance hiccups, which reminds me: the noise of your barrel firing is one of the only sounds in the game. No footsteps, no wind, no music, no chirping birds. Just you, your gun, your radio pal, and the little chime you get when you kill something. All of these audio-visual elements combine for an astonishingly creepy experience.
To eliminate confusion, I should clarify that every area is a set of hallways leading to the vantage points I alluded to earlier. Typically, arcade-style hunting games use a fixed vantage point and omit free movement, so it's actually nice to be able to move around and pick the best spot. Unfortunately, this extends to those hallways as well, wherein there is nothing of interest to find. Some paths continue, paved in dirt, directly into dead ends and timeout warnings. Incredibly, there are even signposts with arrows that you'll inevitably misinterpret as pointing towards these dead ends. Furthermore, objects such as rocks and logs will have you sliding out of bounds. And while you can usually get right back in, there are occasions where you’re just stuck there. Each of these glitchy hikes also puts you at risk of being mauled by any of the woodland predators ready to spawn and kill you. Every encounter comes in the form of a slow-mo sequence where you must save yourself and shoot the pouncing carnivore. It's a very forgiving time window allowing for three shots to the heart, but sometimes the game just decides that won't cut it. This means that every time you trek out of your vantage point, there’s a chance you’ll be forced to restart the mission. It’s absolutely broken.
And now we’ve arrived at our last hope: the shooting mechanics, which are functional at best. Your hunter’s sluggish turning will compel you to crank up the sensitivity, but now it’s exceedingly difficult to aim down the scope. In the absence of a happy medium, the game mercifully provides an aim assist. I had to fight against it when aiming for vitals, but overall, it was definitely a good tradeoff. Animals are quite fragile in Reloaded, mostly dying from a single shot to any generalized area of the body. Thus, vitals and weapon upgrades are superfluous unless demanded by the radio dude. Oh, and sometimes, the game decides that your bullet will just not exist. More often, though, you can’t even fire your weapon, as your right trigger often fails to register as a button press. Such was the case for me at least once every twenty minutes, and yes, I tried other controllers.
I went into this game hoping for an example of a well-made arcade hunter. And with Glu’s record, that was a reasonable desire. I take no pleasure, then, in acknowledging that Deer Hunter: Reloaded is simply atrocious. It’s ugly, sluggish, obtuse, counter-intuitive, and brimming with game-breaking bugs. Its few positive qualities are directly negated by some of its many, many faults, resulting in what sits among the weakest functional video games I have ever played. Maybe one day we’ll get a nice version of what this game was trying to bring to consoles. Regardless, I am confident that we won't get anything worse.