In The Deer God You play a transmuted Deer who was once a Human Being. After two friends go hunting in the woodlands one night, a karmic accident occurs that leads to the death of one of the two hunters and a baby fawn. The Hunter is brought before the great Deer God who expects them to atone for their foul misdeeds and walk a figurative mile in their preys shoes to earn back the right to become a human being again. Below the surface, this is one of the most existential games I have played in some time; existentialism is a sure-fire theme, though I disappointingly feel, not the core focus.
Instead, The Deer God is primarily an endless and procedurally generated platforming survival game with a touch of exploration, questing and puzzle solving thrown in for good measure. It has not hit the dizzying heights of other games such as Trine or Limbo, but with additional effort and a touch more forward thinking from Developers – Crescent Moon Games, I do not see a reason why it could not compete strongly in the future.
First & foremost, The Deer God will take you on a journey through life as a Fawn to becoming a full grown Stag. You eat your way through the environments, consuming any and all vegetation in the shape of fruits, bushes, berries and anything else a growing fawn needs. You will have to monitor your hunger level as this can adversely impact both your stamina and health recovery rates because if it dips too low, can result in death (naturally) if you do not graze for a lengthy period of time. It is not as deep or rich as it may sound as all is required of you really, is ensuring the green bar on your HUD never empties. As your Stag comes of age, they can choose to mate with female Deer to create offspring, the Fawns produced act as your mobile checkpoints, so that if you fall into a spike pit or find yourself in the jaws of a ferocious Bear, Panther or Fox, you will be returned to your last baby Fawn, to begin the life cycle over again. That would be about the breadth of the survival aspect to the game.
As a Stag, it is not all about running away from your foes as you may have expected – your body is your weapon as it would turn out and you are in essence the Hunter, not the Prey. You can use an array of offensive manoeuvres as you go through the world using your antlers as a dashing charge, a jump following a ground slam and if you are a completionist, you can shoot fireballs – yes fireballs from your antlers, you also have an inventory system to store some powerful, disposable abilities like fruit that restores your vitality, hatching falcon eggs to aid you in combat and giant mushrooms to propel you upwards onto otherwise unreachable platforms for hidden extra lives. The abundance of wildlife you meet know it is open season on Deerkind but more often than not; the same dash attack and jump away will ensure their swift defeat, The handful of boss encounters found throughout the game however, will require you to be a bit more tactful and use the full extent of your abilities and in some regards the environment; to defeat these monstrous aberrations. These encounters break up the routine and are a welcome breath of fresh air before the game becomes a bit stag… nant (There had to be at least one pun, sorry). These encounters are awesome and it is a shame the general wildlife does not yet employ the same depth of combat to defeat.
The games art direction captivated me with its stunning 3d pixels and beautifully rendered level design. It is both a sombre and sublime game to watch and listen to in thanks to the wonderfully well crafted score of Evan Gipson who has captured the ambient musical tones of nature with perfection. The different locales, though often repeated, are well varied enough to keep the visuals interesting as you transist from region to region and each have a unique tact on gameplay where for example in icy climates you may find yourself sliding on frozen ice or in a desert there may be a distinct lack of food with which to keep nourished. It is minor tropes like these as you run through different locations that keep it all varied enough without the game becoming too mundane.
However, that is not to say that The Deer God is without flaws because there a few, yet where some niggling issues can be overlooked, others are hard to ignore. The story itself has the hallmarks of being a rather unique adventure, with a host of interesting supporting characters like hermits and witches as well as a few unique individuals like Elder Deers who are fabled individuals that offer you new abilities as you progress but the length of the game equates to no more than an hour’s playthrough at best and the quests are largely uninspired ‘fetch X item and bring it back’. The conclusion to the story offers two different endings but feels rather lackluster. Overall, the narrative feels forced to keep the player moving and it does not really have a sense of its own gravitas, which is a deep shame when it has some wonderfully subversive themes based around existence and reincarnation. A shallow and missed opportunity, thus far.
Finally, the morality system in place does not do a very good job of portraying your actions, it is neat that there is one here but it does not feel defined enough with the actions you perform to feel distinctly weighty. If you manage to swing it into the negative, when you respawn; the Deer God may look at you unfavorably and spawn you in as a rabbit or some lesser creature way down in the food chain. The concept behind it is fine, but it is a death sentence on hardcore difficulty and does not really go beyond effecting gameplay, if it had an impact on the ending or yourself visually it would feel much more in-tune with the rest of what is going on – as well as effecting gameplay, in my opinion and would therefore offer a lot more to the game in return, instead it just hampers and will get in the way.
The Deer God will appeal to those who like endless runner titles, particularly with online cooperative, which strips out the story in favor of becoming a friendly, competitive survival game challenging which of you can make it further without dying, but those looking for something a bit more narrative driven with a deep combat system and meaningful story may be left feeling a bit hollow; especially considering the £10.99/$16.90 price tag for a game that really lasts no more than an hour to an hour and a half at best. It has a lot going on beneath the surface to support a more meaningful story, but it is either ignored or does not know how to give meaning to the events, which in the end, is the biggest of its sins. Regardless, you will still manage to squeeze some entertainment from the time you dedicate to play this and hopefully, will hit on all its strengths – come full release! Look forward to it.
[ 60 / 100 ]
– Daniel Kerr Spendlove.