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02 July, 2015

The Deer God Review

This co-op platformer for the PC has plenty going for it, but can't quite get it all to execute in a fun and rewarding way.

Bambi is perhaps one of Disney’s most iconic movies, following the life and times of a collection of woodland creatures as they fight to survive the harsh realities of existing at the lower end of the food chain. The Deer God, developed by Crescent Moon Games and Cinopt Studios, is an alternate reality where Bambi took the bullet instead of his mother (at least, that’s how I’m interpreting it). The deer hunter is then mauled to death by wolves, only to be reincarnated as a fawn by the vengeful, titular deity and tasked with redeeming himself.

This premise, coupled with the trailers and pre-released artwork, left me wanting nothing more than for this game to succeed - but, much like Bambi’s mother, the execution is a disaster.

The Deer God is a platformer (co-op or solo), with a dash of roguelike sprinkled across the top. As a fawn, you run and prance your way through the endless, deja vu inducing landscape, eating as much as you can along the way to help you develop into adulthood, your main goal. As you grow, you learn more abilities from the deer Elders, and gain increases in strength, speed and jump height that will help you traverse this procedurally generated world, tackle its threats and solve its basic level puzzles with ease… unless you die, in which case it’s practically back to square one.

The art-style is without question The Deer God’s most noteworthy achievement. The seemingly pixelated 3D landscape is a gorgeous piece of artistry - each individual “world” has a great amount of detail, and each flows almost seamlessly into the other. It is great fun sprinting through a forested world and watch it transition into a dry desert or a murky swamp. The day-night cycle and lighting system is equally stunning, and the ambient music that plays alongside it is impressive in its own right. The Deer God also has various weather effects that work quite well!

Sadly, the procedurally generated environment ensures that this beauty is repeated until it begins to lose its wow factor, where bespoke design may have maintained the visual feast. But I would argue that The Deer God remains one of the prettiest games I’ve seen of late. Of course it’s not a world designed just to be looked at - there is plenty of dying to be done here as well.

For a game whose premise declares that violence against animals is wrong, there’s an awful lot of violence against animals in The Deer God. The little woodlands are more reminiscent of Far Cry than Bambi - even the porcupines have a craving for venison. But it’s not all doom and gloom, as you can fight back by stomping and head-butting threats –rather early into the game you even learn to shoot fireballs from your face, which is awesome. And that’s where the fun stops.

The artificial intelligence is anything but. For example, while it’s a benefit to be able to lure your enemies into forest fires or spike pits, your deer brethren tend to run into them, too. While during the first boss battle, the giant turtle follows you around the cave and will, if you’re not careful, trap you in a hole by standing above it and won’t let you out, which is infuriating

It’s not the only way you can be trapped. Respawning as a fawn can leave you stuck in certain areas until you mature enough to jump higher. Unless you have an item that boosts your jump ability, this will leave you running backwards and forwards eating apples until you can make the jump… unless you’re lucky enough to have a boost item

I will not finish the game, sadly, but it’s not through lack of trying. Two-thirds of the way through, a game-breaking bug trapped me in a frustrating cycle of running and dying. I even replayed a new save from the start, only to encounter the very same bug. Reinstalling the game may fix it, but the idea of going through it a third time did not appeal to me, because - as much as I genuinely want to like The Deer God - it’s far too monotonous.

Crescent Moon Games and Cinopt Studios have delivered a game that is frustrating, glitchy and pretty dull in spite of its genuinely beautiful pixel-style graphics and pleasing ambient soundtrack. Bambi was lambasted for almost half a decade before being recognised as a cinematic masterpiece, so there is a chance that in years (and patches) to come my opinion of The Deer God may change – but probably not.

Grab the game here.

Liam Allan.

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