Review: Deer Drive (Nintendo Wii)

Deer Drive
Genre: Target Shooting
Developer: Mastiff
Publisher: Mastiff
Release Date: 12/16/08


The first thing that comes to mind when one first looks at Deer Drive is that it looks to be one of those standard deer hunting games, i.e. Cabella’s Rocket Launcher Deer Hunting or whatever. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. The reality is that Deer Drive is more like a shooting gallery/Duck Hunt sort of game that happens to follow the normal rules of deer hunting than an actual game based on replicating the experience of hunting. In theory, this isn’t a bad idea, as it gives people who are too lazy to go hunting and too impatient to pretend to hide in a bush for hours the chance to shoot a deer or fifty without the actual investment of time or effort, and shooting gallery games CAN be fun if done properly. In practice, however, Deer Drive is little more than aiming and pulling the trigger for a few hours. There’s certainly a challenge to this thing, but the challenge doesn’t specifically make the game fun, as anyone who’s ever taken a calculus class can attest.

Not that I’m saying playing Deer Drive is like studying calculus, of course, but I HAVE fallen asleep doing both.

As the title might suggest, Deer Drive is about hunting, and while a video game version of The Deer Hunter might be an interesting concept, this game is more about shooting deer and less, which is to say “not at all”, about story. Game modes-wise, Deer Drive isn’t much better off; you’re offered the option of hunting deer solo in One Player mode, competing with a friend in the appropriately named Versus Mode, or shooting deer with a group of friends in the Hunting Party Mode. There’s also an Options menu for you to fiddle with as needed, as well as a Tutorial, in case the mechanics of pointing the Wii-mote at the screen and pressing the B Button are a bit beyond your understanding, but as far as actual modes of play are concerned, the above three modes are all you’re offered. As the entirety of the game amounts to shooting various moving animals in various mildly different locales, this essentially means that the three offered modes are functionally identical to one another as well, and while it’s fairly unreasonable to expect the game to completely change the gameplay dynamics from one mode to the next, it would have been nice to see SOMETHING else. Give the player a little Shooting Gallery to play around in, or a Skeet Shooting range to work with, or SOMETHING other than “go into the woods and shoot deer”, largely because even if this concept were attached to a GOOD game, it’d get old pretty fast.

Deer Drive essentially looks like a high-resolution PS1 game; you can tell what the deer are supposed to be, and the environment isn’t painful to look at, but you won’t mistake the deer for the real thing, and the game isn’t visually impressive at any point. The graphics are mostly serviceable and look okay enough to get the job done, and slowdown and visual glitches are mostly kept to a minimum, which is good. On the other hand, telling the difference between a buck and a doe at anything other than medium range is borderline impossible, and the power-up effects are outright unimpressive. I mean, I understand that mimicking the effects of sunglasses on your vision might well be difficult to pull off, and I can accept this thing, but TURNING THE GAME WORLD ORANGE is not an acceptable substitute for this effect. Aurally, the game music is mostly kept to the mission reports and the introductions, and as such, it’s tolerable enough to make do, even if it’s nothing special. The sound effects are also kept to a minimum, and mostly consist of environmental noises and the sound of your guns firing, which also helps to make the game sound serviceable, if not fantastic. There’s also voice acting in the game, as there’s an announcer who pops up now and again to warn you of special targets, inform you of collected power-ups, and mock/applaud your shots, and he’s also perfectly serviceable, though I really couldn’t even begin to take him seriously when he would blurt out “Nice Rack!” after every fifth shot.

As mentioned previously, the gameplay of Deer Drive consists, mostly, of pointing the Wii-mote at the screen and pushing the B button to pull the trigger of your rifle in hopes of killing whatever animal you’re targeting. This is almost entirely what the game expects of you, though there are a few other control elements that bear explaining. You can also move your viewpoint around by aiming at the edges of the screen to focus on different areas of the field as needed, to take shots at running deer or specialty targets outside of your field of view. The game also gives you various power-ups to play with, as you earn them, ranging from Breath Control (basically bullet time) to Polarized Shades (which make the wildlife easier to discern against the background). There are also different rifles, each of which fire faster and produce more desirable results than the default model, and beyond, all of which make killing wildlife easier as you earn them. All of them do eventually run out after a time, making it imperative to use them to the fullest. Shooting deer is the name of the game, as noted, though you’re also rewarded and penalized for other things. For one, you can only shoot bucks (male deer), as this is a rule of hunting, apparently, and shooting does (female deer) earns you penalties. You’re also given bonus points for hitting vital spots on the deer, as well as for “Trick Shots”, IE hitting the deer in midair when they’re jumping. There are also other animals that appear on the field, some of which are hostile (bears, which will run you over if given the chance) while others of which are simply worth more points when killed, making them primary targets whenever you spot them.

The primary game mode, One Player, essentially asks you to play through multiple stages, killing a set amount of animals in each one in order to progress to the next. As you progress, you’ll be able to unlock more power-ups to use in hunting trips (by killing the animals holding them), and you’ll be able to save after each stage to come back to the trip whenever you like. Versus Mode is more about competing with a friend to see who can kill the most animals in three rounds, as both players compete simultaneously to rack up the most kills. Hunting Party is probably the most multiplayer friendly of the modes, though, as it’s a fairly competitive turn-based mode that allows you to mess with your friends by being an awesome shot. Essentially, players take turns shooting animals, and the player with the highest score at the end of each round goes first in following rounds (thus making high scores vital to success). Further, aside from trying to shoot animals, you’ll also be aiming for bulls-eyes on the field, as they will unleash nasty surprises on your opponents if you can hit them (like making a deer head pop up on-screen to impair shooting or swapping their controls for view adjustment), making them both a priority on your turn and a crippling assault when used against you. As simple but enjoyable multiplayer modes go, this isn’t bad, and it’ll keep your friends amused if you’re hunting fans, or at least apathetic to the idea of killing animals.

Now, aside from the obvious complaint (killing animals for fun) that probably won’t matter to most gamers, the biggest complaint one can lodge against Deer Drive is that it’s, quite frankly, rather boring. The game essentially unleashes a million deer onto the screen and asks the player to shoot as many of them as possible, which essentially amounts to pointing at the deer and pulling the trigger. In a good target-shooting game, the gameplay is usually either fairly strict and punishing, making accomplishments feel worthwhile, or offer multiple different challenges and play modes, to keep the game feeling fresh and different. In Deer Drive, the experience is a bit less challenging and requires less precision, leaving the player to simply shoot at everything, which gets old in a hurry, and the variety is largely superficial, as the game essentially comes down to shooting the same things over and over to the same effects, which also gets old fast. In most on-rails shooters, the enemies fight back, but with the exception of the odd hostile enemy, pretty much everything in Deer Drive is just kind of running around, waiting to be shot. It’s not that this CAN’T BE fun, but rather that Deer Drive does nothing to MAKE IT fun; the game amounts to shooting the same deer in marginally different locales over and over again, and aside from the somewhat entertaining Hunting Party mode, there’s little to nothing exciting about the experience.

This is further hampered by the technical issues that make the game less than enjoyable. The biggest issue is the fact that the game graphics are, frankly, ugly and blotchy at anything other than close range, meaning that hitting anything beyond the halfway mark of your field of vision is less about careful aiming and more about prayer and luck. Now, no, not everyone has sniper skills and excellent sight, but the fact is that it’s incredibly difficult to see deer and other animals in the background of the environments, let alone aim at and shoot them, and while that might be part of the challenge in the sense that they’re far away and hard to hit, it SHOULDN’T be part of the challenge to actually figure out which part of the brown blotchy background is supposed to be a deer and which part is supposed to be a tree. It should also be noted that several of the gameplay elements aren’t particularly friendly, either. Moving the Wii-mote to the edge of the screen to move your view around seems like a good way of doing things, but in practice it makes taking shots that are near the edge of your viewpoint a hassle as you’ll often be lining up a shot, only to see the whole screen move as you’re doing so. Had the option to use the Nunchuck to move your view been included in the game, this would have been a significant improvement, but such is not the case, leaving the player to adjust to this thing with no other recourse. Polarized Shades are also not as useful a power-up as they might suggest. While they essentially blur out the background and more readily highlight the animals for close-range shooting, they actually make the screen a fairly hideous shade of orange that isn’t pleasant to look at, and they also have the annoying tendency to make it HARDER to hit enemies that are further away, which ends up making said power-up one you’ll find yourself actively avoiding if possible.

The bottom line here is that Deer Drive is essentially a rote, mechanical experience that boils down being a modern day version of Duck Hunt with a couple of power-ups and multiplayer added and all of the personality stripped out. If you’re a fan of deer hunting, or you like the idea of pointing the Wii-mote at the screen and clicking the B button mindlessly for a few hours, you might well have some fun with the game, as it does offer some basic deer hunting and mindless shooting action. For those who are looking for something a little more sophisticated, however, Deer Drive isn’t even close to offering such an experience, as aside from the mildly amusing Hunting Party mode, there’s little to the game otherwise. The experience is bland, repetitive, uninteresting, and mechanically flawed in several respects, and it lacks the personality and depth to make up for these things, essentially leaving the game feeling boring and flat. If you’re the sort of person who loves to shoot at things, Deer Drive might occupy your time for a little while, but for everyone else, House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return and Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles are generally better games that do the exact same thing, only in a way that’s less like doing calculus and more like playing a game.

The Scores:
Game Modes: POOR
Graphics: POOR
Sound: MEDIOCRE
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: POOR
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: DREADFUL
Appeal: BAD
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS
Final Score: PRETTY POOR

Short Attention Span Summary:
Okay, for those who skipped down to the bottom, let me spell this out simply: Deer Drive is a deer hunting game for people who have no patience for deer hunting games, and it shows. If all you’re looking to do is aimlessly shoot at wild animals, or alternately, anything at all, you’ll find that Deer Drive allows you to do this thing to your heart’s content. But between lackluster visuals, repetitive gameplay, mostly uninteresting play modes, and some mechanical issues, the only thing that would make this game worth owning for anyone who isn’t entertained by mindless shooting would be some personality, of which Deer Drive has none. If you own every other on-rails shooter on the Wii and you’re seriously hankering to shoot SOMETHING else, you might have some fun here, but everyone else out there will play this game for, at most, an hour, and then never play it again, because they’ll have seen every last thing the game could possibly have done to win them over, and be left unimpressed.

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