Deer Journey

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Deer Journey review
Quinn Levandoski


A WIldlife Misfire

I Like The Idea Of It

In the 2008 comedy hit Role Models, Christopher Mintz-Plasse's Augie Farks is asked if he likes Coca-Cola. After a moment's thought, he lets lose the oft-quoted response, "I like the idea of it more than I actually like it." While silly, it's a nugget of wisdom that many can relate to when they consider something that sounds appealing on paper but loses its lustre in practice. Such is my opinion on Deer Journey.

The game, developed by Pablo Picazo, is an intriguing one that, in theory, I should have enjoyed quite a bit. I'm a complete sucker for "walking simulators", I enjoy games with non-traditional gameplay loops, and I love a good show-don't-tell narrative. Deer Journey does take a stab at all of those things, but at the end of the 39 minutes that it took to play through the experience, I couldn't deny that very little ended up actually working for me in any meaningful way.

At first glance, Deer Journey seems to have a lot in common with fellow animal-led game Shelter (and its sequels). Here, the player steps into the hooves of a young deer as it traverses the wilderness, free of any overly "gamey" mechanics or intrusive UI. Indeed, the controls are even remarkably simple. The narrative begins with a three-minute intro that explains the relevant controls: move with the WASD keys, run with the space bar, and eat berries with the left mouse button. I appreciated the simplicity, but, unfortunately, I didn't enjoy much after that.

In Need Of Direction

Following the brief tutorial which acquainted me with the small playable fawn, I was dropped into an open area with some bucks and does. Bizarrely, the bucks started assaulting me with their horns, and I died. Why did they do this? I haven't the slightest idea. I spawned somewhere else, and the same thing happened. I then avoided a buck after respawning and ran straight for a solid minute, but I had no idea where I was going, and a buck appeared behind me, the camera glitched into the body of my deer, and the buck killed me. It would have been comical if it wasn’t frustrating, and all this was on top of the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing.

In fact, I never did have any reason to be doing anything that I was presented with throughout the entirety of the game. All I did was follow a brown path that occasionally forked, but, even then, there was no actual way to know which was the “correct” path. One would just wind up being a dead end, forcing me to run back and go the other way. In one instance, it was a grey rocky cave instead of brown dirt.

Detrimental Simplicity

Minimalistic gameplay isn't inherently bad, and there are plenty of walking simulators that I've absolutely adored. However, the thing about a walking sim is that there needs to be some level of environmental storytelling to turn the experience into more than just holding down a key and waiting. Deer Journey did not have any semblance of narrative and was, instead, time that I felt was wasted holding down my space bar. Only in the last five minutes was there anything I could really consider a narrative reveal, but it didn’t seem to tie into anything that had come before or after and was presented as if it was more profound than it was.

I did learn a few new button prompts as I continued through the short levels, but they didn't seem to have any impact. I never did find a use for the "berry-eating" option presented in the game's opening, I was told how to run in the last level for some reason (which, as a reminder, was already shown at the beginning and used throughout the whole game), and I was taught how to attack with my antlers at the end, but I also never found a time to use them.

Confusing Climax

The game seems to climax with a decision about committing violence or not (there's a split achievement for either attacking or not attacking), but I honestly never even saw the potential victim of my antlers and don't know why I would randomly stab a fawn even if I did. There was no narrative set-up or pay-off, save for the frustrating 10 minutes I spent earlier in the game getting randomly KO'd by teleporting bucks.

Therein lies the problem with Deer Journey. It doesn't have the gameplay to work as a "game", it doesn’t have the narrative (explicit or implied) to work as a passive story, and it doesn't look good enough to be a visual treat (in fact, the animations are quite poor). Every time I thought something might be about to happen and set the direction for the game, it would turn out to be another level that had me simply run straight for an awkward amount of time while some admittedly pretty music swelled.

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fun score


Pretty Background Music


Dull environmental design, no storytelling, clunky animations