February 28, 2015 8:40 AM | Lena LeRay
Crescent Moon Games has created something beautiful in The Deer God. It's not just the 3D/pixel hybrid graphics that pass by in parallax motion as you go, though that's pretty enough. The game is about a hunter who has been turned into a deer by the deer god. Armed only with the knowledge that he will remain a deer until he redeems himself, he sets out on a journey across the land. It's a story-light, procedurally generated platformer in which every choice to kill or run is a matter of both karma and survival, with potentially both short- and long-term effects on the game.
There are two game modes in The Deer God, normal and passive. In normal mode, the player only has so many chances at reincarnation before permadeath sets in. More chances can be added by breeding with female deer along the way, creating a new fawn for the player to inhabit, but that can only be done if the player has survived long enough at the time they encounter the deer. Two things threaten the player's survival, predators and hunger. The former can be killed or run from and the latter can be combatted by eating certain plants along the way. Sometimes plants are more scarce than others, though, and when that's true it can be better to run past the enemies that would eat the player's avatar than to fight.
Enemies are not the only things players can kill, though. All creatures, friendly or otherwise, can be slain. Killing another creature affects the player's karma in a negative or positive way as represented by blue and red bars in the character status/inventory screen. Dark karma actually gives the player a chance to be reincarnated as "lesser" animals, such as rabbits.
At first, the player can only attack other creatures by charging at them, which carries its own dangers because it brings the player into attack range. The player gains new skills as they go along, though, like a fireball they can throw in front of them, and enemies and destructable parts of the environment can drop items with varied effects. Being able to use the active skills, though, is dependent on the age of the player's current deer incarnation, being attached to the antlers at certain sizes. The skills never really go away, but they can be temporarily inaccessible. It seems that the skills are always learned in the same order.
In fact, although the environment is procedurally generated, the story, skills, and other progress-related content is still delivered linearly. If the player is given a quest but doesn't finish it within a certain distance of the quest giver, the player will "loop" back around to the quest giver to be reminded of what they're supposed to be doing or looking for before heading off into the procedurally generated unknown again for another round.
Multiplayer co-op is available, though marked as being in beta. It doesn't really differ much from the regular game except that it doesn't seem to offer the non-permadeath passive mode option, though it is more fun with a friend. It's easy to connect with friends via Steam.
The Deer God does a good job of tying player actions and the environment to the narrative while still keeping the focus on the gameplay. It manages to be a game which has challenge aplenty but also provides room to just play, to run and enjoy running as long as enough food can be found. Aside from the dark of night obscuring the environment in a natural, shadowy way, the game gives the player plenty of indicators so that there's never any question about what's going on.
It's available now for Windows, Mac, and Linux now and is slated for Xbox One and Wii U releases later this year. The regular price is $14.99, but it's on sale on Steam for 15% off until March 6 for its launch.