The Deer Trail

by Dark Forest Media profile

Horror
2021

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Strong story, fixable issues (for comp version), November 25, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: EctoComp 2021, EctoComp

The Deer Trail may not be perfect, but it certainly left a good impression on me despite some technical flaws. It starts out as a deer hunt but then turns into a lot more. This is both bad and good; the motivation for finding the next item struck me as because-it-is-there, the game was organized so as to reveal secrets in the form of letters, up until the conclusion. But despite my criticisms below, I was impressed overall. Sometimes knowing what pitfalls to expect can help a person enjoy a work's strong points. That is this review's goal, because I think The Deer Trail deserves it. I suspect my major concerns will be obsolete if the author creates a post-comp version.

It starts as you manage to shoot a huge deer with your bow and arrow to start, but it's only wounded. So it flees. Early on, The Deer Trail gives you instructions of what verbs to use to hunt and track the deer, and eventually you wind up by a house. Somehow, the deer made it in, despite a locked door. You will need to follow. There are places to the side of the deer's trail of blood that hold tools and such.

Once you're in the house, things get a bit surreal, which isn't necessarily bad, but fetching the items for later does feel a bit arbitrary. Through the house, there are three journals which give the deer's backstory. Along the way you find items you have to combine together, which makes sense once you figure what to do, but you do have to pay attention to the scenery. And perhaps one is a bit too heavy-handed, since it's called chemical compound A.

This dents the emotional impact of the story. As do the achievements, which seem like a good idea to nudge you to explore everything. Perhaps "discovery" would be better? This is sort of quibbling, but word choices do matter. And some achievements seem more like thanks for paying attention than tension building. But it could build to more, in a post-comp release--maybe at the end the author could cue you to what you missed. I also found some nuisance in having to "use stairs" instead of going up or explicitly look in a cabinet after opening it.

The Deer Trail feels like it really sprawls, and it could be cut down (the three letters you find could be, in particular--maybe break them into four or five? Though maybe the trivial fix of throwing in a few "press and key" commands would work. Also, it would be nice to be able to read them separately, once you have more than one.) But I was interested and captivated and have no concrete suggestions what to leave out. Speaking as a horror novice, it seemed to avoid cliches and (oops, cliche alert) cover a lot of bases. Enough to clearly overcome minor technical issues, for me.