By John Walker on January 7th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.
I know a classic when I see it. There it is, near the top of Steam’s list of new games: Woodcutter Simulator 2013. Sure, it’s already out-of-date, and likely won’t feature 2014’s most exciting range of woodcutting innovations, but I was prepared to suck that up and get on. I, as a woodcutter, am burly, powerful, able to take on anything. Look at my rugged frame! My bushy woodsman beard! LOOK AT ME HOLDING A CHAINSAW!
Except oh good grief. I’ve been playing Woodcutter Simulator 2013 for approximately two minutes, and I already have so much to write about it.
Here’s where most games go wrong with invisible walls: they save them up. They’re a surprise. You’re running about in the game’s world, merrily enjoying your freedom, and then THWACK – you’re nose-smooshed against a barrier. Suddenly the suspended disbelief comes crashing down onto the floor in a pile of limbs and custard. It’s a horrible moment, and DAMMIT Woodcutter Simulator 2013 isn’t going to make you go through that. No way, sir. No, instead, Woodcutter Simulator 2013 begins the game, its very first moment, standing you immediately in front of an invisible barrier.
There’s you, a first-person entity with a chainsaw HANDSOMELY slung over your right shoulder. There’s a small bush. And behind it is a tree. A tree! Your nemesis, your barked bane. And so to it you charge! But you don’t, because it’s impossible to step forward. That little bush, despite only occupying a weeny space in the middle of the front yard of a building, is guarding that tree. Sure, you’ve got a chainsaw, but no way mister – you’re not using it, because “You are not in the right position!” What about a sneak attack, creep up behind that bastard tree and evade its cunning bushy guards, by going around the back of the house? Nope! Invisible barrier there too! WCS2013 is not messin’.
Damn you tree. You can stand there while I slaughter your brothers and sisters. RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.
Except of course I can’t. Crossing the road outside this building takes me to a grassy patch with a few tree bastards growing on it. To them I shall take my Chainsaw Of Justice! No. These trees have outwitted me too. They’ve turned immaterial to evade my woodcutting rectitude. These cunning buggers. I just walk straight through them, and as every woodcutter knows, if you can walk through a tree, it’s especially tricky to chop it down with a chainsaw.
There’s a tutorial, in fairness. Also in fairness, it’s not a tutorial. It’s a collection of tiny, creepily silent videos that waver the mouse around the microscopic screen and don’t seem to actually explain anything. I grew a bit bored of waiting for anything to happen in them, and thought: hey, how hard can chopping down some trees really be? VERY HARD INDEED when the trees are bloody cheating.
There’s a church on the horizon. Maybe the Lord can help me? But damn their eyes, the trees have gotten there first! Their compatriots, the hedges, are impossibly extending their reach to block open paths. THEY’VE GOT CONTROL OF THE CHURCHES. Two different churches! This is like Day Of The Triffids meets The Happening!
But wait, what’s that? On the map. I’ve just noticed that on the minimap, about a mile from what I guess might be my house, is a tree. A single fir tree. Heading toward it, I run and run across fields and through woods of diaphanous trees and… around lakes protected by pellucid walls. There’s a mysterious floating yellow arrow in the sky, and it’s right where I’m heading. Here I find so many pine trees, and – and – they’re solid! I can’t use my chainsaw on them, obviously. “You are not in the right position!” But then there’s one. One lone tree, stood a bit not quite under the mysterious floating yellow arrow, and it sports a mysterious yellow band around its trunk. This is it. This is my moment. This is my destiny. I AM IN THE RIGHT POSITION!
What follows is a little strange. For a game purporting to be a woodcutting simulator, my interaction with the process amounted to hitting the Spacebar. This done, an extended animation played from my first-person view of the chainsaw making three precise cuts into the trunk, which I really feel like I could have tried. Then the camera pulled away to show the tree start to topple, and without a rewarding cry of “TIMBER!” it fell down. Hitting the ground, it became apparent the physics engine believed it was the inside of a toilet roll, and then it exploded. No, I promise. It exploded. In fact, let’s get this on film. Oh, and enjoy the music.
I’ve yet to fathom what the “right position” is. It seems entirely arbitrary. But I sure did chop down that exploding tree! But according to the task window “the National Chainsaw Championship is nigh” and I need to train for it. So chop down these vulnerable trees I must. It wants me to take out a total of four of the shits.
Four down! Er, the task has changed, and mentions of the exciting championships are gone. It now tells me I need to chop down one tree in order to keep up with some mysterious demand – a demand for dead exploded trees. Okay, one more down, and… oh, now it wants me to chop down six more trees. This time in the name of “forest maintenance”. Ah, but a twist! This time I’m not allowed to use heavy machinery which I don’t have, and instead to use my chainsaw which is all I’ve got…
There’s no mention of completed tasks, no notion of progressing, and I only know these “quests” exist because I clicked on all the various icons and found one offering me something to do.
The level of detail in the environments – while looking like they were developed in the early 2000s – is surprising. Especially surprising in a game about woodcutting that doesn’t let you cut the wood. There are recycling bins for all waste types clearly coloured and labelled in the streets. Not to interact with, of course, but I love that someone thought this was the important detail they needed to focus on, rather than, say, letting you chop down trees. It could go some way to calling itself an “open world woodcutting game”, so vast is the expanse you explore to find those few non-invincible trees. It’s just that the open world is so insipid, and so achingly slow to move around, that it becomes an obstacle rather than a place. However, quick tip: Go diagonally to double your speed!
It’s atrocious. I’m sure that’s fairly obvious. But it seems even the developers know it. The link from the game’s Steam page takes you to the German page about Agrar Simulator 2013, and attempt to visit the developer/publisher’s page for the game itself and you get this.
So the trees win again. Those conniving arseholes. Soon I shall have my revenge, though. Perhaps in Woodcutter Simulator 2014?