Bear Simulator is a crowd-funded indie game that features open world gameplay. Open world gameplay is a term that was once used to describe games like Legend of Zelda, Grand Theft Auto, and Just Cause where the objectives and levels were not laid out in a predetermined order, but rather given to the player all at once. Nowadays, open world gameplay refers to a game mechanic used in big budget games as a way to make the overall game length seem greater. In short, open world used to mean freedom and exploration and now it means walking a long time to get where the game wants you to go. So, what kind of open world game is Bear Simulator?
Bear Simulator opens with the eponymous bear in its den. It’s an unimpressive bear cave at the beginning, only furnished with a bed of dirt and a bed-side rock table, but it gradually becomes homey with the addition of furniture and companions found on adventures. The game prompts the player to start their journey by presenting them with a grub and giving them the option to eat it. This is foraging, the core game mechanic of Bear Simulator. Foraging is how you keep your health and stamina up. It’s also how you improve your stats. Stepping outside the cave and into Arni Forest tells you that one of seven regions has been found. At this point Bear Simulator has told you everything you need to know. You have seven regions to explore, and you eat things to level up. You’re given no more instruction, and honestly, in a game called Bear Simulator, do you really need it? It’s open world gameplay at its purest.
Each region has its own areas to explore and each one has paths that lead to even more sub-areas such as underground caves or the dens of the forebears. The areas are interconnected making the game feel like one big world instead of several disjointed levels. The regions and even the areas within them are vastly different. They range from forests with campgrounds to eerie mountains and haunted hills, to balmy beaches and man-made construction sites.
The more you forage, the more abilities you will unlock. You start off with a basic swipe and level one sniff. Hunting, like foraging, is a good way to gain health and improve stats. Smelling animal tracks tells the story of the unseen fauna. The critters’ banter helps break up the silence and often gives clues to the area’s secrets. Other clues can also be found scattered throughout the game. Some are more obvious than others.
There are implied quests you can do, like finding a catbed in order to adopt the cat as your pet, but there is no real end goal. When you run out of health you’re escorted back to your den by an unknown force. Getting back to where you were can be cumbersome and there’s no fast travel. Also, many of the secrets are out of the way. Reaching a distant secret only to realize I didn’t have enough strength or intelligence was something that happened pretty often. The level progression is decent but I could still see this upsetting some players. Stat-locked secrets and timed events have you memorizing certain areas. In my opinion, this is how open world gameplay should be. Exploring at night or in the rain leads to new discoveries and keeps the environment fresh. There’s a fair amount of backtracking and there’s no map to speak of. Fortunately, in Bear Simulator you can never cross the same stream twice. At the beginning you’ll find what seems like an impossible feat while later the solution will be clear.
You can play this adventure however you wish. When it comes to the look of the game, there’s almost too much freedom. There are tons of options and settings to enable or disable. Some areas look better with certain settings—the Calypso Mountains are engulfed in white fog, so bloom makes it blindingly bright. It would’ve been nice to have a default setting for each region. Bear Simulator really feels like a game that should be played with a controller. There appears to be built-in joypad support but I was unable to get it to work with a Logitech or an Xbox controller. The levels are designed well and scaling rocks to get to hard-to-reach places is often rewarded. Oddly, I would find “bear traps” on relatively smooth ground. Climbing rocks and branches is flawless, but there were times when I would be walking on a slightly angled hill and get stuck in place. These bear traps were impossible to get out of and I had to restart the game to get unstuck. Aside from those weird quirks, Bear Simulator allows you to play the game however you like.
After backing Bear Simulator on Kickstarter, I now have more sympathy for video game developers and empathy for video game publishers. This also shaped my experience with the game a bit differently then someone who might purchase it after release. When Bear Simulator was seen to completion and released, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It surprised me by being exactly want I wanted from a bear simulator. Knowing that Farjay—the game’s one-person developer—was having trouble animating fish made the inclusion of animated fish a welcome surprise. There are a few rough spots, and while some have been fixed, I imagine the rest will remain. There’s enough humor and personality in the game to overlook most of the issues.
Bear Simulator is a simple bear game. It’s intuitively designed and has the right kind of open world gameplay. If you need instruction or direction to have fun, I doubt you’d find much enjoyment in Bear Simulator. If you love freedom to do what you want and how you want then Bear Simulator is worth checking out. At the time of writing this, Bear Simulator is available for purchase on Steam.