Been hiking recently? If you have you may have noticed that OS maps don’t come printed with handy ‘You Are Here’ arrows. Unlike GPS screens and game maps, they don’t actually tell you where you are. Apparently (there are no instructions so we’ve deduced the following), you’re meant to compare the squiggly lines on the map with the hills, roads and woods in the landscape, and figure out your location. It’s like a game – an observation-based puzzle where success means finding your way back to the car/house/pub, but failure is hours of wandering in circles muttering “That tree looks familiar” and “I could murder for a Snickers.”
Considering the game-like nature of map reading, it’s odd that devs haven’t given us more navigate-’em-ups like this fresh orienteering sim. Catching Features has a truly simple premise. To start you select a tract of wilderness (handmade or randomly generated) and grab a map marked with a zigzag multi-leg course. Next, with clock ticking and compass in hand, you run the zigzag in as short a time as possible. The only physical evidence of courses is in the form of small markers hammered into the ground at the end of each leg. Locating these compulsory checkpoints among the pines, boulders and undergrowth can be tricky, especially if you lose your bearings.
That’s one of the things we like most about CF – it forces you to study stuff other games dismiss as decoration. To go from lost to unlost you must stop, look about, and compare the cartography with the topography. “Hmm, there’s a hillock to the north, a clearing to the south and I’m standing on the edge of a stream running east-west. I must be... here!” It’s amazing how gratifying these moments of realization can be. They’re almost as pleasing as the moments when, after a long, increasingly desperate hunt, you catch sight of an elusive marker through a tangle of herbage.
Because slopes and vegetation slow runners down, the quickest route between two markers often isn’t the shortest. A detour around a hill or a marsh can save time, but increases the chance of disorientation. Do you risk confusion for the sake of a few seconds? There are tactics here too. What there aren’t, unfortunately, are pretty polygons. The forests can be atmospheric but the lack of dynamic lighting, 3D trees and motion-captured runners turn an 8 score into 7. If CF had ArmA/Crysis quality vistas and SpeedTree-style flora, you’d have trouble tearing us away. As it is, it’s still a breath of fresh air; a welcome break from guns, goblins and galactic conquest.
Jul 16, 2008