Sim-plicity: I am a woodcutter
Having retired from world-saving heroics, Christopher Livingston is living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week he squares off against his sworn enemy: trees, and their stubborn insistence on standing vertically.
Trees: they're nature's telephone poles! They're tall, proud, made of something (wood, is my guess) and have a rich history in video games of being things you accidentally crash into while driving. Woodcutter Simulator turns the tables on these traditionally unmovable video game sentinels, allowing you to cut them down and sell them off to be made into things like tables, doors, pencils, canoes, and, in some cases, telephone poles, thereby completing the beautiful, natural cycle of severe front-end automobile damage.
Woodcutter Simulator begins with four tutorials, demonstrating some of the woodcutting equipment in the game. First, perhaps predictably, is the Cutter, which is essentially a tractor with a giant buzz saw attached to the back. To cut a tree down simply back up to a tree marked with a red X, put on the brake, and start cutting, provided you're at the perfect distance and the precise angle. Otherwise, simply spend about four minutes carefully adjusting the Cutter. It's a pain, though with a little practice I can get properly lined up with just a couple tries.
Next is the Feller, which seems like it'd be easier because you can just drive straight into the tree without having to turn around, but it's actually trickier, because you not only have to be positioned at the correct distance and angle, but you also need to set the correct rotation and height of your-- sorry to get technical here-- front-part Feller thingamawuzzit. Also tricky: recovering after a tree tries to murder you.
There's also the Lifter, a tractor with a big claw on the front for picking up logs and putting them into trucks. And finally, the Puller, which is used to drag fallen trees around. As a responsible games journalist, I'll do my utmost to describe the Puller fairly and dispassionately: The Puller was constructed by Satan in a cursed steel mill from the spare parts of the most evil machinery ever devised, including Cylons, Daleks, Megatron, Mechagodzilla, the evil version of K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider, and those shoddy can openers that really hurt your hand when you use them.
More on that in a bit!
Having completed the tutorial, I select the first mission: cut down six trees and put them in a truck for the customer. I drive my Cutter around (the Feller is unavailable in this mission for some reason), quickly and heartlessly executing the required number of trees, and then a dark, all-consuming dread sets in, because now I have to lug them back to Woodcutter HQ. As I mentioned before, the Puller is straight up evil, the most exasperating and frustrating vehicle in this game or any other, and here's why.
The Puller is a tractor with six wheels distributed over three segmented parts. The front two wheels are independent from the body of the vehicle, which has two fixed wheels. The back portion contains the claw to grab the end of the fallen tree, supported by the back two wheels, which are also independent of the vehicle.
Driving the Puller forward in a straight line is tricky enough without swerving all over the place. Driving it backward, trying to push the rear two wheels neatly over the end of a fallen tree, is a teeth-gnashing exercise in futility. The slightest steering adjustment causes the end of the Puller to veer off course, and If the approach isn't perfect, which it never is, the log is nudged and slides or rolls away. The entire exercise is using one hand to push an irritated snake backwards into a cardboard tube: there's wriggling and twisting and shoving, the target keeps sliding out of place, and you wind up with venom coursing through your veins. Simply put, the Puller is the QWOP of woodcutting equipment.
There is a button for locking the rear joint in place, but it tends to only stay locked for a few seconds, just long enough for you to miss the end of the log you're aiming for, or worse, to nudge it out of place, forcing you to spend long minutes lining up a new approach. I genuinely wonder if the developers wanted to make a game about cutting down trees or a craft an impressively strong argument for leaving trees the hell alone.
Fifteen minutes later, I've finally managed to get a single tree (of the six I owe) in the blasted Puller, and I drag it over to the truck. Now, apparently, I need to use a crane (which was not part of the tutorial) to get it onto the truck bed. First, I drop the tree too far from the crane to actually pick it up, so I'm forced to get back into the hated Puller, which I use to ram the tree a little closer. Another ten minutes pass as I wrestle with the crane controls. I'm finally ready to load the tree into the truck, when I notice that the tree is actually quite a bit longer than the truck itself. Er. Is this going to work?
I also notice I have an icon for my sawmill (again, not part of the tutorial). Maybe I need to cut up this tree before it goes onto the truck. Which means putting the tree back down, hooking it up to the [expletive] Puller, dragging it to the sawmill, and using yet another crane to get the tree into the mill, then bringing it back and using the first crane again.
In the game, it starts raining. This feels entirely appropriate.
After several tries, I get the Puller to grab the log, and drag it to the mill crane, and after much swinging and twisting about, I manage to get the log onto the conveyer belt. I hear satisfying buzzsaw sounds from the mill, and I hop back into the Puller to see what comes out the other end. Four trimmed-down logs appear, one by one, and roll off into a neat little pile.
I try to select the Lifter from the tutorial, seeing as how it's the piece of equipment designed for carrying logs around and loading them into trucks. Like my Feller, however, it doesn't appear to be available to me in this mission. Why? Whyyyyyy? With no Lifter, I'm going to have to somehow attach these small logs to my Puller. One by one. And drag them over to my crane, and lift them into the truck. One by one. And that'll be four logs. Just four. And honestly, I think the customer wants trees, not logs, so I don't even know if there's a point to any of this.
I consider my options. I could put my face in my hands and weep, which feels like an entirely reasonable plan. I could also quietly uninstall Woodcutter Simulator, retype my Airport Firefighter Simulator column, submit it to PC Gamer, and hope nobody notices.
No. I'm no quitter. Well, technically, I am, because I am about to quit Woodcutter Simulator. But first, I am going to get one damn piece of wood onto that truck. Just one. I don't even care if it's what the customer wants. This is just a grudge match at this point.
Night has fallen. In the gathering darkness, I ram the logs with the Puller, trying to dislodge them from the mill so I can separate one and drag it off. I wiggle and adjust my Puller for long minutes (that sounds gross, sorry), finally getting a small log hooked, though it drops off in transit and I have to do it again. Finally, I get back to the crane, load the truck, and send the truck off to the customer, who will no doubt be a little confused at seeing his truck drive up bearing not the six mighty trees he requested, but instead a single little log, wet with tears.
Conclusion: I was going to write something about how I really wanted to enjoy this sim, that the concept of running a woodcutting business was genuinely appealing, that I'd have been perfectly happy cutting down trees with giant spinning sawblades and building a little woodcutting empire, but I think I'll just say this instead: ARGGGHH PULLER