We’ve watched enough of the Detectorists TV series to be excited by Treasure Hunter Simulator (a note that the main characters from the show would probably choke on their tea and jammy dodgers at being called ‘Treasure Hunters’). We’re not expecting to fight off rival detectorists or showcase our findings at the local village hall, but we are expecting to stroll around fields, with the possibility of finding some long-lost Anglo-Saxon gold. And that, for some reason, excites us; a walking simulator with the occasional Iron-Age coin sounds just dandy.
That fantasy isn’t quite the same as what Drago Entertainment has in mind, but it’s pretty close. You start Treasure Hunter Simulator in a lavish museum or mansion, something out of an Indiana Jones movie, which is more decadent than the Time Team tent that we expected. A few exhibit cases are dotted around for your top-tier finds. You’re then jumping onto your laptop to access your first site, the Gettysburg Memorial. It’s all a bit high-falutin’ for a detectorist, but we went along with it.
We’ll ignore the ethics of using a metal detector at a national memorial, as Treasure Hunter gets a lot right in its first moments. The area looks pretty good, for one, with nothing that screams low-low-budget. Take a close look at the trees, grass and ceremonial cannons and they won’t quite hold up, but at a distance they all look perfectly serviceable. The audio tracks are nice too, with birds chirping and winds blustering.
That soundtrack is needed, as you quickly notice that the sites in Treasure Hunter Simulator are as dead as a doornail (and you’ll be finding plenty of doornails). You won’t see anyone, and there’s no animal life around. We didn’t expect to chat to Bill the Gettysburg Guide about whether or not we had hunting permits, for example, but we did expect wildlife, and it would have made Treasure Hunter Simulator feel more real, and less like we were playing in a kid’s playset. It’s noticeable, but something you can get over.
Also good is the general UI and presentation. Treasure Hunter Simulator is a slickly presented game, far more modern than you’d expect from a game that’s set mostly in the dirt. While the menus take slightly too long to boot up, even on Series X|S, they are crisp and immediately understandable.
The proof is in the treasure, though, and it’s where Treasure Hunter Simulator starts to take a swan-dive. As you walk or run about each site, a diamond with a magnifying glass appears on the bottom-right of the HUD. This is your notification that something is nearby. What’s strange about this is that you’re not holding the metal detector at this point: you’re rambling around until a kind of ‘Spidey sense’ goes off. We never quite understood why you didn’t have your metal detector out permanently.
Still, once the prompt triggers, you can whip out the detector and start hovering it about. This is exactly how you’d imagine detectoring to be: a series of accelerating beeps as you get closer and closer to the treasure and then beeeeeeep! That’s when you need to get out your spade and start digging, which is done with a series of presses of the A button. You then have the treasure in your hand, and can inspect it.
Inspecting is again a single press of the A button, after which you’re using the right-stick to rotate the item round until a bar fills up. None of this is skill-based, we should add. Something approaching skill, interest or strategy would have been nice here, but no – you are just jiggling about a lump of lead until it becomes sparklingly clean. It’s the same action for every item, so get used to it.
After the inspection, you are holding an item that has a series of parameters like condition and rarity that give it a monetary value. Some items are just junk, and skip the identification phase. You get a text spiel about how the item was used back in the day, and then it’s tucked into an inventory for future cataloguing or selling.
(A quick note that you won’t always be able to inspect things. We hit a number of game-breaking bugs in Treasure Hunter Simulator that meant we had to reinstall it to progress. Often, we couldn’t inspect items, or the game would hang. There are visual bugs too, as you dig in places that take you into a world of light blue. A game that has an ‘Unstuck’ option on its pause menu, so that you can teleport out of places where you’re stuck, likely has problems).
Even within the first level, the tightly constrained Gettysburg Memorial, the fundamental issue with Treasure Hunter Simulator is felt. Finding things just doesn’t feel particularly great. There’s too much repetition, for one, as musket balls, buttons, coins and nails seem to form a thin layer underneath all of the dig sites. That’s probably not too far from the truth: in real life, we suspect you don’t find motherloads like the Staffordshire Hoard every day of the week. But variety within the categories of coins and badges, for example, would have gone a long way. If you were encouraged to collect sets of coins, with reward for their completion, then Treasure Hunter Simulator might even be fun. But no, it’s the same junk, and their only real value and variance is the dollars you get from selling them on.
As you begin to unlock more sites, the same items keep turning up. Treasure Hunter Simulator cheats: you find coins like the Dutch ducat, which were used by merchants ‘all over Europe’. This gives Drago Entertainment a free pass to use that coin asset across all of the European sites. The same goes for WWII items, and artefacts of the Vikings and Romans, as they all wandered the continent. Just when you unlock a new area and get excited at the prospect of new finds, the same items keep turning up.
Most critically, the items fail to give each site an identity. We wanted to know more about Tenczyn Castle for example, to learn about what happened there; who lived there. But you never find much that’s unique to the site, so each one becomes a differently skinned sandbox to play in. When you’ve got some surprisingly distinct areas, like a Scottish beach and an Oman oasis, you want to feel that distinction in everything you do. Yet, the finds only manage to blend them together.
There are a few shallow systems that lie on top of the detecting. You can sell your finds to buy better metal detectors, which in turn can find bigger items (the logic of bigger items needing better detectors defies us, but we will run with it), and also items that are deeper in the ground. The shop is lightweight, with no more than ten to buy, but it helps to give you a sense of progression. As mentioned before, the sell-to-buy structure means that there’s very little in the way of collecting or collections, which could have elevated Treasure Hunter Simulator a notch or two.
You also get quests, which are curious. These arrive via email, as wealthy aristocrats find out that you’re going to a site of interest, so they chuck bizarro tasks at you. I’m sure your average detectorist would tell Lord Suffolk to “eff off” if he suggested they race from one end of a dig site to another in a time-limit, but it’s very much a thing here. You’re also commissioned to take photos of scenic elements of the site, which is a touch less strange.
The quests’ most important purpose, however, is to trigger the location of a ‘legendary’ item, with some photographic hints of where they might be. It’s a shame that you can’t just happen upon these items: they have to be triggered by someone else via email. It would have been great to find Captain Cook’s spyglass on our own, but no.
Once you have the legendary item, it means a new area has opened up (there are ten here, and they’re decently sized), and you’ve probably gained enough prestige to go up a level too. Levels unlock detectors, which already had a progression track working up to them, so it’s largely fluff. It would have been great to unlock perks, rooms in your museum or other benefits, but Treasure Hunter Simulator doesn’t show anywhere near the depth to accommodate that sort of thing.
And that’s the overall feeling, having emerged from Treasure Hunter Simulator. While the areas are scenic and nice to ramble around, and while the detecting and digging is satisfying enough, there’s nothing else to support them. Treasure Hunter Simulator is as shallow as a sprinkling of dust, and you’ll get bored of searching through that dust after the first couple of sites.
We never expected metal detecting to be a Michael Bay movie, but we did expect the moment of finding a treasure to feel exhilarating. In Treasure Hunter Simulator, you just toss it onto the pile of identical treasures behind you, and press on with a weary sigh.
You can buy Treasure Hunter Simulator for £8.39 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S