Review: Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012

Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 with Top Shot Elite
Genre: Hunting
Developer: Activision
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 09/27/11

When this game came in for review I jumped at the opportunity. While I’ve hunted in the past, I never really enjoyed it. Something about sneaking up and killing an animal just doesn’t appeal to me, though I got to see first hand the kind of skill it takes to hunt and gained an appreciation for it, even if I’ve seen the movie Bambi one too many times to enjoy it myself. That’s why I was looking forward to Cabela’s Big Game Hunter, I figured this would be a way to get some of the experience of hunting, only without actually killing anything. Plus it had a large rifle gun, the Top Shot Elite, that came with it and as a fan of lightgun games I was itching to get my hands on it.

When I opened the box, the game was nestled in the package along with the Top Shot Elite controller which needed to be put together. Putting it together was simple, and the gun itself looked impressive with the layout of buttons in places that made sense. I hooked up the included dongle and sensor, turned the game on, and got ready.

And it wouldn’t calibrate. I have a 47″ LCD TV, and it appears that the Top Shot Elite has problems with larger TVs, at least according to different user reviews. I know I could not configure it, even from over three yards away. I even tried it at a friend’s house from further away and could not get it to calibrate. So please take into consideration into my review that I was not able to accurately play with the Top Shot Elite controller, and in fact completed the Story Mode with just the controller.

The Story Mode is essentially the main portion of the game. The story is about a hunting competition that takes place in several venues that pits your character against three other hunters. Most of the story is told through loading screens between areas and is only barely there. Oddly, the main narrator’s voice sounds kind of off, as though he was recording into a bad microphone, despite all of the other voice actors sounding fine. There isn’t really much of a story here, and what is there kind of makes the main character look like a jerk at the end. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone in case there is someone who really cares about the pivotal moment in the story of a hunting game, just that I was surprised that they thought anyone would empathize with the situation.

Aside from the Story Mode there is also a Gallery Mode. Gallery Mode actually contains three modes within it: Arcade, Reflex, and Target. Arcade could probably be best described as Duck Hunt for a modern age. Essentially, there are a lot of animals and you have to shoot them. Shooting them without missing gives you a multiplier and there are secret areas that you can access to gain a higher score. Reflex is oddly a sort of Simon Says with animals. You are given specific targets to shoot at and get a bonus for shooting them in that order. Target is literally a target shooting gallery with fake wooden animals popping up to shoot at. I do not understand why a game with virtual animals would then need a target shooting gallery where you shoot at virtual representations of wooden cutouts meant to depict animals, but that’s just me.

Graphically the game is below par to other recent games. Some of the backgrounds look nice, but the environments look bad up close. A lot of the trees, bushes, and rocks are obviously copy and paste jobs as they look identical, a lot of the rock and walls feature rough geometry with a lot of flat surfaces with textures that look painted on, and so on. The animals look fairly good from far away, but their animation is terrible. Animals walk in stilted, jerky ways. While hiding in a bush I watched a doe turn on an axis without any animation. Death animations are really bad, especially the random Skillshots. Occasionally an animal will attack you out of nowhere in the game and you have only a moment to take a shot. When you shoot the animal they wig out into death animations that look more like epileptic seizures than an animal that has just been shot through the heart. I shot a wolf once and the wolf’s front paws spun in a complete circle on its wrists (do wolves have wrists?) before it hit the ground as though they were possessed by a demonic spirit.

The audio is alright. Aside from the main narrator speaking through a poor mic, the rest of the voice actors sound decent and the music works well. The music is both unobtrusive and used to highlight certain moments, like the Skillshots or lowering the volume of everything when you are holding your breath as you are getting ready to make a shot. Some of the animal noises, particularly the bird noises, do not sound accurate, but my understanding of bird calls is lacking.

Like I mentioned, the game uses the Pro Shot Elite. I attempted to play the game with calibration that was off and it wasn’t much fun. The scope on the rifle has a red screen on it which in all honesty detracts from the experience and is something that I also do not understand the point of – are there just red scopes? Every rifle scope I’ve used was clear. I’ve used red dot scopes but never red lense scopes.

Using the controller for Story Mode worked just fine. The controls were not far off of what you would expect of any first person shooter, which is actually one of my biggest gripes about the game. I haven’t played a Cabela‘s game in a while. However, in the past you would hunt in these wide open areas; that is no longer the case. In Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012, the Story Mode is a bunch of narrow corridors, usually in each section separated into three different hunts within an area. Each hunt begins with getting the trail, which is impossible to miss because the game usually has the trail set where one location funnels into another. Then you hunt the animal you are after, only most of the skill required to hunt is taken out of the equation.

I’m not exaggerating. You find the trail, which brings up some weird psychic vision of what the animal was doing when it made that trail, and then right in the next part of the stage is your target. The hardest part of the game is usually trying to make your way to a blind or stand. The hunting part is simple, once you have your target: aim, hold your breath, try to hit a vital organ. Trying to get to a stand is sometimes difficult because you have to sneak your way past does to get to them.

Getting past does is mostly memorizing a pattern and then running to the next bush, which makes you completely hidden from the animals. No scents, taking in wind direction, or so on required. You can turn on Hunter Vision, which is a lot like Detective Mode with the recent Batman games. Animals, hiding spots, and spots where you make noise are highlighted, along with the current alert status for the animal you are facing.

This game is not so much a hunting simulator than it is Metal Deer Solid. The most difficult thing in any level to do is to try and gain the most points, which come from hitting vital organs, taking out multiple animals, completing challenges and using the best blind/rest available. There are also hunter challenges, where you are required to kill a set amount of animals in each stage, which felt really weird to me. Not because I was committing bunny genocide at times, but because I would often be shooting not too far from the trophy the game wanted me to hunt, and I’d think that the sound of multiple shotgun blast might alert the target that I was coming. For the most part, nope. They just waited for me to bring them death.

As mentioned the game controls a lot like a FPS game with the controller. You move with the left stick, aim with the right, shoot with the R2 button, change weapons with the D-Pad, reload with R1, and so on. Over time you gain access to more weapons, including a bow. These can be upgraded from points you earn during the different hunts, and each weapon has multiple upgrades.

I also tried the game out using the Move. Personally I enjoyed using the controller more during the Story Mode, but during the Gallery Mode I much preferred either the Move or the Top Shot Elite. Gallery requires you to shoot quickly, and when using the controller it is harder to aim as fast and the sometimes sticky auto aim would throw me off. Using the Move controller was a lot of fun. Even though it too had calibration issues, it wasn’t nearly as significant as the Top Shot Elite and did not pose a problem when playing. In fact I much preferred the Move – not only did I have less calibration issues, but with the Top Shot Elite the cursor seemed to lag when targeting, which can make a huge difference with the Gallery Mode and wasn’t an issue with the Move.

It is hard to define Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 in terms of difficulty. Shooting animals that can’t shoot back isn’t hard in the game, and neither is the actual hunting part. None of the levels are big enough to make it hard to find the prey. The difficulty comes in trying to get the best score, and at times the game will give you challenges that are really difficult. The Gallery Mode also has unique challenges within it. When I played I tried to get the highest multiplier and my friend just shot everything. At times I’d pull ahead and at others he would. It’s an interesting balance to the Gallery Mode.

Of course, it is Gallery Mode where most of the replayability is at. While the game does give you incentive in both trophy support and in challenges to try and complete a level again in Story Mode, the Gallery Mode is where you have to try to earn points, where there are leaderboards and are the most fun to try and play with friends as you try to one up each other’s score. While the other control methods did not work as favorably, I played the Gallery Mode with the Move and it was addictive enough that I could imagine future gaming sessions with my friends in just that one mode.

Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 is sort of derivative of last years Dangerous Hunts 2011, with some of the same problems haunting this years version of the game. Then again there are a lot of hunters in this country with few games aimed towards that demographic, and while the idea might not appeal to everyone, for people who hunt this is pretty much the only video game that embraces that hobby.

The biggest crime this game commits is the fact that it has very little to do with actual hunting. There are some token efforts, but most of the game is focused on narrow shooting galleries that occasionally stray into odd stealth segments. There is little to do with scents, wind direction, different hunting tools aside from the animal call, and so on. It boils down the hunting experience into a hunt for a higher score, instead of a hunt for the best trophy animal.

The Scores
Story: Bad
Graphics: Below Average
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Good
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Bad
FINAL SCORE: Poor Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
The game does very little to try and convey a real hunting experience. The graphics are a mixed bag and the animations can be really terrible. The Top Shot Elite doesn’t appear to calibrate well on bigger TVs unless you have a lot of space. That said, the game can be a lot of fun in the gallery mode when playing with friends and the Playstation Move.

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