I haven’t ever played a Cabela game. This is partly due to my personal boycott of Activision products, but mostly due to the fact that I don’t play hunting games. Considering I 1) don’t hunt, and 2) haven’t even fired a live round of ammunition since I left the service in 2003, I’m not what you would call the target audience for the genre. Though I’m sure they didn’t know about the boycott, the folks at Activision were just fine with me not having any experience with the Cabela franchise, specifically because of the new changes they’ve made to the formula. I was able to get hands on time with Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2011, in what can best be described as a tour truck complete with forest and mountain props. They certainly went through the stops of livening the place up, or at least trying to impress journalists, but is the game worth your time?
Cabela’s has always been about hunting, but two things set this game apart not only from other hunting games, but other Cabela’s games as well. The most obvious change is that the game comes bundled with a gun controller. I was skeptical when they first announced the controller; after all, flimsy plastic crap has done so much to help Tony Hawk’s latest game, and we all see how well Guitar Hero is doing lately. However, I was actually impressed with how these were put together. For the 360 and PS3, the guns are fully functioning controllers; there’s an analogue stick near the trigger, and another one at the end of the gun’s barrel, with two buttons (X and O/A and B for PS3/360 respectively) near trigger and two more at the end. The clip has the start, select/back buttons and the big PS/360 buttons. The controllers for the HD systems will come with a sensor bar; on the Wii, it’s obviously unnecessary. On the Wii, the nunchuck goes into the housing, while the Wiimote goes into the barrel of the gun. The clip can be taken out to reveal a place to store the wires connecting the nunchuck and Wiimote, and it even comes with a safety that can be pulled back to show the connector to the Wiimote. On all guns, there’s an red scope that can be slid on and off at will, as well as an adjustable stock that can be extended or shortened at will, or even taken off completely to turn the gun into a sawed-off shotgun. I wish the other Red Octane products were designed this well, and the Wii gun has the added benefit of potentially being a replacement for the God-awful Zapper.
The game itself has the standard on-rails shooting mode, but also comes with a story/survival mode. Yes, they put a story into a hunting game from the same person that wrote Resistance, and not only that, there’s a heavy emphasis on predators, and them attacking you. The PR rep with Activision stated that this is the first case of a game becoming a survival/horror/hunting game, and I believe him. I wasn’t able to get much of what was going on, but I was able to play two parts. The first is the prologue, where you see your father, back in 1982, being attacked by a bear that took out your grandfather as well. It’s now 2001, and you, the city-slicker that you are, go into the mountains with your father (sans eye, from the bear attack) and brother, to prove that you’re worthy of inheriting the lands of your father and forefathers. The voice acting and storytelling are so-bad-it’s-good laughable, and your father comes across as a mix between Kenny Rogers and Charles Bronson.
After some cinematics, you’re finally allowed to fire off a few rounds. It’s pretty hard for me to really gauge how accurate the gun is because my gun wasn’t calibrated in the slightest, to the point where my aiming at the bottom of the screen put the cursor at the top. This led to me being forced to shoot from the hip, which is never good. However, by holding the gun completely stationary, the cursor jumped around a bit, enough to throw off far shots. I know my aiming is good – though I’m not Army or Marine trained, I was a good enough shot to earn an Expert Marksman medal in the Navy – and the cursor jumping around like that seems like it was intentionally added in. It doesn’t affect most shots, but if you’re firing from far away, it can be the difference between a hit and a miss, and your own aim doesn’t seem to help much. It seems the game compensates for this by widening the hit boxes for most animals; I noticed later that I was winging a lot of enemies that I thought I’d missed. If the game wasn’t this close to completion, I wouldn’t be reporting this, but since the version I played is about finished from a gameplay perspective, I feel it fair game. Looking around is accomplished by aiming at the sides of the screen, whereas the trigger (left) stick moves, and the nozzle (right) stick does a quick 90 degree turn. I didn’t really care for this, as it led to my field of vision being thrown completely out of whack at times. Short of pausing the game, you can’t just look around while moving your gun somewhere else, such as pointing it towards the ground. This forced me to have my gun pointed at the screen – in aim mode – the entire time, and had I actually been able to aim properly, this would definitely have led to some seriously fatigued arms. The controls felt very “gamey”, and while there’s a certain element of that to be expected given the limitations of the system and the controls, I can’t lie and say this is a tremendously realistic experience.
Another key part of the game is the “hunter sense”, which turns the screen into a technicolour rainbow. At this point, you have to put your scope on, which acts like one of those cheap 3-D glasses we got as kids with “3-D” books and lets you see tracks of any animals you’re tracking. This is a nice addition, and lets more casual gamers (who aren’t interested in actually tracking in the slightest) get into another detail of hunting, though I can only imagine having to take the scope off in a firefight; it would probably make the gun jump around enough to throw my vision off. As for me, due to the fact that my gun was aiming worse than a musket, I was forced to use a second scope.
We jumped ahead a few stages, to a stage where I was tasked with reuniting with my father and brother, whom I’d been separated from in an avalanche. The first thing I ended up doing was seeing a few wolves going after some buck. I shot one of them, and the other one didn’t seem to notice. When I questioned this, I was informed that their advancing, hell-bent on their destination, was important for the next cutscene, which is another case of a “gamey” gameplay aspect. If I’m shooting wildlife, I want it to act like wildlife, game or no game, and they should have taken a cue from Afrika in how wildlife actually acts. Advancing through the stage is similar to games like Call of Duty, in that once you hit a certain area, a new scene or new things to shoot are triggered. The one scene in my game had me getting knocked down off of a ledge by a wolf, with my shotgun being thrown too far away for me to retrieve it, which became problematic as I was attacked by a pack of seven or eight wolves (whom I did not beat, not being able to accurately aim my rifle and all). It felt a little overdramatic at times, and though I was told that my style of play – lightly stepping, very cautious – would benefit me in later stages, what I was able to play didn’t much resemble hunting.
The other mode I was able to try was the more arcade-like Shooting Gallery, which is something Cablea’s veterans should be more familiar with. This is a straight, on-rails shooter, supporting one to four players, where you’re able to single-handedly destroy the local food chain by blowing away conveniently placed wildlife. I definitely had some fun – as much as I could, with my gun’s sight being so screwed up – playing this, and if you’re willing to go the distance and buy some extra guns, it’s definitely a great party game.
Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2011 comes out on October 26th, and will retail for $50 as a stand-alone game. Bundled with a controller, the Wii version will cost $60, and the HD games will cost $80 due to the extra hardware, with a gun itself costing about $40. Admittedly, this is a nice package, and I expected it to cost more considering what you’re getting. My only concern is that, just judging on what I’ve seen so far, the only thing this isn’t coming with is much of a game. I came in expecting a regular hunting game, where you stalk your prey, use real hunting tools, and take aim at scoring a big prize. I didn’t go in expecting to BE the prey, and though the gameplay is certainly fun, this might as well be House of the Dead or any other light gun game. It’s a bit disappointing, because I have to admit that despite my disdain for Activision as a company, it’s obvious they put a lot of effort into this product.