Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2013 Review (Xbox 360)
I’m not a hunter, though I have many friends who are. And while sitting in the cold waiting for an unlucky animal doesn’t appeal to me, the actual hunting part--the self-reliance, careful aiming, stalking prey--does seem exciting.
So it would stand to reason that a hunting video game would be thrilling without the physical and ethical messiness. Enter Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2013, the newest in a long line of branded hunting games. Does this game capture the thrill of trailing an animal, carefully aiming your shot, and bagging the big kill?
The quick answer to that question is a big no. This is no more a hunting simulation than Call of Duty is an authentic look at the soldier experience. There’s very little “hunting,” literal or connotational, in this game.
Instead, this game is an arcadey take on the sport of extreme big game hunting, where, in the story mode, you progress from set piece to set piece, mowing down nearly everything that moves. In that sense, it is like Call of Duty, except with animals instead of soldiers or zombies.
Take one of the earlier missions, er, levels: you are alone in an abandoned rangers station with nothing but a handgun. You conveniently find a shotgun and a rifle, moments before waves of hyenas come crashing through every door and window.
This isn’t to say that this isn’t fun; it just isn't, you know, hunting. This is all ok, if you know that going in. In most cases, you are the prey, and natures wildest predators are after you. Really, this is simply a first person shooter in a red flannel shirt.
Other FPS tropes are applied here as well. You can sprint, duck, dodge and roll, and utilize the “hunter’s eye” to find your next target. There are health packs and ammo scattered throughout most levels. You can carry multiple weapons, and there is a very light leveling system that increases your abilities as you play. Most levels are really just wide corridors that lead to the next action piece or boss animal; unless you are on a vehicle, in which case it’s an on rails shooter.
Overall, most everything works. Shooting feels nice. Movements, including the dodge mechanic and vision aids, is functional but goes no further than that. The gameplay doesn’t hold up when compared to other AAA FPS games, but its adequate for what it is.
Graphically, this game reminds me of early Xbox 360 games. Things look ok from a distance, but approach an animal you’ll start to see basic polygons. Animals are also well-animated, unless they are running. Fast movement animations look slightly off, especially the big cats. Environments are also adequate, but not spectacular.
There are cutscenes in the main mode, all which seem really low-res. The voice acting is good, as are the in-game sound effects. Aurally, the game produces some nice sounding locales.
Gun Peripheral and Animal AI
These two features are among this title’s biggest selling points, though both fail to some degree.
The Top Shot Fearmaster Controller is a nice and weighty light gun, modelled like a small shotgun. It is comfortable to hold, unless you need to reach the D-pad, which is awkwardly placed. That becomes a problem, because you’ll need to use it from time to time in critical moments.
The game also asks you to mount a sensor bar above or below your tv; I wish there were an option to use the Kinect since it's already there. Aiming and controlling the gun was really hit or miss for me. I felt like I should be standing, but I had to aim very low in order for the sensor to see my gun. Sitting was the opposite; I had to aim higher than what felt natural. I was unable to find a comfortable middle ground.
If you can fine-tune your position, you’ll find this gun a decent control device. It is a little “swimmy” for me, and turning by aiming will never feel natural. But overall, the Top Shot Fearmaster is functional.
One of the advanced functions of the gun is a set of metallic sensors that measure your heart rate. In certain moments of the game, controlling your breath and excitement level will slow down time and scope in on a target’s vital organs. I can say that, in most cases, this mechanic worked. However, it feels really gamey, especially since there is a slight amount of auto-aiming that occurs.
As for the animal AI, which is called “Prowler AI,” I didn’t see it. Perhaps veterans of the series might appreciate this more, but it seemed like most animals charge you, then circle around for another run. I didn’t see pack behavior or stalking that didn’t seem pre-scripted.
There are three main modes found in Dangerous Hunts 2013. The first is the aforementioned story mode, which, again, feels lifted from an FPS. I found the story rather cliche, and it didn’t do much to encourage me to keep going.
An example of its poor writing: early on, you are in a jeep, caught in the middle of a sandstorm and a stampede. As this on-rails level ends, your jeep plummets off of a bridge into a dry river bed, barely avoiding being trampled by buffalo and eaten by cheetahs. The next levels starts, with your safari guide saying something along the lines of, “Why don’t you hunt while I fix the jeep?”
Honestly, I found the other modes more fun. First, there’s a set of challenges that can be played solo or with a partner. Think of the Spec Ops modes in Call of Duty. These are pretty challenging, and feature a separate leveling system that increases during the entirety of the mission.
The other mode is the evolution of Duck Hunt, where you must kill enough animals to meet a target score. This mode is entirely on rails, but you can’t progress unless you achieved the mandated score.
Again, if you want a true hunting simulator, look elsewhere, as Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts isn’t one. What it is, though, is an arcadey take on hunting, more in line with a first person shooter than a good representation of the sport.
That alone doesn’t condemn this game, but doesn’t elevate it either. It’s an average shooter, with mediocre graphics and very linear levels. Like a shooter, you’ll take way more damage than should seem possible, and animals usually require more than one shot to take down. Enemies, here animals, often come at you in waves and will attack at length unless you kill them or their leader (seriously).
All of that said, I don’t know who to recommend this game to. It won’t meet the needs of sportsmen looking for a virtual recreation, and first person shooter fans have waaay better options. I suppose this might appeal to those with a passing interest in both hobbies. Or maybe if you are a fan of past Cabela's games you can find value.
Overall, Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2013 is a game stuck in between so many genres that it's hard to really strongly recommend to anyone. It's not a bad game, it's just not good enough at anything to recommend to any particular set of fans.
Learning Curve: The tutorial lasts through the first few missions, and helpfully explains most of what you need to know. There are also tutorial videos.
Control Scheme: The gun is fun, but not a necessity. I honestly liked using a controller most of the time, especially in levels where you do a lot of walking.
Visuals: Really a mixed bag. This game would rank a bit higher with better environment and animal animations.
Audio: The sounds and voice acting are both pretty good.
Lasting Appeal: After you complete the story, have even more fun in the other two modes. The shooting galleries make a great multiplayer game.