As the temperature starts to take its yearly dip and the vibrant colours of summer fade unto the pastels of the autumn, it can mean only one thing: it's hunting season. The time has finally arrived to polish up your rifle, unpack your camouflage and trek out into the wilderness to land that trophy buck. Coinciding with the opening of the season, Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 has landed on store shelves to help pass the time in between hunts. Setting off on this arcade-styled hunting experience may not be what most would expect to find, but it also doesn’t mean this journey isn’t worth taking either
Firstly, we’re going to start this review off quite harshly, but it has to be done; if you’re looking for a realistic hunting experience, then this game probably isn’t for you and you’d be better off checking out last year’s non-Move title, Cabela’s North American Adventures. For everyone else, you’ll be stepping into the shoes of John Sharp, one of the world’s most experienced hunters and one who's been called upon by the mysterious and elite hunting group, known as the Order of Orion. You’ll set off with three others on the trip of a lifetime; to hunt the largest game in the world. But does this Order of Orion actually have an underlying hidden objective?
Taking cues from last year’s Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2011, the gameplay is quite similar in nature here. The opening cinematic shows Sharp defending another hunter as he is possibly mauled to death by a bear himself in the Alaskan wilds. Sharp's witty self-narration begins with the opening cinematic and continues throughout each of the game's loading sequences. This is how the games story pushes forward, with exception to a few dramatic in-game videos that precede major storyline plots. At first it all seems a bit too simple, but when the final curtain drops and the opening sequence finally makes sense, like Dangerous Hunts 2011 before it, the story raises a smile and does a great job of giving the hunt a purpose.
The story mode will take you across five different locations across the world: Montana, Mexico, Texas, Namibia and Alaska. Each local is beautifully represented and finds the regions appropriate game and nature-like sound effects; successfully bringing each environment to life. Each locale will send you on three different hunts in search of multiple types of local big game. Linear paths direct you forward with the goal of achieving the most points possible to earn a gold medal for each hunt, all in hopes of being the best hunter in the lot. An x-ray vision mode called Detection Mode will help you to find animal tracks easily, upon which you’ll see a short cinematic of the animal you're hunting and also be given the criteria needed to acquire additional points for the kill at hand (e.g. shoot from over 150 yards). You’ll then proceed forward into the hunting area where you’ll find multiple hunting stands and/or blinds, which can be used to gain even more points for the kill. Time slows to a crawl as you hold your breath while taking aim at your trophy buck — exposing the animals’ vital organs for maximum kill points – and then the crack of gunfire erupts. The camera shifts to bullet time as it flies towards its intended target, and the crippling shot can almost be felt as the animal buckles on its feet and falls to the ground. It’s cinematic and exciting, and if you’re really proud of your prize, you’ll be glad to know that you’re then treated to a photo of your trophy buck and the total score for the kill, which can in turn be uploaded to show off on Facebook. And then it’s on to the next hunting area until the final target trophy is acquired for the hunt.
This style of gameplay is far from typical in hunting games, and if this was all that was on offer it’d be about as fun as sitting in a tree stand for a week and not even seeing so much as a squirrel – the way most of our actual hunting experience transpire – but thankfully, there are a few variations that keep things interesting. A few hunts into the game you’ll start having to actually sneak up on your prey. Using detection mode, you’ll find bushes that can be used as cover and terrain that can’t be crossed without alerting the prey. Also, a Universal Tracking Device located on your arm beeps if any female game in the area become aware of your presence, making these sneaking sequences a test of patience and skill. You’ll also acquire a compound bow for these sequences, which can in turn be used to silently kill multiple targets in one hunting area. Sections between these hunting areas are filled with small game and birds that scatter about, which can be shot to rack up even more points toward acquiring the gold medal for the hunt; as well as a few other small variations that also help keep the game from descending into repetition too quickly.
The shooting galleries from Dangerous Hunts 2011 make their return here as well, offering a wide variety of stages and modes to blast through. These on-rails galleries practically beg you to break out your Sharp Shooter or Flex-Fire for maximum precision. You might as well keep them out for the Story Mode too, seeing how the linear paths make for easy navigation with the peripherals and shooting a trophy buck just feels so right with a gun in hand. The Move/Navi setup works very well here as well, but we found that the gun peripherals offer the steadiest aim in comparison.
Finally we’ve come to something that surprisingly boosted the game's fun factor up a notch and really helped with the linear, somewhat repetitive gameplay: Trophies. Regardless of your feelings about Trophies, their implementation is perfectly fitting this style of gameplay and gives the game the boost it needed. The trophy list is setup in a way that makes you want to replay the story mode with your newly acquired Trophy Gun (awesome scoped pistol) upon completion; the desire to blast hundreds of birds’ in-game with a shotgun, and perfect your accuracy in the shooting galleries, etc. Online leaderboards and local multiplayer for the shooting galleries add a healthy mix of relay value as well, but what could have easily just have been a 4-5 hour romp through the story mode and a bit of on-rails fun can turn into a 20+ hours experience if you're chasing the Platinum.
Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 may not be exactly what many might expect, but by no means does that mean it’s a bad game. The arcade experience found here is just ripe for some great Sharp Shooting action; light on the realism, but heavy on the fun. Hunting aficionados will likely find little to enjoy here, but fans of on-rails shooters will likely find themselves right at home here. While we walk away pleased with this year’s hunting trip, we still long for the chance to take a trophy buck in a realistic hunting game with the precision of PlayStation Move. Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 does a good job of satiating our hunting desires for this season, but we hope that next season the Cabela’s team bring us the realistic hunting experience we truly desire.