Since Move released last September, the Cabela’s team has brought two of its quirky hunting titles to the motion controller: Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2011 and Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012. Both surprised us with an entertaining story creatively crafted upon the quirky FPS/hunting gameplay style that Cabela’s fans have enjoyed for years. The team is now trying its hand at a third-person survival/action gameplay style with Cabela’s Survival: Shadows of Katmai, but how does this change stack up against previous hunting titles before it?
Surviving a plane crash en route to a small village in northern Alaska is right where the nightmare begins in Shadows of Katmai. Our pilot and his female companion are caught in a deadly winter storm – inevitably crashing – and start a survival trek through the wilds of Alaska. Bad voice acting and decent graphics are expected from a low budget game, but the enjoyable stories of previous titles are much better than Survival's yarn: a deadly virus is infecting the village and it’s up to you to find some meds that were scattered about from the crash and get them to the village in time to save the day. The few twists throughout the game just don’t have lasting impact of previous titles, and the exciting climax to the story... well, there simply isn’t one.
Sadly, the gameplay doesn’t hold up much better either. In third-person style, you walk away from the wreckage unscathed into a clearing, as wild animals start rushing directly at you and you're told to grab a flare gun to scare them off. Running in circles and pointing the cursor at the wild beast and shooting is about all there is to it, with the exception of a few rolls thrown in to dodge incoming attacks. Every time the game opens up to a clearing — you guessed it: animal attacks. Outside of some very angry birds that constantly attack when climbing mountainsides and a bear that can somehow swing trees in its mouth, the repetitive rinse-and-repeat cycle does little to hold your attention after the initial attack.
When you’re not dodging territorial animals, you’ll find yourself scaling the sides of mountains à la Uncharted style most of the time. The climbing sequences in Uncharted are fluid and easy, but here they’re slow and confusing. The furious birds we mentioned earlier seem out of place and with the majority of the game played on these rock faces, the gameplay just isn’t anywhere near on par with previous Cabela’s titles. Even the trekking sequences in-between attacks and the rock climbs are completely linear affairs with a non-controllable preset camera.
It's not a complete wreck though. Cut scenes find hilarious character interactions with a great B-movie feel to them: much of the writing is so bad it’s good and the outcome is complete hilarity. From a crazed schizophrenic hobbit to the interactions you have with a dog that follows your trek through the wilds, these interactions do a great job of keeping the game together, but they also show just how much untapped potential the game has, but never truly grips hold of. With more time and polish, the team might have been able to create a truly unique title here, but it seems as if it might have bit off more than it could chew.
Throughout the game, the only real Cabela’s elements the game holds onto is the slow motion Focus Shot mode that shows the animal's vital organs for precision shots and a few hunting sections where you aim and shoot a few animals for survival purposes – somehow magically making their way back to the camp site, even though you shot the animal across a 100ft gorge and trekked off in the opposite direction. The Shooting Galleries make their return again for some co-op action too, but like the game, they fall short of previous entries. Animals can now attack in the galleries – many times near-unavoidably – and the over sensitive cursor that can’t be changed makes them more frustrating than fun.
Cabela’s Survival: Shadows of Katmai looked to be an exciting new entry in the Cabela’s franchise, but it instead finds itself trekking directly into Uncharted territory without the necessary finesse and polish it needs to withstand its high profile competition – a far cry from the niche genre the Cabela’s series is known and enjoyed for. We’ve got to give the team credit for trying to expand the series into something new, but sadly all the pieces don’t quite fit together properly and this survival trip just isn’t worth the effort.