Hunting games are a noble and grand American tradition with the arcade machines often sitting in the closest things we have left to an arcade: the bar. Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 is of course the latest iteration of the biggest of such games, and it’s doing so in a truly grand way. The game itself has a rich history and whether you’ve played the series or not you’re very familiar with it, and that says something. The game comes optionally bundled with the Top Shot Elite controller which was used during the review of the game. I’ve never been hunting in my life but I hang out in a lot of bars and have played my fair share of hunting games throughout the years, so how well does this years outing hold up?
There are a number of different options in the game, the front runner obviously being the games story mode. The story sets you as John Sharp, a man who wants to join the prestigious hunting group The Order of Orion. This sets up the action as you are taken to various locales across the world on a trophy hunt. In addition to this are a number of shooting galleries organized into three different categories. All of this gives you plenty to shoot at, the only question being where to begin.
The story mode begins with a brief narration during the loading screen and then dumps you in the middle of the woods. After taking some practice shots on some targets and getting the obligatory control tutorial you’re off on the hunt. The levels are pretty straight-forward and while there’s occasionally more than one way to get to your obstacle or choices to take the shot from everything plays out in a more or less linear fashion. To find your current target animal you have to first find their tracks which have a waypoint marker above them at times, but are more easily found in “detection” mode which highlights tracks a bright yellow, animals you can kill blue, and animals that are off-limits red. To prevent you from abusing this too much your character moves at an agonizingly slow pace while it’s activated so it’s best to just check it occasionally if you need to. After you find the tracks, you can play an optional brief clip recreating what happened in that area which can give you vital information (such as seeing wolves stalking the animal, or that it’s in a large herd, etc.) The game points you in the direction of the animal and gives rules for killing it (some must be killed with a shot to the heart for example) and bonus objectives such as shooting the oldest in the group or killing it in a certain amount of time.
Every level unfolds the same way with multiple targets in each area that you’ll advance through: find the tracks, find the animal, kill the targets. Of course it’s a hunting game so this is to be expected, but I found it a little upsetting that there wasn’t much actual hunting going on. Everything was presented to you on a silver platter: start the level, see the tracks and the animal is just over the hill. Sure the time limits shake things up a bit but it all felt more like a shooting gallery than anything.
You’re awarded money for completing tasks in each level, with extra rewards of course for completing the bonus objectives for a kill. In addition each level has a challenge for killing a certain amount of various small game (birds, foxes, rabbits, etc) which give cash as well. This can all be spent in the shop upgrading your weapons in a variety of ways. At first you’ll only be grabbing one upgrade at a time, but it’s not long before you have everything fully maxed out and the money just culminates and piles up with nowhere else to spend it on. A small complaint, but I would have liked to see the store expanded on with more options. Only one of the guns offers any different paint jobs, and it only has two to choose from besides the default. This is a shame because the leaf pattern on the shotgun in particular is hideous.
While I didn’t like the linear layout of the levels I absolutely loved the fact that the world truly felt alive. Other predators will occasionally be chasing the same animal as you which turns it into a race to snag the kill before they do. Other factors such as the animals actually noticing you and reacting to any missed shots bring this all together in a very nice way. Should you fail an objective or be killed by one of the various predators you’ll be reset to the last checkpoint, which thankfully is never very far away from where you already are. You won’t have to redo any completed objectives, and you’ll be attempting that shot again in no time.
The game does offer some choices in how you approach things mostly in the form of different shooting rests that offer more bonus points for using them. Of course the ones with higher points either have a difficult path to get to them or give you a much tougher shot, but the boost in points is always worth the trouble. Points are awarded for many things: number of shots to kill, how the kill was made (lungs, heart, spine, etc), whether you met the bonus objective, etc and since the story mode is a shooting competition with three AI opponents, scoring the most points seems like it’d be one of the most important things in the game but unfortunately it’s not. The points don’t seem to actually do anything, and though I’ll keep it as spoiler free as possible, the last kill of the game rewards you with an insane amount of points that will surely put you in first place. The story mode is decently long and there’s an achievement for beating all the levels with the special Trophy Gun unlocked by completing it, but even then you’ll probably only want to go back through it one or two more times to get everything. Nothing changes as far as the actual hunts go, and since everything is scripted it’ll be the exact same experience all over again. The shooting galleries however are another story. As I stated, they come in three categories: Arcade, Reflex and Target, all of which are an “on-rails” affair. Arcade has different animals running past which you must shoot, getting bonus points for consecutive shots and using the appropriate gun.
Reflex requires you to shoot the animals in a certain order, and Target presents you with a variety of different targets representing different animals, objects and the ever loved clay pigeons. Arcade can be a little frustrating as each checkpoint requires a certain number of points to progress, rewinding you a few seconds if you don’t get enough. Each “retry” lowers your bonus score at the end, and it’s not unusual to have to try certain areas a few times. The other two are more straight forward, and I found myself enjoying them a lot more. However at the end, they’re just shooting galleries. Very nice and well presented, but there’s not a whole lot to say about them.
I was given a copy of the game that came with the Top Shot Elite controller, an optional gun accessory compatible with the game. Unfortunately the gun and sensor bar require between six and eight feet of space which is suffice to say less than I have available in my room. After some fancy maneuvering, though, I was able to get it setup and working, only to find myself met with utter disappointment. Everything about the gun functions wonderfully and it’s set up perfectly in the game. Shoot with the trigger, move with the analog stick on the handle, pump to reload, and press the buttons spread around to perform various other actions. One small thing irked me though and honestly ruined the entire experience: to look around, you have to “push” the cursor to the edge of the screen by moving the gun. This just felt unnatural and clunky, and especially bothered me because there’s a second analog stick on the barrel of the gun that would be absolutely perfect for this function, yet it’s only purpose is to toggle crouch by pressing it. This one oversight made me not want to use the gun at all in single player, opting to use a standard controller instead. However since the shooting galleries are all on rails and require much faster reflexes, I found the Top Shot Elite perfect for those and in fact is the only proper way to play them. Had the game included an alternate control scheme to let you use that analog stick or customizable controls I might have liked using this better, but as it stands I rarely touched the thing.
Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 is an interesting affair, and while it was overall an enjoyable experience a lot of small problems bogged it down to make a less than stellar game. The main story mode is simply too straight forward and while a decent length could have done to be a little bit longer. There’s very little replay value as everything plays out exactly the same every single time. However I still had a fun time with it, and the shooting galleries in particular were very enjoyable. Not the best experience out there, but you could certainly do worse.