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Hunting Season with Cabela's Big Game Hunter 2012 and More

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Posted by: Joe Donato

The Cabela's franchise has been an enigmatic constant in the game industry for years now. Someone is buying them, but it certainly isn't the informed game enthusiast—we've been taught to avoid the series for about as long as it has existed. That does a lot to explain why I found Activision pimping this year's hunting offerings in a trailer at a Walmart parking lot. Cabela's has its audience, but that doesn't mean Activision is satisfied. On the contrary, this year's selection includes something for everyone, even a shot across the bow at us enthusiasts.

That shot is Cabela’s Survival: Shadows of Katmai, an action-adventure game set in the Mount Katmai region of Alaska. After a crash landing in a harsh storm, you, as the pilot Logan James, must sort out the situation, survive harsh elements, and fight off deadly predators. As my demonstrator hinted, there may even be more to the story than you'd think, as more characters are introduced and the plot thickens.

The game seems poised to appeal to fans of games like Uncharted and Tomb Raider, as well as anyone who enjoys Cabela's Top Shot Elite lightgun peripheral. Activision has even been so bold as to set the release date for November 1, the same day as Uncharted 3. Perhaps bold isn't the right word—Shadows of Katmai seems decent, but it isn't going to dethrone the action/adventure titans of the world anytime soon.

In fact, possibly the biggest problem facing the game is that it's aiming to live in the shadows of greats instead of forging its own niche. What could have been a survival simulator or harsher hunting experience is more of a low-rent Uncharted. It follows the same basic formula: a linear narrative broken up into equal parts action/shooter sequences and platforming. The problem is the platforming seems about as standard as can be, and the shooting was, at least in the unfinished form, hindered by the performance of the Top Shot Elite. Of course, you can ditch the Elite and stick to the controller, but you'd still be left with an experience that in its current form, isn't quite there yet.

For fans of Cabela's, most will probably flock towards this year's more serious hunting experience, Cabela's Big Game Hunter 2012. This was the other game I got my hands on during the demonstration, and while it wasn't trying to appeal to the game enthusiast in me, I found myself having a bit more fun with it.

The format places your character in the middle of a global hunting competition, where experts have gathered to take down game in a sort of high score challenge. Hunters are graded based on the challenge of their shots, the game they take down, and how clean the kill is. Unlike Shadows of Katmai, Big Game Hunter 2012 sticks to the series' standard first-person viewpoint, but still lets players make use of the Top Shot Elite peripheral.

After a rather charming intro movie, my demonstrator took me on a tour of the game's first mission. What caught me off guard about this game was how linear and rigid it appeared. While there's certainly strategy involved, it seemed odd that players were locked into narrow zones. The freedom of nature seems a bit lost in what's ultimately closer to an arcade-style score attack than a legitimate hunting simulator. Gameplay aside, the game does take great strides to enforce the rules of game hunting, penalizing players for killing female game, or using the wrong gun.

For when it's time to entertain guests, Big Game Hunter 2012 puts its best foot forward in arcade shooting galleries. These modes make the best use of the Top Shot Elite, encouraging players to compete or work together in several modes. Things get a bit silly when you're racing to gun down as many animals as possible, but many of the same basic rules still apply: use the right gun, and don't shoot the females.

With a release date of September 27, the Big Game Hunter 2012 version shown was more or less final one. Though it's possible it will be improved before release, I must admit I had a lot of trouble with the Top Shot Elite lightgun. The cursor seems to drift and lag almost like the interface in a first generation Kinect game—certainly not quick enough for a fast-paced lightgun experience.

Rounding out the selection of Cabela's games for this year were two Kinect titles: Cabela's Big Game Hunter: Hunting Party and Cabela's Adventure Camp. Both titles will come as full retail releases along with Shadows of Katmai on November 1. While I didn't get to see these games, I did get my hands on the new lightgun for Hunting Party. This gun is interesting because it's the first time you'll be able to use a peripheral with a Kinect game. If anything, I can only hope this opens the door for the return of accurate lightgun shooters on the 360.

Cabela's suite of experiences for this year offers impressive variety, and like previous years, it's sure to sell a ton. Are they for the readers of GameZone? That I'm not so sure of. While the Kinect titles could be a good bit of party-game fun, Shadows of Katmai is too far behind the curve to compare it to this year's other action/adventure releases. And in a world where Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 are right around the corner, you'd have to really prefer shooting at animals over people to grab Big Game Hunter 2012 instead. That said, Activision is clearly trying something different this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if we're talking more seriously about a Cabela's hunting game in the next few years.

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