Cabela's Outdoor Adventures Review
Hunting is always a controversial topic but then again, so is all violence in video games. And essentially, despite the fact that it would horrify animal lovers, Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures is a bloodless game; it seeks to cater to the true hunting lovers rather than the gore fiends who crave massive amounts of grossness from their FPSs. Therefore, this Activision product attempts to be a simulator of sorts and while they really go out of their way to provide the player with as much variety as possible, the execution leaves a little to be desired, and some of that depth just doesn’t have a significant impact on the experience. The good news is that it’s $20 cheaper than the standard new next-gen title, so that makes it a little easier on the wallet and in turn, easier for us to recommend. However, we really have to be clear: if you’re not into hunting, don’t bother. That should go without saying but some may look at the FPS theme and decide to give it a shot…well, only if you know what a 10-point buck looks like.
The graphics are passable for a game like this; there’s a decent amount of detail and each animal has authentic characteristics. The coloring is just about right, too, although the presentation begins to lose its luster as the forest closes in around you, meaning the textures begin to suffer when up-close-and-personal. The other problem is the movement animation, which gets jerky on the part of both the animals and your character. We’ll address this more in the gameplay section – see the complaints surrounding aiming – but for the time being, suffice it to say that while the graphics are solid, the frame rate stutters occasionally. Beyond that, there isn’t much else to say. Your weapons and items appear sharp and clear, the landscape is appropriately large and changes realistically as you travel (everything from valleys to lakes to mountainous regions), and for the most part, it really does look like you’re on the hunt. They just needed more polish and shine applied to the surface textures, as they really bring things down a notch or two.
The sound is much better and is actually the highlight of the game, which isn’t exactly surprising, considering the atmosphere. The crack of a rifle and the blast of a shotgun is fittingly jarring as the “bang” seems extraordinarily loud when in the relative peace and quiet of the wild. That’s perfect; it’s exactly what we need to set the right tone. The animals scuttle and scurry about in the underbrush, the ducks and geese flap overhead and call to each other, the deer have that groaning sound, the elks have their unique cry, and even the turkeys sound just about right. The only downside is your movement: they tell you that walking on different surfaces (grass, dirt, rock, etc.) will make different noises and thereby have an effect on the surrounding wildlife. But whether you’re walking or crouching and barely moving, you still hear the exact same audible “chunk” of your boots. It’s just not accurate and it clashes with the rest of the sound, which is mostly great throughout. We’d mention music, but this is one of the few games that probably doesn’t need a soundtrack in the first place.
If you think this game is all about going out into the woods with a rifle and hunting some deer, you should continue reading. There’s a whole lot more going on: you’ll hunt all sorts of animals, ranging from elk to turkey to geese, and you’ll even do some fishing and tracking. Various weapons are used for different situations, and there are plenty of nifty items to unlock and utilize, like the Treestand (used for hunting elk), and the assortment of animal calls, starting with duck. You can crouch with the triangle button, easily access your inventory by holding down the R1 button, quickly switch to another weapon by pressing left on the d-pad, and give some of the motion sensing mechanics a try. These are relatively simple; you’ll use them to toss out your line when fishing and to perform your animal calls (bringing up the instructions on how to do this makes it simple), so there’s a nice assortment of gameplay mechanics. By far the most appealing, though, is the aiming system that involves targeting a creature’s vitals and holding your breath. It’s a good idea but as mentioned in the intro, the implementation isn’t perfect. It’s too bad, too.
Basically, when zooming in with the L2 button, if a target is in range, you can then target its vitals by using the L1 button and holding your breath. Time slows a bit and you will actually see the vital organs of the animal outlined in front of you; from there, it’s just a matter of selecting one, aiming carefully, and pulling the trigger. You will receive points based on the size of the animal and how you brought it down; you can target either the heart, lungs, or spine (why the head isn’t considered “vital” is beyond us). The entire purpose is to bag as many great “trophies” as you can, and if you check your menu screen, you can find out how many possible points are available in any given area. You have primary objectives to fulfill as you play but if you wish to get the most out of your experience, you should try and achieve the highest score possible. The only problem is, aiming and firing with that special mechanic doesn’t work so well when an animal is moving: the camera and aiming reticle will jump and leap and shudder, and for some reason, you just can’t seem to move the crosshairs over the organs. This is a frequent problem throughout, in fact.
For some reason, you can’t easily switch targets; it takes way too long and the aiming reticle just remains stuck on one target. Then, a clean shot seems to be prone to some eccentricity as there were several times we were dead-on, but somehow still missed (the only saving grace is that checkpoints are liberally sprinkled throughout each hunting quest). It just doesn’t work to its full functionality, even though the core theory behind the system is sound. And while we unlock plenty of goodies as we go along, there’s entirely too much handholding going on and exploration is limited; our guide typically tells us where to go and what to do. This is okay at the start but this extended tutorial endures. And while each area may appear to be sizable and expansive, you will see your movement impeded by fallen trees, deep rivers, big rocks, and other lame obstacles that wouldn’t hinder any semi-capable human. Couple this with the fact that we don’t have any map – which seems ridiculous considering your expedition – and progressing is often a pain.
But you won’t really get stuck for too long and provided the difficulty is set to the default (normal) setting, you’ll do just fine. It might be good for fans of hunting but the control and aiming issues, while relatively minor, really do have a negative impact on the overall experience, and too many of the quest scenarios are the same. The sound effects certainly help to make the game stand out, though, and to be able to create your own trophy buck is a nice bonus for the hardcore aficionados. Being able to hunt all sorts of different animals does require different approaches and that tries to keep the game fresh and interesting, but you’ll start to lose interest rather quickly unless you’re a die-hard. Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures is an okay production that has some nice elements and makes a valiant effort to be well worth the $40 price tag. It falls just a little shy.
9/12/2009 Ben Dutka