|System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360*|
|Release: October 23, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Violence|
by Shelby Reiches
It arrived on Wednesday, big box betraying the game that lay nestled within. I’d been told to expect it, after all, and so my surprise was muted. I opened it, despite the lack of power in the wake of Hurricane (Superstorm?) Sandy, if only to gaze upon the cover art, pore over the manufacturer’s information that so often comes included with a review copy of a game. My dad, deprived of his normal TV-watching and horse-racing activities by our soon-to-be-four-day outage, appeared beside me to join in appraising the box.
“That looks really neat,” he said. There was enthusiasm in his voice and, in that, I found my own bolstered. We never hunted, but we used to shoot BB and pellet guns when I was younger and, when I turned eighteen, he took me to my first shooting range to fire live ammunition. His comment brought back memories; it honestly seemed like a game we might both enjoy playing.
My anticipation only grew as we went longer without power, so starved was I for substantial entertainment. At one point, I even arranged to uproot my entire console setup and take it over to a friend’s house just so I could play the game; she fell asleep before I could head over, though.
Then, on the Saturday after Sandy, our power was restored. After basking in the wonders of a hot shower and a heated house, and making the Internet aware of my return, I began the task of getting in playtime with Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2013. Unpacking it was easy enough and the instructions, though somewhat obtuse, were illustrated and clear enough that I was able to fit together the “Fearmaster” with limited difficulty.
The “Fearmaster” is part of the complete Dangerous Hunts 2013 pack, which also comes with a Wii-esque IR sensor bar that interacts with the “Fearmaster” so that you can ostensibly feel more like a real hunter. What the pack does not come with is the four AA batteries one needs to power both the wireless plastic gun and the wireless sensor bar. After obtaining those, as well as the Phillips head screwdriver I needed to open the battery slot on the sensor bar (make sure you have a screwdriver with a small head; this screw is petite), I set it up and, with minimal fuss, had it synced to my Xbox 360. Onward to the hunting grounds!
Unless you’re a lefty. I’m right-handed, but I shoot southpaw because I’m left-eye dominant. After years of doing this, I’m accustomed to the way a rifle feels in a left-handed grip. Add to this that the analog stick used for controlling movement is located on the stock of the peripheral and I’m completely incapable of holding the rifle right-handed and moving around. The left thumb controls strafing and forward and backward movement, in my mind.
Two of the gun’s four buttons, though, are on one side of the barrel, while the other two are immediately below the thumbstick on the stock. This layout makes them confusing in their own right (my brain registers A&B and X&Y, but not each button’s specific location; not with any real speed), but the real problem comes from the fact that those two on the barrel are less accessible from a left-handed grip. Meanwhile, the D-Pad is located on the top of the barrel, smack in the middle. This would be manageable if the control layout made any kind of sense.
Spoiler: It doesn’t. The buttons on the barrel are used for switching weapons and dodging. The buttons on the stock are used for either aiming down the sights of your gun (really only useful when using a rifle, at which point you’re generally making a very deliberate shot anyway and don’t need immediate access to the scope button) or turning to face threats that are off-screen. For routine actions like reloading and jumping, you have to press directions on the D-Pad. None of these controls can be remapped to accommodate a player with alternative limb preferences. Also, in an aesthetic gaffe, you can’t change which side of the screen the gun is on. Your character shoots right-handed no matter what.
The most defining element of the “Fearmaster,” though, is the pair of metal contact patches on its grip and barrel, right where a player naturally rests their hands. Through these, it purports to detect your heart rate. This comes into play when using the rifle’s scope, as you’re expected to engage in a deep breathing exercise to relax yourself and steady your aim, at which point the screen zooms in closer to your prey and a glowing outline of its vital organs appears. It can sometimes be difficult to get an adequate reading on one’s heart rate from the contacts, but the system by and large works well, and does add a certain rush to the hunting experience.
All of this controller stuff is moot, though, in the face of the greater question: Is the game one that you would want to play? Structured as a wildlife-themed first-person shooter, the story mode primarily consists of following a fairly linear path through nature-themed environs packed with dangerous creatures that will jump out at you and try to have you for supper. These run-and-gun sequences are broken up by occasional hunting segments, which may involve some light, guided tracking of an animal and, inevitably, an attempted one-shot takedown at range with the scoped rifle. There are also occasional boss battles that sort of mix the two.
The first thing you’ll notice, though, is that this game is ugly. Not just in that its textures are flat, models are blocky, and designs are uninspired, but it’s technically lackluster, too. Enemies disappear upon death and there’s very little in the way of visual feedback to indicate that one’s been shot. I don’t expect extreme gore, but a bit of blood would not be out of place in a Teen-rated game. Further, foes, as makes sense for the pack predators you’re usually pitted against, will rush you head-on after circling for a bit. They’ll often clip right through you, though, which makes it unclear where they are and is just woefully unappealing. This clipping also has gameplay ramifications.
Dangerous Hunts uses the A button for two things: If a foe is behind you and lunging, an indicator will appear onscreen. Press and hold the A button within the time limit and you’ll snap around to face the predator, its vital organs glowing orange. Land a shot on one of them and it will crumple to the ground. The other purpose is similar: if there is no foe onscreen, the viewpoint will snap around to the nearest one.