Maybe we're just gullible human beings here at Nintendo Life Towers, but we expected Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2013 to feature some...you know...hunting. Not that we're disappointed, as this far more action-oriented approach has undoubtedly made for a better game, but the FPS / survival approach certainly caught us off guard.
So, yes, we'll get this out of the way up front, for those who would like to play a nice hunting game on their shiny new Wii U: you don't hunt in this game. Ever. Sure, you shoot plenty of animals, but you do so for the same reason you'd shoot the enemy in a war game: you want to get home alive. Hunting isn't a sport here; it's a necessity.
This is reinforced by the fact that the game's main feature is a robust story mode. Almost immediately you're thrown into exotic locations, beset on all sides by vicious opponents, with only your trusty sidearm to protect you. It's a far cry from crouching in some tall weeds or waiting patiently on a deer stand, and it lends the game a very conflicted feel, as though it can't decide what it should be.
The plot is a sort of reverse Bambi. While out hunting with your father, the older man is slain by those nasty, villainous woodland creatures. It's a wound that never quite heals — and some interactive flashbacks sell this concept surprisingly well — and ten years later you return with your brother to your dear old dad's favourite hunting spot, in order to slaughter as many things as you can. Because he would have wanted it that way, we guess.
The hunting trip, however, takes tragic turn after tragic turn, and it becomes less a celebration of your father's life than it does a frantic scramble to save your own. Sometimes you'll be defending yourself from waves of animals crashing down on you through the foliage, sometimes you'll be squaring off against massive brutes in open fields, and other times you'll be scrabbling for supplies in dark, dangerous buildings that feel like they've been pulled straight out of ZombiU. In short, it's absolutely nothing like hunting.
While the game does all it can to reinforce the concept that you are, indeed, fighting for your life, there are definitely moments that feel less than ethically sound. Early in the game you're riding in the back of an open vehicle, picking off everything you see with a rifle as you go riding on by. Sure, the game tells you this is because a sandstorm has riled up the animals and they may ram the vehicle otherwise, but it feels a bit troubling to engage in what is essentially narrative-enforced poaching. This is compounded by the fact that you're encouraged to kill the animals before they get angry and try to ram the vehicle, meaning you are absolutely killing them without any reason for doing so, and without any intention of using the carcass or the meat. It's pure and simple drive-by shooting, and it's only the first in a long line of problematic set pieces.
The moral implications of this first-person animal shooter side, the action is quite well handled. Enemies rush at you from every possible angle, and you can either take your time to scope out a perfect shot or spray the area with precious ammo and hope for the best. Sometimes the game will even enter a slow-motion mode to allow you to zero in on an attacking animal's heart or brain for an instant kill.
In the main game you move with the left control stick and aim with the right. The left trigger looks through the scope (if your gun has one) and the right fires. The shoulder buttons allow you to execute a smooth dodge in either direction, and you can press up on the D-Pad to trigger that mystical second-sight all hunters have that reveals the path ahead and highlights hidden healing items.
The controls change substantially in the shooting gallery mode, wherein you simply tap on the touch screen to fire. It's a nice option we would have liked to have had in the main game as well, where the touch screen isn't used for much more than selecting guns.
It's a reliable and intuitive control scheme, but there are other problems with the experience. For starters, the frame rate is absolutely terrible whenever anything is about to happen. Walking along and shooting animals is fine, but the moments before a bridge collapses or a tree falls over are jerky and agonising. The stuttering gives away the fact that something is about to happen, nullifying surprise, and it makes the experience feel a bit shoddy. The graphics are nice but don't seem much more impressive than anything the Wii could have handled, and the sound is effective and atmospheric.
Overall the presentation feels just slightly amateurish. Voice acting isn't properly synched to the animations, the sound output from the GamePad lags just far enough behind the console itself to create an annoying echo effect, and the bodies of slain animals simply dissolve into nothingness, even further removing the action of the game from anything that could even remotely be considered "hunting".
Another issue is simply one of navigation. While you can press Up to see where you need to go, the line runs both ways, and there are relatively few landmarks in the wild. It's very likely you'll try to reorient yourself after a skirmish and end up backtracking because you can't remember which way you came from.
This is doubly frustrating when you find yourself in an area with respawning enemies. Here you'll need to flee before you get worn down or use up all your ammo, but you'll be spinning around and shooting things so often that it's impossible to remember in which direction you're trying to advance. Even pressing Up in the middle of battle is difficult, as you'll likely have to take your thumb away from the control stick to do so. This means you can either go somewhere or know where you're supposed to go, not both. It gets frustrating fast.
The other two modes are the aforementioned shooting gallery, wherein you tap the touch screen to fire and can earn extra points for shooting certain animals in sequence, and a Maneater mode, which sees you accomplishing small tasks in abbreviated periods of time. They're both nice additions, but an actual hunting mini-game feels like a missed opportunity.
As a complete package Cabela's Dangerous Hunt 2013 is a bit lacking, but the satisfying action of the story mode may be a surprise worth experiencing for yourself. That is if you don't mind slaughtering creatures in their natural habitat as though they're Nazi zombies.
As a tie-in game for a line of hunting gear, Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2013 is surprisingly capable. It's by no means a flawless experience, and we find it hard to recommend it very strongly, but anyone who does decide to give it a shot — so to speak — may find themselves pleasantly surprised. The controls are fluid and there are some surprising action sequences to keep the momentum up. Many of the set pieces are morally dubious at best, but there is definitely some fun to be had along the way.