Cabela's Alaskan Adventures Review
Written : Sunday, July 29, 2007
By: Josh Wirfs (GT: dz Bluntman)
When most gamers see the brand Cabela on the label for a game, they're probably standing in a Wal-Mart. With a low price tag, accessible and easy to learn gameplay, and a somewhat authentic feel, Cabela's products have been the most recognized bargain bin games for nearly a decade. While generally hammered by most reviewers, and looked down at by most gamers, Cabela's Big Game Hunter series managed to sell enough copies to spawn six sequels and a slew of expansion packs. Cabela's hunting games are a niche series, appealing primarily to a target demographic. It's easy to tell from the first time you pick up Cabela's Alaskan Adventure that it's a budget title. Everything about this game screams low budget, and you can't help but wonder how this thing could ever pass as a next-gen game. But despite its obvious and numerous flaws, it still manages to deliver a fun experience that's different from what you'll get from bigger multi-million dollar budget games.
Almost as exciting as an actual fishing trip.
Hidden beneath a layer of bland and low quality graphics, linear gameplay, terrible AI, poor collision detection, and sloppy controls, there's a fairly mediocre game that can be surprisingly fun. Most of the entertainment comes from playing the game and wondering why you're actually playing it when you could be playing something better. But for some reason, you'll always find yourself saying "Just one more hunt." The fun comes from the simple, yet surprisingly deep gameplay. On your trip through Alaska, you'll find yourself hunting over 20 species of animals including moose, caribou, grizzly bears, and even kodiak bears. You'll go ice fishing, old fashioned spin reel fishing, and wade waist deep in a river fly fishing for rainbow trout. There's also a few minigames, such as dog sled racing and goose hunting. Unfortunately if none of these things appeal to you, you're probably not going to enjoy this game.
There's two different modes of play: Adventure and Open Season. Adventure mode is where you start your career as a big game hunter. Adventure mode will take you into four different areas of Alaska, where you'll be earn money by hunting and fishing to buy new gear in the Outpost. This is essentially the heart of the game, where you'll be spending most of your time. In Adventure mode, you're given a set of three different main hunts and a few special hunts as well as fishing challenges and a different bonus minigame, such as dog sledding or duck hunting, for each area you enter. To move on to the next area, you need to complete the three main hunts and one fishing challenge. My only gripe is that once you move on to a new area, you can't go back to a previous area in that career. So if you don't do the special hunts or all the challenges, you can't go back and do them unless you start a new career. Open Season is basically an "exhibition" mode, where you can go back to any area in the game with a set of tags for the animals you wish to hunt in that particular area. Once you get all the tags, you go back to the menu screen. You can also go fishing in Open Season, but I'm not sure why you would want to. Aside from a couple achievements you can only get in Open Season, there's no real purpose for it, unless you're just in the mood to kill a grizzly bear or something.
You can choose to play with three different difficulty levels: Greenhorn, Sportsman, and Simulation. Which difficulty level you choose affects which hunting aides you get in the game as well as how many warning you get before you're kicked off a hunt. On Greenhorn, you'll get assistance with your aim, animals will pop up on your radar, and you get three warnings before a hunt is ended. Sportsman loses a few of the aim assistance functions, as well as some tracking features, and you're only allowed two warnings. Simulation difficulty loses all of it, including the radar, and you're only given one warning. I wouldn't recommend playing through the adventure mode on Simulation unless you're really a glutton for punishment. Losing the radar means you'll spend a whole lot of your time running around looking for whatever animal you're supposed to be hunting. And if you happen to make one mistake, you have to start it all over again.
Prepare to be owned by these guys...a lot.
The main theme of this game, hunting, is done fairly well, although it can be incredibly frustrating at times. Before you go out, you select your tags, and you can only shoot the animals you have tags for. In adventure mode, you're given a selection of different hunts in the outpost, usually with a theme like "Shoot a female Musk Ox from over 50 yards away with a scoped rifle". While it's realistic and makes the game more challenging, sometimes it would've been fun to just go out into the arctic tundra and go commando on anything that's furry and moves on four legs. But if you happen to shoot anything you don't have a tag for, you're given a warning. Depending on the difficulty level you're playing on, you get a certain number of warnings, and if you pass it, your hunt ends and you're slapped with a fine. This is made more frustrating than it needs to be by the poor AI and the fact that it's hard to tell a male or a female animal apart. Also, in pretty much any hunt you go on, you'll be attacked by overly aggressive animals over and over, and while you're allowed to shoot animals that are attacking you, oftentimes the game doesn't register that you're being attacked and you're given a warning anyway. And when I say overly aggressive, I mean just about every animal will attack you constantly. Nothing's more embarassing than getting owned by a moose in front of your friends, and it'll happen. A lot.
The hunting is also made more frustrating by a slew of bugs and pointless game features. The most glaring bug is with the collision detection of your bullets. This problem is most evident when shooting at smaller animals. Your bullets will seem to just stop in midair when they clearly should have hit the target, almost as if the Snowshoe Hare you're shooting at was The One. When you shoot from a certain distance, you'll go into the Bullet Camera, which follows your bullet to the target. Why this feature would be implemented when the collision detection is so terrible is beyond me. Here's a tip for up and coming game designers: if a feature in your game is hopelessly broken, don't give the player a guided tour displaying just how broken it is. Another feature I found to be entirely pointless is the inclusion of a stamina system. Whenever you run, jump, or pull back a bowstring, it costs you stamina. To regain stamina, you need to completely stop everything you're doing for about 20 seconds to rest. It wouldn't be so bad if it didn't drain quite so fast, but you'll find yourself stopping to rest constantly as you run around the huge areas looking for the right animal for whichever hunt you're on. It's made even more frustrating when you're chasing an animal, since it'll take you an extra two or three minutes to catch up after you stop to rest.
If you look past the negative aspects, there are some good times to be had in the hunting portion of the game. There's a large selection of different weapons, scopes, clothing, and accessories such as decoys and scent covers to be purchased in the outpost. When you make a kill, you can go and claim the trophy and it'll show you the statistics for the animal, such as age and weight, and where the fatal shot landed. From the main menu, you can go to the trophy room where you can see your best score for each species you've killed over the course of your career. Despite the frustration you'll assuredly experience while playing through the game, killing a grizzly bear from over fifty yards away with a single shot to the head will appeal to the inner redneck in anyone. Of course, that will rarely happen, since the animals can detect your presence from a mile away, and you usually just end up chasing them while firing your gun aimlessly hoping to hit something.
The fishing and other minigames are an amusing distraction from the hunting, but they're just that...a distraction. The fishing is fun at first, but after you do the challenges in Adventure mode, you likely won't find yourself fishing again in Open Season. There's only a few different kinds of fish, and it's incredibly repetitive and boring, although that's pretty much the same thing you'll experience in a real fishing trip. The other minigames aren't fun at all, and they serve no real purpose. The dog sledding in particular is terrible. There's only one track to race on, and you have to balance damage to your sled and the dogs' fatigue, which occurs when you go too fast. If you take too much damage or wear your dogs out, you'll get a penalty to your time at the end of the race. The duck hunting is amusing, but it won't hold your attention for long. Basically you just ride along in a boat going down a river, and stop every few hundred feet to shoot the ducks that fly out from the brushes. While they're all a fairly entertaining distraction from the monotony of the hunts, all the minigames are incredibly simple and underwhelming.
Duck Hunt 2006 - just not quite as fun as the original.
Graphically, Alaskan Adventure looks worse than most last-gen games. The landscapes are dull and plain, and it seems like the same tile textures are used over and over with no variety whatsoever. The one thing you'd expect to look good, the animals themselves, are surprisingly bad. They move awkwardly, and their textures are low res. I wasn't expecting Gears of War quality graphics here, but I was certainly expecting better than what I saw. Even the guns look terrible, usually with one color used for the barrel and one for the handle, with no details added whatsoever. The character models are bad as well. I've seen Barbie dolls that look more realistic than these hunters. This is, inarguably, the worst looking game on the 360. There really are no redeeming qualities to the visuals whatsoever. The environments look okay at times, but only if you trick yourself into thinking they're more detailed than they actually are.
The audio is average, with nothing that really stands out. The gunshots sound passable, but I wouldn't say they sound like the real thing by any means. The voice acting is cheesy, but somehow fits into the game perfectly. The voice acted introductions to each area are interesting, and while some of the voice actors can be annoying, they do a pretty good job for the most part. I can't judge the animal sounds too well, seeing as I've never actually heard what a Musk Ox sounds like, but I'd say they sound pretty authentic. The various ambient sound effects are good, particularly in the fishing minigames. There's also a noticeable lack of any sort of background music anytime you're not in the menus, which gives a feeling of emptiness to the environments.
The achievements are pretty simple, which is the big draw to this game for most people. You can get the full 1000 points without much effort. All that needs to be done is a quick playthrough of the Adventure mode, and a few runs through the Open Season mode. You're technically supposed to play through the game on all three difficulties, but if you complete an area on any difficulty, you can go into Open Season and kill one animal in a given area on another difficulty and that achievement will unlock. So you only really need to play through the Adventure mode once, which is a good thing since you likely won't have any desire to play through it again. You can easily finish all the achievements in about 10-15 hours of gameplay, which makes Alaskan Adventure a perfect rental for a quick boost to your gamerscore.
Overall, Cabela's Alaskan Adventure is the very definition of mediocre. It can be fun at times, but the glaring bugs and horrible graphics prevent it from being consistently entertaining. You'll likely only be able to play it for about half an hour at a time before you want to bang your head against a brick wall in frustration. But for a budget title, it certainly delivers more than you'd expect. If you enjoy hunting and fishing, you'll probably have more fun with this game than someone who's never sat in a tree for 6+ hours at a time waiting to shoot an unexpecting defenseless animal with a high calibur weapon. If you aren't a hunter, it's still worth picking up simply for the quick and easy 1000 gamer points.
Average in every way. The voice acting is cheesy, the guns sound fake, and the lack of any kind of background music throughout most of the game is disappointing. The ambient sounds and the animal sound effects are fairly decent though.
Absolutely terrible. There are no redeeming qualities here, everything's just bad. Even five years ago these graphics wouldn't have been passable. I realize this is a budget game, but that's no excuse for such sloppy work.
I'm fairly certain that when hunting, you don't spend most of your time chasing the animals on foot while firing your weapon wildly, hoping you hit something. Between the horrendous collision detection and terrible AI, it's hard to really enjoy playing this game. While some aspects of it are fun, glaring bugs like this are inexcusable. If your game is centered entirely around shooting accurately, you should make sure it actually registers when you hit something.
Despite its faults, Alaskan Adventure still manages to deliver a somewhat fun experience occasionally. The various gear, large variety of species to hunt, and the layout of the career mode are well done. The historical information given for each area of Alaska is a nice touch, and it's genuinely interesting at times.
It's obvious that not much thought was put into these achievements. Basically there's achievements for beating each area on each difficulty and bagging each species of animal. The only original achievement is one for hunting three Trophy Legend bears, which is basically just a bear that was worth a certain amount of points. The only thing cool about these achievements is the ease in which they're unlocked. I doubt a single copy of this game would have been sold if not for that simple fact.
Despite being plagued with bugs, repetitive gameplay, and some of the worst visuals you'll see on a next-gen console, Cabela's Alaskan Adventure is fairly entertaining. You probably won't play for more than half an hour at a time before you lose interest, but for that half hour, you'll have some fun with it. There's a lot of untapped potential here, and I think the series could benefit from a bigger budget. Given some better visuals, more attention to detail, and better QA, this game could have been quite good. The core gameplay elements are fun, but the bugs and poor design really hurt the game. I wouldn't recommend purchasing this game unless you're really into hunting, but it's worth a rental if you want a quick boost to your gamerscore.