June 24, 2007
…Ah, Africa. The smell of tall grass, the sight of abundant nature. The sun on your face, and winds at your back. The lions barricading through the thicket, plotting your demise. Yes my friends, it is here where your journey begins, and it is here that you forget everything you know about the sport of game hunting.
Fresh off of a sub-par Alaskan effort, our nature savvy friends at Cabela’s are at it again, this time bringing the hunt to the lush environments of Africa. Location is not the only thing that has changed this go around, as you’ll also find the main gameplay mechanic to differ quite abruptly pulling from a first person shooter, to a third person hunt fest. The change may catch you off guard, but is a welcome tweak in efforts to put the player in better perspective with their environment. After rummaging into the heart of your Safari however, you’ll soon acknowledge the lack of any real hunting elements, not to mention the subtle flaws in just about every aspect of the game.
Don’t get me wrong, this game is fun…for the first few minutes. After that, the realizations sink in that you’ve not found yourself in a hunters paradise, but in a run-n-gun extravaganza. At first, I felt like Rambo, sifting through high brush, tracking big game, but I began to understand that this game has absolutely nothing to do with the hunting we all know and love (well, some of us). You’ll soon learn that the best tactic one could use in their adventures, is to run full steam into the Serengeti with guns a-blazing, Halo with Hippos I call it. Sure, there’s nothing like the rush of charging full sprint into a pack of flesh-eating lions waving your shotgun like a madman, but in the real world, this is never a viable approach. Being a hunting title, Cabela’s won’t offer the hard-core enthusiast much more than a selection of guns and a goal, but being a fan of merciless sport killing without the hassle of costly taxidermy, you may find a small something to keep you entertained.
However, our 4 legged friends seem to have been programmed to act as if they were at a petting zoo. Why would I need to waste effort tracking the elusive Antelope when he’ll run right up to me, allowing my bullets to say "hello" to his face? Why would I need to crouch into a thicket pursuing Elephant, when one will charge right at me in hopes that my 600. Caliber rifle will turn his beautiful tusks into Elton John’s latest piano? Now I’m sure they don’t make rhino calls, ostrich decoys, or African scent repellent, but I would have actually enjoyed being bored stiff waiting on a giraffe to find it’s way to my tree stand. Instead it’s kill, kill, kill, run, run, run and in the end you’re left with little that’s fun (Yes, the rhyme was intentional).
Now this game does do a couple things right. Well, really the only thing it does right is being a small distraction from Gears of War, or providing a pretty quick 1000 gamerscore; but it is refreshing to someone who spends all day pwning newbs in Rainbow Six Vegas. Being a big game hunter you get to enjoy the serene landscapes Africa has to offer, not to mention your superpower, "Hunters Sense". Hunters Sense is a glorified term for bullet time, in which you become one with your rifle and slow down time so you can execute with extreme proficiency. Sound familiar? Oh well, there’s not much funnier than seeing a warthog tumble lifelessly down a hill in slow motion…
The game offers a couple play types, all of which include guns and animals. One of the better modes is bird hunting, a mode that would make any duck hunt fan proud. Sure, there’s not much to shooting at birds and watching them explode into feathery goodness like a Randy Johnson pitch, but at least Jack Thompson can’t blame youth violence on this title. In fact the only people this game would offend is PETA, and they’ll only shudder at the blotchy textures on "next-gen" animals.
A hunter would be nothing without his crew of knowledgeable guides, and thankfully you’ll be in the company of three. Each guide is a living breathing one-liner with nothing more to say than "the leopards are in the shade" or "you’ll find antelope to the west", leaving me to question their purpose. The Porter (gun specialist) is by far the most useless character ever conceived in gaming. He’ll tell you that the gun you’re using is too high a caliber, or too little, rarely making a difference since a head shot generally does the trick. If you speak to him while at the hunting lodge he’ll tell you that lions are dangerous, guns shoot bullets, and the sky is blue. Wasted pixels anyone?
Cabela’s African Safari is by no means perfect, but it does improve on it’s predecessor, Alaskan Adventures. The key difference is in the way the game plays. Africa is a much more bold approach to hunting. You don’t need to purchase camouflage, animal calls, or tree stands, you only need a steel set of…well, you know. It takes a true man to go gallivanting into the wild, but you are the man for the job. So grab your guns, forget your maps, and make a run for your animal of choice. Just make sure no one cool sees you playing this game. Guilty pleasure? Yes. Fun? Yes…but only for a little while.
Nothing special here, but nothing to annoy the hell outta you. Less is more. The ambient sounds of nature are almost soothing, but when attacked by a predator, a musical score begins playing that really ties in the danger of being pursued by a wild animal or Milli Vanilli. The commentary from your guides is oftentimes hilarious, but nothing to detract from the game.
Obviously not using the Unreal 3 engine, Cabela’s African Safari fits somewhere between a good looking XBOX game, and a poor looking 360 title. Being an outdoor based hunting game, one could have hoped for a better looking enviornment, and our furry friends don’t get much better. The solar flares are a nice touch, but for some reason, you can’t seem to shake the damn things from your screen. Also I must point out the animation of our hunting "hero" while running. Either he’s just dismounted a horse after a ride of seven years, or he was born with bo-legged syndrome. Also, the ‘cha-ching’ animation after killing an animal is insanely repetitive.
Getting your first kill is something to take pride in, so is the "Achievement Unlocked" you’ll see within the first 5 minutes. The gameplay becomes stale after only a few hunts, but never will you get tired of shooting a charging animal only to watch the carcass flip through the air, landing perfectly on backside with rigamortis already in affect. Refreshing for the first go around, but runs out of steam too early.
Any authentic hunter would be disappointed. Then again, any authentic hunter would also be happy to play a hunting title. Never mind the oxymoron, the fact of the matter is that African Safari makes me feel like there’s no direction that needs to be taken, no ultimate goal. No storytelling here, just aim, shoot, rinse, repeat. Hey…at least the achievements are easy!
Wait…you bought this game for the hunting? If you’re like me, the driving motivation to play this title is the ease of it’s achievements and the thousand points you’ll soon add to your score. Some achievements will have you playing along with the main hunt, racking up fairly simple points, while others will have you ultimately playing the game a full second time on the hardest difficulty, a task which isn’t too hard, but something that will begin to make you bald a good 14 years early. Still the achievements range from "Holy crap this is way too easy" to "Wow, this is time consuming, but still easy"…
You can’t make a good hunting game when the game has no real hunting elements. The game is fun and does a good job with the basic mechanics, but it’s impossible to advance a series when you don’t expand your horizons. Something I’ve always been astounded by, is a developers seeming lack of motivation in pushing the limits of what a game can offer. Sure, it’s just a hunting game, but many things could have been added or thought of to bring game hunting to a host of more welcoming arms. Cabela’s is sticking with the tried and true method, one is which has never been tested by a big competitor. As long as they’re happy with decent games, they should be happy with my decent score…