Cabela's Trophy Bucks Review

Lee Abrahams

The lure of hunting is obvious; pitting your wits against wily and dangerous animals, where the hunter can just as easily become the hunted. Many a proud hunter can boast of his prowess in taking down dangerous creatures such as lions, bears and leopards. So what next for such a skilled tracker? Truly there must be some even more deadly game out there that would be a true test of a mountain man’s skills? Thankfully for keen hunters everywhere Cabela have stepped into the breach to fill this tragic void… with ducks. Oh yeah, and turkeys, gophers, deer and partridge. Never has the hunting landscape been filled with such peril.

Despite the fact this is the fourth Cabela game to hit the 360 it seems that very little has been learnt by Activision in terms of providing a fulfilling hunting experience. I’m not expecting an evil army of geese to rise up and take over the planet, resulting in me needing to traverse a plethora of diverse worlds in a bid for glory but was it too much to ask to make the game seem even remotely worthwhile? The earlier Cabela games had animals that could fight back and required the hunter to avoid damaging any creature that couldn’t legally be slain, so obviously some measure of tactics and thought was required. Here though that premise has been overturned, kicked brutally and buried at sea. As any animal that you see can be killed and they will make no attempt to stop you, you literally have free reign to go on a killing spree.

The deadly turkey considers which pitiful hunter it will kill next.

The game is split over 96 levels, with the hunting taking place over four levels in each of the twenty four states on offer all across the good old U.S.A. Each region offers three regular hunts, requiring you to take down a certain number of creatures to pass the level, plus one ‘arcade’ hunt which sees you bombarded with a certain critter and you must take out as many as you can within the time limit. That’s pretty much it for NINETY SIX levels. To say it gets repetitive is a gross understatement. Matters are not helped by the fact there are no difficulty settings at all, the game is pretty much set to easy all the way through with the exception of maybe two or three tricky missions. I don’t know whether it’s a benefit or not to say that most levels last a maximum of three minutes, if that, as at least it stops the game getting dull too fast but at the same time it makes it feel less like you are hunting and more like you are on a rampage with short bursts of violence that suddenly end before you realise it.

Each level sees you graded: bronze, silver or gold, depending on just how well you do. Each creature you kill has a pre-assigned rating from one to five stars that determines its net worth when you take it down, it pays to find out which creatures are worth more as there is a vast difference in points that can greatly improve your chances of getting a good grade. You can also improve your odds through various other methods: taking a creature down with one shot, preserving its integrity (through use of a bow or certain power-ups) or killing creatures at extremely close or long ranges all reap rewards. Some levels also have bonus creatures hidden away that can be hunted for extra points, often requiring a steady aim as they will swiftly vanish if you don’t manage to take them down quickly enough. In general the grading system is pretty fair with only a few levels seeming unduly harsh, such as the developers trying to justify a leap of over one thousand points from silver to gold in one of the later levels when bronze to silver has a gap of only a hundred. Trying to get gold on every level is pretty much the primary aim of the game and the only reason why you would want to play any of the levels more than once.

Talking of which that brings us neatly to the main gripe with this game; the replay system. You can save after every single level which is certainly a good thing but as soon as you accept a score, regardless of what it is, you can never replay that level again unless you have a previous save. This means that if you are going for an all Gold medal run through then one mistaken save can mess up your entire attempt. You can replay the level as many times as it takes to get a gold but once you accept a score there is no going back. Surely it wouldn’t have been too hard to allow players to re-select any area that had previously been completed and it's a puzzle why such an obvious option has been excluded.

HE’S COMING RIGHT FOR US – so shoot to kill.

Doing well on levels will also see you unlock new equipment and abilities. Most of which are bigger and better guns, which hold more ammo and reload faster among other things, but there are a few fun gadgets to be had too. Most notable among these are various animal calls that you can use to lure in the prey through successful completion of a little mini game, mess up the game and you risk spooking your prey so it’s your call whether the risk is worth it. You can also grab certain abilities while on a hunt as well, all of which are designed to make your life easier while on that particular hunt but can’t be carried forward to your next assignment. For example, if you kill an animal quickly you get the Quick Draw skill which slows time briefly and makes targeting easier, kill an animal with high integrity (usually one shot) and you’ll get X-ray vision, which makes animals easier to post and highlights weak spots. Other tools can freeze animals, slow time, give you thermal vision or provide laser guided bullets, with the caveat that you can only carry one at once depending on what you think you need. If anything these trinkets make the game even easier as game becomes incredibly easy to kill when frozen, and a lot easier to spot with either of the vision modes – it’s almost as if the developer wanted to take every last bit of challenge out of the game.

The variety of guns is just pointless as well. There, I said it. If you end up using more than two of them during the entire game then I’ll be extremely surprised, as once you unlock the crossbow it makes everything else redundant due to its ridiculous power. The aiming system is extremely generous and shooting in the general vicinity of an animal is more than enough to take it down, it’s hard not to laugh really when a shotgun can take down a bird in one shot when it’s flying over 600 yards away and is little more than a dot on your screen.

About as pretty as it gets. Yeah, it’s that bad.

The gameplay has been taken so far away from hunting that it’s hard to imagine why they have included specific ‘arcade’ levels at all, as the entire game has an arcade feel. The fact that the surest way to get a gold medal on a mission involves charging straight at animals, guns blazing in a bid to get a close shot bonus demonstrates how far from actual hunting this game is. The A.I. is woefully poor with animals often running straight at you or stopping for no reason after running a few yards, in both cases gifting you an easy kill. You are also saddled with an A.I. dog in some missions whose sole job is to flush out birds from nearby shrubbery. The number of times he will wander off to a completely different bush to spook birds you aren’t aiming at is beyond belief. Man’s best friend got a major dumbing down.

I suppose it goes without saying that the graphics and audio are pretty much on a par with the rest of the game. Despite the fact you are hunting in twenty four states you will struggle to tell one generic landscape from another, and watching birds just pop out of thin air when they are ‘startled’ soon gets old fast. Everything has a cheap blocky feel as you would expect from a budget title, and listening to a commentator growl about every shot you make is less than inspiring. The animals in the other hand make no sound whatsoever, even when you are butchering their nearest and dearest, surely they would be a tad upset which in turn might lead to some kind of noise. Perhaps I’m simply asking too much.

Achievement-wise this game is a disappointment. You should really wrap up everything you need to within 6 hours and, assuming you are going for all gold, you will automatically hunt every animal required for all of the Slam and Integrity achievements. There are only two or three birds in the entire game that aren’t required hunts. To help you out, look on mission 53 (Hungarian Partridge) and mission 93 (bush on the left) and that is all the guidance you should need. This game is so bad I wouldn’t want you to have to go back and play it again. I especially hate the fact that if everything goes to plan you should net 520 points on the final mission, would it really have hurt them to spread the wealth out a bit more?

Maybe this section should be called ‘what audio?’ as the game has very little in the way of anything, the animals barely make a sound and your gravely-voiced hunting companion is more of an annoyance than a help.

Bad. Need more? Suffice it to say that it looks about as good as the other Cabela games, with jerky animal animations and uninspiring landscapes. Animals that pop in and out of existence when they hit certain markers are clearly not good enough.

Gets old fast and the fact that you have to repeat the exact same task 96 times doesn’t make matters any better. It’s a blessing that the game is so short as you’ll be wanting to get rid of it as soon as possible.

For a hunting game this is an abject failure, it’s far too easy and there is absolutely no reliance on stealth or skill. Running at your prey firing at will is hardly what a professional would recommend I’m sure and the fact the A.I. stands there and takes it or worse runs straight towards you doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Easy achievements hence the ‘high’ score but they are all pitifully obvious with no invention, the fact that over half the points are stacked to appear upon completion of the last level is also annoying.

Play it for points and then never look at it again, a terrible game in its own right but as a hunting simulation it’s a joke. The animals on offer are hardly game that people would willingly pursue outside of a video game and the stupidly over-powered weapons or power-ups take away any slight challenge that might have been had.

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