It might be hard to believe, but the Cabela hunting games? A pretty decent success for Activision, and the company's ready to take a big leap forward for the franchise with Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2011.
What's the big step? The game itself supports a brand new peripheral, designed by the hardware folk at Red Octane – you know, the Guitar Hero guitar guys. This gun, called the Top Shot Elite, has been designed to much more accurately mimic the aim-and-shoot mechanics of real world hunting.
Though our game demo was restricted to the Xbox 360 version, Activision brought along all three versions of the gun made for the different consoles. The Wii-specific Top Shot is merely a shell that houses the gamers' remote and nunchuk in similar fashion to the way other light gun peripherals do. The Top Shot Elite, however, is much more solidly built and features a "pump action" mechanic that presses up on the Wii remote's B button when pulled back for reloading the chamber. The device also features a removable scope (used for a game mechanic I'll get to in a second) as well as a shoulder brace that can be extended or fully removed. Everything fits together neatly and snaps together with a satisfying "click."
The 360 and PS3 versions of the Top Shot Elite are virtually identical in form and function, and have clearly been based around the footprint of a fully assembled Wii Top Shot. Where the Wii version's trigger utilizes the Nunchuk's buttons, the 360 and PS3 version has a full-on mechanical trigger. Unique to these versions, however, are a D-pad, analog stick, and buttons placed up near the barrel. Because the PS3 gun uses its own wireless technology, it features a USB dongle to communicate with the system – when the dongle is not being used, the gun has a place for it on the inside of the shoulder brace; the Xbox 360 version uses standard controller wireless tech and does not require a dongle.
The guns are based around the same tech as the Wii remote: there's an infrared camera in the barrel of the gun and it picks up the infrared light of the included battery-powered sensor bar to know where the player is pointing. Since the Wii version of the game uses the Wii remote, the Wii edition of the Top Shot does not include a sensor bar, but the 360 and PS3 versions do – the sensor bar is powered by standard AA cell batteries and features an auto shutoff at one, two, or three hours, determined by a slider switch on the bar. When it's placed above or below the TV, the gun, when aimed at the display, will pick up its position and translate that to an on-screen cursor.
Dangerous Hunt 2011 will be the first game to utilize this peripheral. The game design is pretty standard fare for an action shooter: aim at the target and pull the trigger. The challenge is to hit the proper target – don't shoot the female deer, for example – and switch weapons with a tap of a button to ensure that you're shooting the right creature with the proper gun. The camera is fully on-rails in this mode, and players are simply along for the ride blasting away at the targets as they romp across the screen – points are earned for nailing the target, and taken away when the wrong target is shot. Two players can compete or cooperate using their own on-screen reticule, either from the Top Shot Elite or a standard controller.
The hardcore hook of Dangerous Hunts 2011 is the survival portion of the design. In this mode, players are thrust in the middle of an African safari and need to survive the seemingly endless attacks from the native beasts. Players navigate the area with the analog stick from a first-person perspective – when players get assaulted by a pack of wild animals the camera seems to take over to keep the most dangerous animal in sights. When a beast lunges at your character, the action will slow down in "bullet time" fashion, giving players the opportunity to target vital areas with pin-point precision – the animal's heart, for example, will be superimposed on his body so players can see exactly where they're aiming.
In this mode, the scope on the Top Shot Elite comes into play to enable players to spot tracks or blood or other evidence of creatures in the area: by activating a special filter, players can peek through the lens of the scope and see highlights that aren't immediately evident without the scope's assistance. The scope is essentially a red filter which makes it easier to see certain colors that would normally get lost in the noise. It's a trick that's been done for years – on the back of cereal boxes, for example, as well as Nerf N-Strike Elite on the Nintendo Wii.
According to Activision, the "deadly " portion of Dangerous Hunts has been written by Brian Santos, who's worked on the scripts for such hardcore games as Resistance: Fall of Man, Tomb Raider: Legacy, and The Saboteur.
Though our first look at the game was based upon a very early build of the 360 version, it's clear that this will be the best looking game in the Cabela series yet. Though the visuals are using a slightly exaggerated art style, the engine built by developer Caulrdron runs fast and smooth and features a serious layer of detail with fur texturing and lighting effects. Can't say for certain if the Wii edition will match the same level of detail – we'll have to wait until the game's further into development before we get a peek at the Nintendo console rendition.
Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2011 is slated for release on the 360, PS3, and Wii, in both standalone versions and gun-bundled packages on October 26th.