It’s that wonderful time again; where the leaves change color, the weather gets colder, and – unfailingly – the release of another Cabela’s title. For those who enjoy the sport of hunting the catalog has typically satisfied niche gamers every season, but never had the same impact elsewhere. Activision tried to appeal to the mainstream with previous entries that bordered on action-thriller territory with mixed results and with Cabela’s African Adventures the attempt to bring high-energy thrills to the famed outdoor brand continues.
With most Cabela’s games this is the part where I’d insert a pun or two but surprisingly enough the developers have really done their homework this time around, taking the best and established mechanics from previous titles (Hunting Expeditions and Dangerous Hunts 2013) and other inspirations for their most ambitious third-person shooter yet.
The story is convenient enough as you play a no-nonsense hunter out for the biggest game in Africa – and a hefty payoff – from a shady philanthropist who’s also interested in collecting broken tribal statue that’s been spread across the plains and jungle. To add a bit of tension to the plot each of the pieces are hidden in the lair of the savanna’s most five dangerous animals, known lovingly as the Big 5.
The backdrop is largely a pretense that pushes things forward as you experience the wild through linear missions, or just freely roam the harsh open environment. The campaign is less about simulation and more about immediate survival where standing against packs of hyenas or a charging rhino is a regular occurrence, with moments of stealth and bullet time adrenaline reflexes making up the bulk of the game. Throughout the eight hour foray the objectives are squarely divided between going to a location and clearing out the animals, or sneaking around unfamiliar terrain. Either way each completed mission yields experience points and ability enhancements.
Following in the vein of many sandbox-style games beefing up your character is done with a number of passive and active skills, where perks such as silent sprinting and rapid rifle fire are available through an Ability Tree system for defense, offensive, and stealth. These capabilities go hand in hand with basic leveling enhancements that improve reloading time, aiming accuracy for vital organs, and health. However, you can only have two special abilities at one time. The inclusion of various abilities is a thoughtful one that felt long overdue but considering how powerful the protagonist is early on some of these aids hardly feel necessary to the overall gameplay.
That initial feeling of being outmatched is present during the first couple of missions until the reality sets in as you approach bigger prey as you have so many advantages right from the beginning and the threat of alerting prey becomes moot in all but a few occasions. Apart from being nearly invincible your weapons pack too much punch and your armory is also blessed with unlimited ammo. Even the element of exploration is heavily downplayed thanks to an immediately accessible and indestructible Land Rover that can’t be scratched, this type of hand holding is something of a compromise because while you’ll never end up stranded the touchy driving controls are less than stellar.
The apex predator mentality reaches into the arcade-inspired Shooting Gallery Mode that’s carried over from previous Cabela games, where animal targets can be racked up for highest score possible as long as the correct rifle is selected during the hunt. It’s still entertaining but for people who want a little authenticity with their hunting spree both the Top Shot Elite and Fearmaster gun peripherals are compatible here, and up to four players can join in on the fun.
With Cabela’s African Adventures it appears that the developers have finally learned a thing or two when it comes to creating a third-person hunting shooter for the mainstream, though in an effort to appeal to all audiences they’ve consequently held back the difficulty to all but the most intense scenarios and gameplay mechanics. This hurts replay value considerably despite how well the overall story and the graphics come together to create a believable open world. It will be hard for many to overlook the faults but the hunting is still good enough for fans, even if you feel like Superman.
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