There I was, sitting in a treestand just on the edge of a cornfield with pro hunter Wade Middleton. We were hot on the trail of an elusive, 282-inch whitetail. This was one tough buck, and I had to be absolutely on top of my game if I was going to bag it.
The buck had been wounded many times before but survived. It would take a perfect shot in the vitals to take down the wily old buck, not to mention a near-perfect approach.
When the time came, I missed. Again. And again.
Of course I’d have been much more devastated if it wasn’t a video game with a “reset” button, but that’s the beauty of a simulated hunt—there’s always a do-over.
Enter Cabela’s newest installment in its line of popular video games, “Big Game Hunter: Pro Hunts,” which offers the thrill of the hunt through a realistic single-player perspective for novice and experienced hunters alike. Ultimately, “Pro Hunts” is what fans of the Cabela’s games have been asking for.
The game will test your patience, skill and nerves throughout the roughly 20-hour pro hunt mode (though the game could easily be in the 60-hour range if you choose to complete each hunting and small game challenge). Besides immersing the player in realistic ecosystems, “Pro Hunts” recreates the feel of tracking and hunting with improved ballistic physics and complex animal artificial intelligence (AI) that follows realistic behavior and responds appropriately to threats.
“Pro Hunts” doubles as a hunting simulator and learning tool as well. Players are taught the ropes by four pros—Wade Middleton, Jim Shockey and Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo. Each pro has their area of expertise and unique hunting style—from marksmanship to stalking to calls and lures—which is passed on to the player across a series of missions and advanced hunts. This culminates in completing the Pro Slam, featuring the most elusive, majestic and vicious trophy animals North America has to offer (you will get charged).
While you can’t fully replicate the experience of hunting in a video game, “Pro Hunts” is a solid effort at making it as close as possible to the real thing.
Gameplay & Features
The first thing the player will notice about “Pro Hunts” is how accessible it is. Compared to previous versions of Cabela’s games, “Pro Hunts” is a departure in the right direction. Gone are the overly cliché narratives and over-the-top arcade action. “Pro Hunts,” instead, pursues a more authentic hunting simulation that allows the player to hunt at their own pace.
Right from the get-go the player is given the freedom to pick what species to hunt in a given region. Want to drop in and hunt anything available in a particular area, like hogs, deer or coyotes? No problem. No on-rails shooter or overbearing hand holding here. You go anywhere you want and hunt what you want.
Following a brief tutorial, players are dropped in a massive open world that is four times the size of any previous Cabela’s entry. The diverse ecosystems of North America are split into four regions—Southeast, Northeast, Southwest and Northwest—unlocked in that order. Additionally, each region has its own unique challenges.
In the Southeast, players face a mixture of undulating terrain and open fields as they chase deer and hogs. Dense cover and marshy wetlands dominate the Northeast. In the Southwest, players encounter mule deer, pronghorn, long-range shots with long sight lines and open space.
And finally, the Northwest features rough, wild country with constantly shifting winds and icy ground cover that easily reveals your location. The player faces a diverse range of big game such as whitetail, wild boar, caribou, moose, brown bear, pronghorn and more in each region.
As the name implies, the game gives you the opportunity to hunt with and learn from the pros. To be successful, you must accurately read the wind, carefully traverse the terrain, plan every movement and consider shot placement. You must utilize scent covers, game calls, and powerful scopes, but ultimately it’s up to you to know or learn how to use these tools effectively.
Running and gunning Rambo-style will not net you easy kills or many points. If you’re seeking a more authentic experience, change the difficulty from casual to authentic. Authentic difficulty is more realistic and will test your hunting prowess in ways that casual does not.
Campaign mode is the only available mode. There are three hunting options within the campaign: open hunt, regular hunt and pro hunt.
In open hunt mode, the player is dropped into the area they select and given free range to hunt the game available in the region within 20 minutes. Regular hunts give the player a challenge to complete within an allotted amount of time, usually six to 20 minutes. These range from killing a buck from a stand to more advanced spot-and-stalk moose hunts in the Northeast.
Additionally, some hunts require specific gear that requires gear points to unlock. As you might expect, the challenge significantly ramps up as you advance.
After you’ve gained enough experience—which is based on the score of the kills—the pro hunts are unlocked. Pro hunts are the climactic hunts for each region and will test everything you’ve learned up to that point. They are unlocked as you gain experience from both regular and open hunts. So, with each monster rack the player collects, the quicker the pro hunts unlock.
With advanced ballistics physics, “Pro Hunts” does a good job of teaching the player about shot placement and the capabilities of any given bow or gun. Firing your weapon switches the game to a Matrix-like camera angle as your projectile flies toward the target.
This was one of my favorite features in the game. You’re shown statistics like time, velocity, energy and distance. Upon impact, the animal becomes semi-transparent to reveal the vitals. The player can then see bullet performance analytics, like remaining speed and energy, as the bullet or arrow penetrates.
This feature allows you to make changes as necessary for the next hunt. For instance, if you hit the ribs but the bullet ricocheted off and didn’t reach any vitals, try using more firepower or changing your shot position. It’s a feature that works well, and I hope to see it in the next Cabela’s game.
Mechanics and Controls
If you’ve played a first-person shooter before then you’ll have an idea of what to expect from the controls. The controls are responsive and handle similar to games like “Call of Duty,” but with a few tweaks. For instance, when scoping you’ll need to hold your breath by pressing R2 halfway, then pull it all the way to fire. This works, but is not intuitive at first.
I found myself missing a lot of shots early on because I couldn’t manage the breathing properly. While initially frustrating, one shouldn’t have much trouble acclimating themselves to the controls. Before long I couldn’t stop getting double lung shots.
“Pro Hunts” is also compatible with the Top Shot Elite and Top Shot Fearmaster Firearm Controllers. We tested the Top Shot Fearmaster, which worked well once the dead zones and sensitivity were properly configured. Of the first three bucks I came across, I was able to make double lung shots on two of them.
However, aside from classics like Duck Hunt, I’m personally not a fan of light-gun controllers. I found my arms tiring out quickly—seeing as how you’re required to aim at the screen the entire time—and general movement became much more difficult with the Fearmaster. On numerous occasions I had difficulty picking up the target when scoping because of the dead zone changes I made.
I recommend picking either the controller or light-gun and sticking with it. However, because the Fearmaster bundle is offered at the same price as the standalone game, you may as well pick up the bundle and give yourself options.
Sound, Graphics and Presentation
By design, “Pro Hunts” doesn’t have a lot of music, which is expected out of a hunting simulator. There are exceptions, of course. The menu music ranges from simple and relaxing melodies to chunky guitar riffs. Once the player is in the field, the music gives way to bird chirps, the rustling of the foliage and whitetail calls. The only exception in the field is when you’re being charged by a pissed off bull moose or brown bear. For these instances, the music is fitting and adds a level of excitement.
Graphically, “Pro Hunts” is impressive, all things considered. Menus are smooth and pleasing to look at. Loading screens are relaxing and detailed. Maps are highly detailed and provide a meaningful way to read the terrain and plan routes. The addition of the direction of the wind on the map is especially helpful. Even the water looks realistic. Big game animals are well detailed and the environments look great from afar.
There are some graphical hiccups like floating rocks and chunky trees, but none of this takes away from the overall game.
A game this size doesn’t run without some problems, however. On multiple occasions we’ve had the game freeze on us or encountered an endless loading screen. The AI can be overly skittish at times. Additionally, some of the small game run aimlessly, taking little notice of our presence. Other times we tracked the small game just to see it disappear completely.
Thankfully these aren’t deal breakers, and the auto-save function works well to alleviate any potential lost progress on a hunt. Hopefully there will be a patch to fix these minor issues.
“Pro Hunts” really does a lot of things right. Where it stumbles, it more than makes up for in a solid experience for novice or experienced hunters and anyone in between. It does not replace the actual hunting experience, of course, but it’s still plenty entertaining. And for just $30, why not? It’s damn fun and worth your time.
“Cabela’s Big Game Hunter: Pro Hunts” is rated T and developed by Cauldron Games, published by Activision, and is available for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U and Windows PC for $29.99.
Note: This review was conducted on the Playstation 3, but the experience remains largely unchanged regardless of platform.
Ralph, who along with his wife Vicki participated in the making of the game, said it was a unique experience.
"It's incredible to understand the process and everything that goes into making a video game," Ralph said. "I was impressed with the final product, how realistic it was. It's entertainment and a valuable learning tool."