Hunting season is here

Ready, aim, shoot! With Cabela’s video games, you can slay a caribou in the Canadian Rockies from the comfort of your couch, sans camouflage.

Cabela’s, outdoor retailer  and maker one of the heaviest catalogues you get in the mail, offers a slew of virtual hunting and survival video games. I played two this week – Wii’s Big Game Hunter 2010 ($20-$40 with the gun) and Xbox 360’s Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2011 ($41-80 with the gun).

There are some distinguishable differences between the games simply based on the platforms used. Personally, I find the Wii easier to maneuver and the motion sensor more accurate, important for targeting on these specific type games. The Wiimote and nunchuk click easily into the necessary plastic gun; the nunchuk becomes the trigger. The Xbox controller combines all of the Wiimote and nunchuk functions on one handheld and can be used without the gun, which was paramount because calibration with the gun component and the Xbox sensor could never be achieved. Perhaps it was a personal problem, but a dilemma nonetheless.

Big Game Hunter (BGH), rated “T” for Teen, is a first-person shooter game with a basic story line flowing through 12 missions. There are 13 galleries, also. You are Jack Wilde, a marksman being recruited into The Royal Ancient Order of Orion, an elite private hunting club. Wilde hunts varying territories around the world with assignments to kill specific animals in their natural habitats. It’s target practice, essentially, with some fast action. For example, after shooting a caribou, geese came flying overhead, squawking. Later rabbits ran natural patterns through and around the terrain, requiring quick shooting.

Throughout the game, weaponry can be exchanged from a rifle with a scope, a bigger rifle with a scope, a .44 magnum pistol with a scope, and a shotgun without a scope; bullet reloading is automatic. Animal tracking is not necessary at the lower levels of play but required at more advanced levels. The arcade-like play leads Wilde by highlighting with a blue glowing light areas to hide and giving points for going there; locations of animals are denoted with a red beam extending from sky to ground. Player points are calculated based on a distance a shot was made, size of animal shot, vital targeting (i.e. lung, heart, etc. of shot), and accuracy, to name a few. Slow motion follows bullets from the gun to the animals; blood spurts on screen.

Similarly, Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2011 (CDH) tells a story. However, it weaves in a tale of survival, not mere hunting, is a bit scarier and seems more appropriate for older teens than Wii’s BGH, although it’s rating is the same for teens.

In story mode (there is gallery mode), you are Cole Rainsford, a young man out to win the affections of his father, a hardened ruffian who you observe being attacked by a wild beast in the prologue, a scene that made me jump.

When play begins, “Dad,” now physically scarred and a bit deranged, challenges Cole to kill or be killed as a rite of passage. Come to find out, “rite of passage” includes eating the heart of the first animal killed. That’s the deranged part. The actual eating is not shown but it’s discussed. Eww!

Play is slow as the game encourages tracking and exploration of the treacherous yet beautiful, terrain. Right when relaxing into walking around, predators jump and attack, requiring fast-trigger action. Beautiful caribous, mountain goats and white mule deer in BGH are replaced with devilish, red-eyed grizzly bears, mountain lions and wolves in CDH.

Again, play was not possible for me with the gun, so the controller alone was used, requiring two-handed manipulation of multiple buttons – right stick to move forward; “A” to crouch, left bumper button to activate hunting senses; right bumper to reload and on and on. Multiple weapons are available, up to four can play and games can be saved for another day, just like in BGH.

This game has more mature story content, sexual innuendo and the fright-factor that make it less appealing for younger audiences. However, it’s not just an arcade target game, like BGH. It’s more realistic hunting, requiring players to follow tracks, signs and even blood trails.

There are approximately 40 Cabela’s video games featuring hunting and fishing, including recently released Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 and Survival: Shadows of Katmai Games Bundle for Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 ($60).

Two commonalities of the Cabela games – they’re rated “T” and feature outdoorsmen wearing Cabela’s gear! Who’d a thought it?