Cabela's Alaskan Adventure

   10/04/2007 at 14:11       Jason       12 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
Every once in a while, a game will come along that encapsulates not just the attitude of a particular generation, but the entire ideology of a nation.
Forget GTA, that's a pastiche, a cartoon. Hell, the WWE games are closer. No. If you really want to hold a mirror up to America and its gun culture, you need to allow Cabela and Activision to present to you their vision of the good old US of A.

I shot a moose in Reno just to watch it die...

Disclaimer time: I love animals. I really do. One of the critters available to shoot in this game is currently curled up at my feet as I type (it's a rabbit, before you ask). The only Bloodsport I have time for is the late eighties martial arts flick that launched the Muscles from Brussels. Guns are bad, m'kay? And yet... I've killed thousands of terrorists in my time. Mostly on missions sanctioned by one Mr T Clancy. You line 'em up, Tom, I'll knock 'em down. I'm Patton with a joypad. I've never bat a moral eyelid while playing any of these "mass-murder simulators". Even when things get close to the bone, and I'm trudging around a fictionalised version of a contemporary hot spot, there's always that fourth wall. That pad in my hands, the TV screen between the world and myself. It's a game, innit?

Alaskan Adventures is the first game I've played that made me feel guilty about grabbing the ammo and heading for the hills. It's not something the game engine manages - it represents the animals too poorly to make them too-cute-to-die - but at the start of the game an FMV intro plays. The focus is as much on the hunters as their prey. You see the men who do this for real, and you see the results of their work. A few seconds in, a reel plays that shows a bear getting shot. It's not a kill shot. The bear doesn't like it - and neither did I. I found it rather unsavoury and it queered my opening few minutes with the game. For the first time I was playing something that I felt I really shouldn't be enjoying.

It's a Kodiak moment...

Alaska may be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but you'd be none the wiser having played this game. You could only really consider these 360 graphics if you played a Cabela game on the original Xbox and convinced yourself that was doing the machine a favour too. It has its moments, to be fair, and it gets a lot of the atmosphere just right, but when the fog bank descends the distant trees start to resemble the monoliths from a 32-bit game of Sentinel. Most of the reviews I've read comment on how nice the water looks. It does, too. Until you put a boat on it. Then it looks like shit. Alaskan Adventures is its own worst enemy much of the time.

The game opens in a frozen tundra - one of the most poorly represented I've ever seen - and later moves to steadily warmer climes. The adventure portion of the game (as opposed to the random hunts you can generate from the title screen) tasks you with visiting four areas around Alaska, hunting the indigenous species and participating in hunting and fishing tournaments (and one extremely poor dog-sledding run). A set number of goals have to be completed to allow access to the next area, with success also offering bonus hunts for those who want to make the big money - and purchase the better gear.

"16 shells from a 30.06..."

The game pretty much follows standard FPS conventions. Controls are a little unorthodox to begin with, but the aiming and movement system work well enough. There's a good selection of rifles, shotguns, pistols and a couple of bows - all of which have their unique characteristics and can be equipped with various scopes. The guns look dreadful for the most part - we're talking placeholder graphics - and they actually do a fair job of making the environments look more palatable. In addition to the firearms there is a pretty broad range of equipment available. Whistles and lures, scents, decoys to set up deer honey-traps, food, tents, binoculars, and so forth - more of which is unlocked while playing through the adventure. At the start of each hunt you're given a vehicle - which not only has the single worst driving mechanic of any game in history, but embarking on/in it shifts the camera so it's pointing down at about a thirty-five degree angle. You can't see more than six feet past the bonnet of the car! Plus most of the terrain is so hostile you'll either get stuck on rocks or just run the bloody critters over without realising they were there. So, it's Shank's Pony all the way.

One thing that should be mentioned is the pace of the game. It's staggeringly, interminably s-l-o-w. You can walk or run depending on how far you advance the left thumbstick, but there's really little difference between the two. Your avatar also seems incapable of running more than thirty seconds without having an asthma attack (or making an obscene phone call, from the sound of it). This comes up again and again in every derogatory review, so allow me to spin it: why the f*ck are you running around everywhere? Pull the trigger, the bullet will make its own way there. You recall seeing De Niro sprint after the wildlife in The Deerhunter? Anyway, it's a slow game.You can crouch while advancing, which slows you further, but increases your stealth gauge. Yes, stealth gauge.

Yukon not be serious, man!

Depending on the difficulty level, your HUD boasts several features to regulate the gameplay. A small compass/map, on the easiest level will show you exactly where the animals are, with red dots being a big game hunt and green being smaller stuff. This sounds like a cheat, but it's actually very useful on your first playthrough and helps get you used to the nuances of the world. As is apparent from the intro FMV, this game takes itself incredibly seriously. Any humour in it is entirely incidental (such as when one of the guides blurts out "No! Not here! Not Now! It ain't legal!" when you kill an animal you don't have a licence for. Although, from the sound of most of these fellows, they wouldn't be shouting that if Ned Beatty had just wandered off the river with his pants around his ankles). You can be fined for an illegal kill, and you will have to retry some of the hunts because you can't realistically tell the difference between a male and female bear.

In these moments the game can become frustrating - and such things testify to the universal slating the game has received thus far. Even if the animals were better represented (they don't even look as good as the wildlife in Oblivion) it would be impossible to distinguish a legitimate kill from the two or three critters in the distance. Worse still, there's no sense of feedback. While you're busy stalking your prey, something else can creep around behind you and be taking huge bites out of you and you just won't notice. Partly this is because the game renders animal attacks so poorly, but partly it's because the developer negelected to make use of the rumble feature of the pad. (Glowers at SHITAXIS. It isn't going to work for me, folks.) You're so caught up in lining up your shot that you don't notice the bear - or raccoon - that has dedicated its life to studying the arts of Ninjitsu and taken you down in the blink of an eye.

Oh, man! I just shot marmot in the face...

I'm dwelling on the flaws for a couple of reasons. One is the game really is littered with them. The other, that a couple of folk on the forum have expressed a genuine interest in the title. This isn't a review that's designed to convince you to give the game a shot. I suspect very few people will be as forgiving of its foibles as I have been. So... why would anyone take pleasure out of playing a game that appears this broken?

Realism. Seems an odd word in relation to this game. Graphically ghastly, sonically simplistic. But, at its core, lurks the most strategic, realistic shooter to be found on the 360. Think I'm kidding? Consider this: I'm an hour in. I've found four sets of tracks for the beast I'm after. I know where it's heading and I know there's a cliff wall cutting off its escape. I'm wearing my scent-lok clothing so I didn't need to bring the spray, freeing up one of the two choices in my equipment inventory. I move forward as cautiously as I can, stopping every few feet to scan the horizon with my rifle scope. (It's at its best when you convince yourself you've spotted that elusive deer or bear, only to line up the perfect shot on a tree stump.) The trees are swaying, rain is settling in. I set out a slab of meat in a discreet clearing, and then slowly back away. I have to move southwest, or the female bear that's guarding her cubs will blow the whole thing - plus I need to get the wind off my back. I pull out my second item: a call that replicates the noise of an injured deer. (I don't like this noise, it's horrible.) I crouch in the undergrowth, tooting away, keeping one eye on the other wildlife, checking the sights on my scope and... waiting.

And that's the game.

"Down wind? You think I can smell them coming?"

That's probably a recipe for the most boring game you'll ever play. Doesn't really sell it, does it? I'm not trying to. But here's the thing: I love this game. I shouldn't. It's underdeveloped, it's designed to frustrate all but the most patient. There's a bizarre, occasional glitch when a run animation doesn't trigger and a deer skates across the landscape like K-9. It's over-priced, too. In the US it came out as a full-price game, but featured a year's subscription to Cat Maimer Monthly (or whatever it was called). It's not a product that can stand beside any other game on the console.

But I love it.

To be fair, I have to be in the mood for it. I put it back on last night for "a quick go", and I ended up coming away fairly quickly. You can't run and gun, there's no online, it looks awful. The quality of the fishing is a bit ropey. The duck hunting minigame is about as complicated as Hypersports on the ZX Spectrum. The cars. The shitty sledding section (mercifully only one race has to be completed). The technical issues. The very concept of hunting...

But I love it.

The big problem is what to score it. I can't ignore the flaws, but can I genuinely mark down a game because of technical limits when I've played it - and enjoyed it - more than GRAW 2? If you have the patience of a saint and the bloodlust of Ted Nugent, a very forgiving eye and a lot of time to invest, this game might just surprise you. If you're still curious, and won't begrudge the cash, you can actually import the PAL version of this from DVDCrave in Australia for about 20. Please don't take your business to Gamestation and pay any more than that, even if they are - somehow - the sole stockist of this title in the UK.

So... that score then. It's my score, not yours. Feel free to knock two or three points off it. The game probably deserves it.
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