Here's a hunting game that evens the odds. In Cabela's Dangerous Hunts you won't merely blast Bambi and friends with impunity, but you'll also square off against wolves, grizzlies, rhinos, leopards, and other animals that can kill you in a heartbeat. The game does a great job of startling you with sudden attacks from these beasts, but this isn't really a fast-paced action game. Despite featuring an arcade-style mode, Dangerous Hunts is more of a slow-paced sim. Whether you find it intense or terribly tedious will probably depend on your hunting knowledge and patience.
The game's main selling point is its diversity. You'll encounter 27 species, ranging from the innocuous whitetail deer to more spectacular and exotic animals, like the polar bear, moose, wild boar, zebra, hyena, and impala. You'll go head-to-head with these animals in 12 different locales scattered across North America and Africa. You'll trek through the wilds of Alaska, British Columbia, Colorado, New Mexico, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, among others. Each of these regions offers two hunting grounds, and each can be visited during different seasons.
You'll encounter unique groups of species as you traipse through snow-covered pine forests, sneak among the brush of the African plains, or wend your way along babbling streams that snake through high mountain passes. Each hunting area is big enough to give you a sense of scope, but it's not so big as to require hours to cross it. In fact, some areas will give you transportation, like a snowmobile, to make movement even easier. That said, most of the maps ultimately boil down to a string of small ravines that conveniently channel you through one narrow lane into another.
Dangerous Hunts offers three game modes. Action zone pits you against successive waves of charging animals. After you kill all the nearby threats, you head through a glowing green portal to the next area. This mode is lamely repetitive, too short, and too easy. Anyone with a half-decent aim and reflexes should be able to breeze through all of the levels on the hardest difficulty setting in 15 or 20 minutes.
Things get better with the simulation-oriented quick hunt mode. Here you get full access to all the hunting areas, game, and gear--and there's no unlocking required. You can pick a difficulty setting that determines how easily you'll find and lure your prey, in addition to how much damage you can sustain if you're mauled, gored, trampled, or otherwise assaulted. During your hunts, you'll need to obey the laws. Remember, you can only shoot legal game (or other animals purely in self-defense), lest the game warden send you packing. Oddly, you'll only encounter one animal of the species you're after during each hunt, and it will sometimes be killed by predators before you can get to it, which is frustrating.
To find and kill your prey, you'll get to choose from an array of weapons and gear, though you're limited in how much you can carry. Weapons include semiautomatic, bolt-, and lever-action rifles, as well as a few shotguns, revolvers, bows, and knives. You can use different scopes or binoculars to get a bead on your target, though it's hard to adjust their magnifications smoothly. Other gear includes clothing to suit the climate, a map or GPS unit, calls, decoys, lures, and more.
Depending on the difficulty setting, hunts can be fairly quick jaunts, or they can be truly tedious, thumb-twiddling affairs. On the easiest setting, your heads-up display points you in the direction of the game in your current area. Then you just need to stalk it and then kill it. On the medium or hard settings, which don't offer that crutch, you can spend an hour wandering around with no sign of your quarry, which is realistic but boring. The animals can be wily, and Dangerous Hunts gives precious little info about effectively using lures and decoys to attract your prey, so you'll just have to experiment, be very patient, and hope for good results. Unlike in the real world, you're not compensated for all the downtime, since you don't get to enjoy nature during the long lulls--just a relatively pallid copy of it.
During your hunts, you'll need to keep an eye on your health, stamina, overall energy level, hydration, and nutrition levels, though most of these only truly come in to play during really long hunts on the hardest difficulty setting. A stealth meter lets you know how well you're hidden, though it's a bit buggy and abstract, if not deceptive. Judging by the meter, at least, all it takes to remain hidden well is to crouch; movement and noise be damned. A wind vane/anemometer on your HUD helps you stay downwind of your quarry, since scent plays a role in remaining undetected.
In addition to the action zone and quick hunt modes, Dangerous Hunts offers a career mode. Here you can create a character, edit his or her ability stats, buy and sell equipment, and earn money as you complete charter hunts for a specific type of game (or as you complete narrower goals like killing a certain number of animals in an area with one-shot kills). As you work your way through this mode, you'll gradually unlock new areas and challenges. You'll also get to visit firing ranges between hunts to test and adjust your firearms. Again, the game assumes too much about your hunting knowledge and neglects to explain how to adjust your weapons properly.
While the developers didn't spend enough time on the documentation, they did put real effort into the presentation. The graphics aren't cutting edge, and trees in each area often seem much too uniform, but the visuals look attractive overall and do a solid job of creating the look and feel of varied wild areas. They feature some neat details, like foliage swaying in the breeze, animals' breath steaming in the cold air, and--best of all--moving clouds that cast dynamic shadows across the landscape. Seeing the hills and meadows around you temporarily darken and brighten again when the sun peeks out from behind the clouds is a really immersive touch. Passing rainstorms add further realism.
The audio works even better. We can't vouch for the accuracy of all the animal sounds, but they seem convincing as they echo across valleys, as do the ambient sounds of wind, birds, and insects. The main audio highlight is when you hear--but can't see--an enraged animal pounding through the underbrush toward you. It's sure to give you a jolt.
Cabela's Dangerous Hunts could have used more polish. Along with some bugs, some of the menu text runs right off of the screen. It also could have used better documentation. Its attempt to appeal to action gamers with the action zone mode falls flat, but if you have the patience and knowledge, the simulation components of the game should provide plenty of interesting challenges.