Though you're more likely to tangle with bothersome insects and creeping boredom than snarling grizzly bears and rampaging rhinoceroses on most hunting excursions, Cabela's games have long had a flair for the dramatic. In Dangerous Hunts 2011, you must avoid the predations of all sorts of wild animals as you embark on a son's quest to hunt big game and earn his father's affection. Though the level design encourages you to take things slow and explore the nice environments, the prevalence of vicious wolves and man-hungry leopards often forces you to act quickly and rely on the merely decent controls. The adventure feels sufficiently long, and a bevy of shooting galleries provide replay value for those who like chasing high scores, competing with friends, and slaughtering dozens of wild creatures. Dangerous Hunts 2011 may not be an engrossing expedition, but the trigger-happy action still provides some shooting satisfaction.
The story of Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2011 centers on the Rainsford men, who have a family history of big game hunting and stubborn masculinity. The adventure begins in the wintery forests of North America, where a ceremonial elk hunt turns into a pursuit of more deadly predators. Swirling winds, snow-laden trees, and the light of a full moon create a thoughtful setting that evokes a strong sense of place in spite of the fact that you are basically moving along a narrow linear path. This is a first-person shooter, so you fully control your movement using either the controller or the Top Shot Elite gun that comes bundled with the game. This peripheral provides some good novelty value, and there's definitely something satisfying about aiming a toy firearm, pulling the trigger, and pumping to reload. Yet these pleasures are somewhat offset by the fact that the targeting reticle lags slightly behind your motions, and holding the gun aloft can be fatiguing during long play sessions. The controller offers less lag, but still feels a bit sluggish. How eager you are to play the game with a big white-and-orange gun will likely be the deciding factor in whether you want the the Top Shot Elite bundle ($79.99) or the the stand-alone game ($39.99).
The story levels generally encourage you to proceed at a slow pace. Collectible items and marksman targets offer incentives for exploring the environment, rewarding you with experience points (used to unlock shooting galleries) and health bonuses. Once the adventure heads into the African savannah, certain areas are so rife with snakes, alligators, and other dangers that you must proceed slowly for the sake of survival. This pacing, along with the solid environmental design, does a nice job of creating a methodical atmosphere in which a patient approach yields the most rewards. Getting into a cautious rhythm helps you feel more like an actual hunter, but this can also cause the action to lose momentum and drag. There are other things that taint the atmosphere as well. Some animals react bizarrely when killed (rag-dolling deer and backflipping alligators), while some areas feature a steadily respawning herd of animals that you can continue shooting as long as you have ammunition. The story is too slow-paced to be a rip-roaring adventure, and too unrealistic to be an immersive simulation. It's best to treat it as a melodramatic safari, a tone that the dialogue sets fairly well with quips such as, "I knew nothing short of my own death would quench the fury in the rhino's heart."
While the story takes somewhere between five and eight hours to complete, depending on your speed, the shooting galleries don't take more than a few minutes. These on-rails arcade slaughterfests offer pure shooting action with more animals than most players could possibly hope to kill. There are more than 30 of these galleries, including timed score tests, survival challenges, and multistage treks that feature branching paths. The streamlined controls and reloading action of the Top Shot Elite make it a good choice here, though controllers work just fine. To get high scores, not only do you have to be a quick shot, but you have to take care to use the right gun for the right prey and to avoid shooting certain animals. Power-ups add another twist to the action, giving you crucial advantages to push your score even higher. Racking up big points is challenging but not overly so, which helps Dangerous Hunts 2011 deliver plenty of gleeful gunplay in these galleries.
Local and online leaderboards add some replay value for those inclined to compete for the top spot, and up to four players can compete simultaneously on the same screen, though this is almost too hectic to be fun. Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2011 definitely delivers some solid entertainment, as long as you don't expect ethical hunting practices to get anything more than lip service. This is an arcade-y experience, even within the bounds of the less frantic story mode. The Top Shot Elite is a decent peripheral, but its shortcomings make it a tough sell at twice the price of the standalone game. Though Dangerous Hunts 2011 has some control liabilities and thematic limitations, it still offers a good amount of goofy, gun-happy fun.