Bass Pro Shops: The Hunt Preview

Assloads of animals were harmed in the making of this game.

When major-league and/or borderline-disturbed enthusiasts of all things Disneyland can’t quite make a pilgrimage to the original Magic Kingdom (or one of her numerous colonial territories around the globe), they’ve at least got a stopgap experience on which they can fall back to sustain themselves between visits. It is a Disney-visit-by-proxy of sorts, in the form of various ‘Disney Stores’ of differing degrees of size and decorative ornateness.

[image1]Apparently, North America’s thriving track-animals-down-and-shoot-them crowd has something along the same lines—only moreso—in the form of Bass Pro Shops Superstores; sprawling, elaborately-themed mega-marts offering all your one-stop shopping needs for hunting, camping, and general outdoorsiness. They’re so big, they have their own video game franchise; while most known for the slightly more comprehensibly named Bass Pro Shops: The Strike (a fishing game with a fancy-pants controller), they’ll soon be hitting shelves with Bass Pro Shops: The Hunt (a hunting game with a fancy-pants controller).

The Hunt looks like it’s shaping up to straddle the tricky line between a fun/accessible virtual hunting game and a slightly more realistic experience. Following in the hip-waders steps of Bass Pro Shops The Strike, The Hunt offers authentic licensed in-game hunting gear, with gameplay modes catering to both casual and a Career mode for more serious enthusiasts.

In the Career mode, players take to the woods and fields of ten different and fairly sprawling hunting-regions in authentic North American locations, including New Mexico, Alaska, Washington State, Georgia, Minnesota, Florida, Maine, Missouri, and, for some reason, Alberta. Each region features an array of hunts and other challenges that can be taken in any order—from ‘primary quests’ like hunting so-named ‘Legendary’ animals (bucks of prodigious rack size, for example, that are then awarded to the player as mounted heads which can decorate the player’s in-game Shop space) to more casual side-objectives like locating certain out-of-the-way exploration spots.

[image2]While the core gameplay always comes back to a fairly straightforward point and shoot (more on the Wii version’s nifty custom controller in a bit), it looks like there will be just enough ancillary concessions to reality to enrich the experience. You’ll be able to use all the expected hunting calls and assorted chemical edge-givers (doe bleats, doe estrus, catch-all ‘scent elimination,’ and possibly Axe body-wash, although I’m not sure how that would help matters at all), and an extra-careful ‘stealth mode’ slows the hunter/player’s progress to a cautious creep while draining the screen of color (to further highlight crucial, telltale signs of your quarry).

The game offers up to 20 animal species to hunt—everything from ducks, rabbits, boars, and caribou, to elk, moose, whitetail deer, berzerkoid grizzlies, and a few other dampland-crawling surprises. Aspiring lodge-lurkers will be able to hunt with at least a dozen types of weapons, including 7mm Bolt Action rifles, .30-.30 lever-action rifles, pump-action shotguns, and even Magnum revolvers and compound bows (for a little Nugent-y goodness). When you manage to line up, compensate for, and actually crank off a ‘perfect’ shot at longish range, you’re even treated to a zoomed-in ‘bullet-cam’ effect, following the projectile through the air directly to its four-legged target. It’s kind of like a scaled-down version of that admirably effective, follow-the-bomb shot in the movie Pearl Harbor, only without the additional excruciating two hours of Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale.

Of course, there are official, established Rules—strange, oft-incomprehensible, seemingly-arbitrary, and sometimes just plain head-wobbling-verging-on-retarded Rules—among hunters for which animals may be ‘properly’ hunted with which weapons. So it’s possible to bring your Career hunt to a screeching, codified halt by blowing away a bunch of airborne prey with a rifle instead of the approved shotgun blast. Ditto for taking down females of certain species when you’re only licensed for males. Like the need to remain upwind of your quarry so as not to give your presence away, this is one of those little touches of realism that are intended to infuse the gameplay with a sense of realism.

[image3]The good news is that, at the end of the hunting day, Bass Pro Shops: The Hunt doesn’t take itself catastrophically seriously—in fact, some of the goofier bits are just as promising as anything else in the game. How about the casual-friendly ‘Duck Hunt’ mode, which is exactly as close to the video game challenge of yore as you’re probably thinking without turning into some lame, intra-game-industry lawsuit?

What say you to a complete non-sequitur of an animal-scaring ATV race, complete with jump-ramps, through the game’s sprawling hunting-regions? And since every game seem to need a Horde Mode these days, prepare yourself to make a stand—in a literal hunting-stand shack—blowing away all sorts of ‘Dangerous Predator’ animals (boars and grizzlies, among others) as they come stampeding from all directions, bashing and clawing at the flimsy boards protecting you.

One final note: The Wii version of the game comes with a ‘precision pointer’ controller-stock into which the Wiimote and Nunchuk fit nicely—it’s a rounded, quality-looking casing whose vague infinity-loop shape has the basic heft and feel of a rifle-stock (it even has a bolt-action mechanism for reloading)… and, note to future game developers, even has something of an Aliens-esque pulse-rifle feel to it.

Bass Pro Shops: The Hunt will be available for the Wii and Xbox 360, although only the Wii version sports the badass controller as of this writing. Check back in when GR goes a-huntin’ with a full review.

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