SYNOPSIS: Hunt virtual animals across the world in the latest version of the popular Big Buck Hunter series. The latest version uses a new cabinet design, cutting edge graphics and fully featured online modes.
Big Buck Hunter got its start in the arcade way back in 2000 and ever since it has steadily grown in popularity. The game has found its strongest user-base at bars although occasionally it is found at more traditional arcades as well. I am not a hunter, fishing is the closest I have got or maybe very occasional target shooting but the series has proven to me that you don’t have to be a hunting enthusiast to enjoy the game. There is no gore or blood to speak of and no need for bug repellant either. Not that I don’t like camping or visiting the outdoors, where I live in Utah there is plenty of that to do which I take advantage of a couple of times a year. Anyways, I digress
With the latest installment of the game, Big Buck HD showcased a refreshed experience from its predecessors. You still select an animal type to hunt, where you are transported to an outdoor setting where you begin the hunt. Like before you have to take out three bucks, no does and you can get small game “critters” in the process. What has changed are the physical reaction of the animals which is more realistic than before, there are greater variations in critters and instead of the camera behaving statically, it will move around much more, changing angles depending upon the situation. Trophy animals on every stage is gone and replaced with the Dangerous Trophy, an animal that will attack the player instead of just running from one side of the screen to the other. This is a little like Double Jeopardy where the stage these appear on is occasional and random for every game. After five levels you get a chance to play a randomly selected Bonus Game, which thanks to the major improvement in graphics plays more dynamically than before from the few levels I played. They also kept the humor intact with the game, as you’ll see with the skydiving animals bonus round. Dynamic is an operative word for the game – improvements are found in every aspect of what it offers including the redesigned guns, allowing it to rise above the shooting gallery feel and closer to simulator territory. I did not manage to uncover any secrets with the brief time I got to play it but I’m sure they are there, just like in other BBH titles.
So for the standard part of the game I left feeling more satisfied than I was with a game like Big Buck Safari. Part of that are the graphics which do a better job of dazzling my brain since they are competitive with what I find playing a newer PC game these days – above what a home console can do. 1080p imagery at a solid 60 FPS may sound like a marketing catchphrase but it’s always so awesome to behold in person. Arcades need to stand out graphically as part of the experience of drawing people in, which this game will have no trouble in accomplishing. I get into it further below but the amount of detail really is great – after a few days I have noticed small things that you have to just watch on the game without being inside of the player focus zone to catch.
The next part to look at is the overhauled interface and online content. Arcades have embraced the whole internet thing as far back as the 90s but success in that regard has varied widely and the content is usually simplistic. I did not really care too much for the online part of Big Buck Safari, but mostly because it was too much for the standard player to handle. After constantly having to walk over and help someone figure out how to create a profile or explain what was going on, we just disabled it and left it as a standard game. The new interface provided by Big Buck HD is much better now, as it provides and on-screen reticule for aiming and a keypad to make password entry nice ‘n easy. The game lets you use an existing Big Buck account but it has been enhanced to feel like an Xbox Live account – you can select an avatar or upload your own (if its tasteful), create friends lists and track achievements (which they call Challenges) which can also be posted to your Facebook or Twitter account. It’s not the first arcade game to use achievements, other titles like H2Overdrive, Super Cars, Dirty Drivin and Operation GHOST have as well. But this has over 400 of them which gives the game great replay value, aside from the cash one can win.
On that subject of cash, they still have the National Tournaments players can compete on but it’s been beefed up to include local run tournaments (operators can setup tournaments for locations to compete against one another), Mini-Tourneys where you can win a little cash fairly quickly or the Showdown mode, which offers real-time play for four people at different locations to compete on. With all of this in play Big Buck HD becomes more of a modern game than many other titles out there, while maintaining elements that make it an arcade experience in the first place. There is no complex storyline that is trying to compete with a book or motion picture but there is enough to do and aim for that you have reasons to play again. A Raw Thrills sales guy I talked to made it sound like they plan on using this platform to represent Big Buck for the next 10 years or so as it will make it easy for operators to upgrade via DLC. Where it will evolve to after that is anyone’s guess but for now, this is one to look out for.
Addendum: Having got this game in a few days ago I’ve had some time to observe your casual gamers taking a crack at the game. As I do not bring in the same crowd as a bar it has been interesting to see reaction to it. Kids are attracted to it just as well as adults but if they do not have help, it goes clear over their head since they have to read to get anywhere. As such we’ve had to help out in a few instances.There have been several who can obviously read but are too lazy to do so – they get stuck in some mode they don’t want to pay for and we have to help them get back out. It would be very interesting to find out how many different menu methods they went with to see which was the easiest. It certainly is better than Safari was. I just wonder if any voice-overs to explain the menus would be worthwhile. Otherwise, we provide it for them.
Humor is an element that is lacking in a lot of video games in general and like other Big Buck games, BBHD doesn’t take itself completely serious and it pulls off giving players a chuckle now and then. This is particularly true with the bonus games where you have critters skydiving out of a plane, or cows being probed for their milk on an alien spaceship (which also stands out graphically above many of the other mini-games but that could be my sucker-for-space mentality speaking here). In the standard game, when you shoot a cow, it shows the doe shaking its head in sadness, just funny little things like that which overall might be entirely expected in a game like this.
We’ve craved arcade games that can compete or out-do what home consoles offer visually as its the arcade way. Big Buck HD has no trouble in giving us a sweet looking game. The environments are vivid in terms of color, detail and life, physics are greatly improved making it stand light-years ahead of previous Big Buck games. Character models are detailed to be in-line with what you expect from a PC game coming out in 2012. Image quality can vary slightly with the Panoramic version however, depending upon the TV the operator shells out the cash on. But either way for a game designed to run at 1920×1080 @ 60FPS, the quality shows. (Raw Thrills has a page where they have some recommended TVs to use with the game that they have tested out as having minimal input lag). As I have the game in my possession now and I can take a longer look, I am impressed by the level of detail here. One example is a level where there is a stream the animals go through. Instead of just putting a flat texture to show sticks on the bottom of the river bed, they actually render each stick. I only noticed when I was close to the screen but still, it’s touches like that which help it overall and I’m sure artists spend hours on minute stuff like. I think it shows.
The music is a sort of soft country/rock track, the main theme song gets stuck in your head fairly quickly. It repeats a lot during the attract mode so that’s something to be aware of if you happen to be working at an arcade or bar with one.The sound system offers great clarity and volume, which I have had to bring down a few notches so it wasn’t too loud. There isn’t much bass to it though from what levels I’ve tinkered with so far. There is plenty of voice acting which helps with the iconic humor to the game. The environmental sounds fit in perfectly and it was fitting with what you expect from the series so far.
The redesigned guns feel much better in the hands as they are less like plastic toys. They don’t feel exactly like real shotguns either but find a place in between. Otherwise a properly calibrated game should be just fine. I’m glad to see that there are few “nooks and crannies” where dirt deposits can grow over time – the Safari guns had that in the handle and it was next to impossible to clean those out (without taking them apart and soaking the shells). The keypad on the front is nice – at first it seemed redundant since you can just point at the screen to pick the numbers but I can use a keypad slightly faster. Having a reticule in the selection screens is a welcome addition which makes navigating easier. Interestingly enough the sensor is not inside of the barrel like your typical light-gun shooter but on the top.
Having taken the Golden Tee route in cabinet design, there is less area for artwork to be found on but the trade off is cost and weight so it is easier to move around (and less costly to ship). The Panorama version opens the door for some sharp displays to be showcased but some bad ones as well depending upon the operator so here’s hoping they take RT’s advice in getting a decent TV as mentioned. I’ve become used to the more compact designs that flat-panel displays bring with them although with these kinds of pick-your-own monitor cabinets I wouldn’t mind adding a bezel of some kind to them myself so the TV is less obvious. The cabinets are not as striking or enticing as something like Terminator Salvation although I’m sure a taxidermied deer head for the marquee would likely scare off some people. For the base it is surrounded with great artwork that is completely appropriate to the game. It didn’t notice any lighting on the cabinet except for the backlit marquee and buttons which is the only thing I could slight it for when compared to cabinets that have more details through molded plastics or LED backlit plastics. The redesign has led to some great changes in costs as previously the deluxe version of Big Buck World or Safari was around $7000 – now a deluxe HD costs less than $5000.
While seasoned players should find plenty of content to keep them busy and coming back for more, the new look and improved features give newcomers good reasons to try it out. I’ve met several people who were not into the idea of a hunting game (or opposed to it outright) where when they let their guard down for a minute to try it out, they ended up enjoying it. It’s not a gateway drug that will have you suddenly decking out in the latest gear and go trudging through the wilderness with bloodlust in your veins – just a fun and proven arcade concept. Big Buck HD solidifies the series place as the king of hunting games in general and something other games could emulate in certain areas. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re about to be deluged with hunting games in the way fighting games like Street Fighter II did but it could mean a lot for the advancement of online and smartphone technologies and their use in the amusement sector. The next Raw Thrills game which I will be bringing up soon is already testing out a new scoring system using QR codes so that functionality is certainly on the cusp of exploding onto the market. The online features BBHD has will connect the community around the game more than ever before and I like how they serve both operators and players alike, giving the latter reasons to come back to the game over and over again.
Take all of the versions of Big Buck Hunter released so far, place them next to each other and the best one by far will be Big Buck HD. I am really impressed with the online features and I think that they will set a standard (in the US at least) for what needs to be done with online play in modern arcade titles. If you are a fan of the series then nothing will disappoint you and it will easily make new fans as well.
My own preview
DEVELOPER: Play Mechanix
MANUFACTURER: Raw Thrills
RELEASE: Limited test release June 2012; full release July 2012
TYPE: Light-gun hunting
PLAYERS: 1-4, simultaneous depending upon mode
HARDWARE: Unspecified DELL PC hardware running Linux based OS
ARCADE EXCLUSIVE?: Yes
RATING: Yellow – Animated Violence Mild