When it was first unveiled at E3 2006, soon-to-be PlayStation 3 owners marveled at the capability of Sony’s new machine, which launched in the US later that same year. However, Afrika slipped off the radar over the past couple of years for a variety of reasons, and for a time, it didn’t seem likely that it would ever arrive. It somehow found its way to Japan last August but the other major gaming regions have gone without for far too long; thankfully, Natsume is going to change this, and they will finally distribute the game in North America. Rhino Studios is handling the development duties and this project includes licenses from both Sony and National Geographic; you will step into the shoes of a wildlife photographer. …and if, for even a split second, you believe this is some kind of namby-pamby plush job, and one that wouldn’t be entertaining for the player sitting at home on his couch, think again. No, you may not be battling the animals you spot, but all you would-be “photogs” out there can try your steady hand at snapping pictures of some of the world’s most alluring (and dangerous) creatures.
First up will be the Safari mode, which is separated into Safari Game, Photo Gallery and Big Game Trophy Mode, and then you have the GEO Afrika section, which also features three parts: the Afrika Field Guide, the National Geographic Library and the Afrika Viewer. Now, most of these are relatively passive “modes” so the primary focus will rest on Safari Game, which will actually consist of accepting “missions” and stalking your prey, so-to-speak. As we heard from previous eyes-on and hands-on sessions – and now re-confirmed by the hands-on conducted by IGN – you will simply pick a male or female character and head out into the African wilderness. A main tent will act as your base camp, where you can fiddle around with your camera settings and accept e-mails that will give you a set of photography targets. Once you’ve accepted a quest, you’ve got to not only locate the animal(s) in question, but you must also take the best possible picture if you want big rewards. Perhaps you don’t realize that magazines like National Geographic pay good money for beautiful photography…
And it isn’t easy. Nothing about it is easy. And beyond the actual taking of the picture, you will indeed control your character. At first, it was believed that the entire experience would be “on-rails” and the player would only control a camera, but you will have a standard control setting; left analog for character movement, for instance. If you press the Square button, you will enter the camera mode, where the sheer number of options may surprise those of you who aren’t familiar with the art of photography. Want to take a portrait shot rather than a landscaped shot? You can do that with the simple tilt of the controller. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg: there’s zooming, centering, filtering, and any other number of factors that one must consider, and let’s not forget that one must find the ideal position before one can even enter the camera view. You’re pursuing living, breathing animals, many of which are likely camera-shy, so you have to be stealthy and patient to arrive at the perfect spot. You can crouch to minimize sound and visibility on the part of the animals, and if your quarry takes off, you can try to chase it down in a jeep. But that sounds more like Plan B.
Really, the primary appeal of the game centers on the science of photography, which we’re hoping will be extremely realistic and authentic. We want all sorts of cameras that we can unlock and buy, and those picture-taking options better overwhelm us, because that’s kinda what it feels like for amateurs like us. The IGN hands-on hinted at special technology “like trap cameras for snapping a shot of nocturnal creatures and cameras mounted on small remote-control rovers.” So not only will you have to be patient and steady, but you’ll also have to examine the situation ahead of time and determine the best course of action. Of course, the goal is to nab as many great shots of as many exotic animals as you can, and this will result in both cash and “extended information and media” about those creatures, which you’ll be able to find in the GEO Afrika sections. Not surprisingly, the National Geographic Library boasts real photos and video clips – done by professionals – so you can get an idea of how you should perform when in the field. You will also want to check with the Afrika Field Guide every now and then, too, just because it may include some helpful details that could give you the edge in your hunt. It pays to be proactive in your research.
Lastly, players will want to pay close attention to the Big Game Trophy mode, which speeds things up and adds a healthy dose of exhilaration to a game that relies on tense yet mostly quiet interaction. In the aforementioned mode, you will have a certain amount of time to snap a photo of something specific, like a fight scene or a chase-down of some kind. You will be graded on the result, so when a lion has his paw raised and is in the midst of an immense roar, which will be the money shot. If you’re wondering about some intimidating meat-eaters making a dash for you…well, evidently, this is possible. We’re not entirely sure yet how Rhino Studios is going to deal with this (we get the feeling we won’t be armed out there), but it may be a definite concern at certain points in the Safari Game. Beyond this, the game won’t really deal with much else besides the photography angle, but provided it’s done correctly, this won’t bother us in the least. We just love the creativity and originality of Afrika and we can’t wait to give it a try. Artistic games can and do survive; just look at titles like Flower and echochrome.
Afrika is slated to launch some time later this year in the US; we’ll let you know when Natsume issues a concrete release date.
5/26/2009 Ben Dutka