Sitting in a bush on the actual Serengeti, waiting to get a snap of a giraffe roundhouse kicking a wildebeest is – as we can only imagine in our crazy world – kind of exciting. The tension of seeing beasts in the wild and their unpredictability makes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, if not a potentially dangerous one if a lion happens to sneak up on you. But slouching on your sofa as you wait for a hippo to yawn – which you will – is not.
Once you work out how to fumble your way through the Japanese menus and look past the soulless surly French man and American woman that you can play as, Afrika really opens up into the beautiful game you expect. You’re a photographer who takes snaps for a number of clients from the National Geographic magazine. They send mail (read: missions) and you drive out to destinations to photograph your posing target. Now while all this is unique for PS3 and looks stunning, there are two things wrong with the setup: a) you don’t get to drive the jeep early on, just stop your driver and start again, and b) some requests involve crouching for up to ten minutes real-time to get a shot of a yawning hippo.
Now, for a game that boasts amazing likenesses and traits of real animals, watching hippos waddle through just four animation routines kind of shatters the realism. But bust through these laborious bits and Afrika rewards you. After a while your African driver hands over the keys to the jeep and you’re free to jib about the place and chase zebra. It creates a nice sense of freedom even if the car is pretty slow and handles poorly.
Because the areas are so vast, you get a pop-tent so that you can set up an ad-hoc camp when travelling far from base. But the real wow factor comes from the pseudo-boss battles. This requires you to take a money-shot of a rare beast doing something incredible like trailing a cheetah as it pounces on gazelle. You drive close to the speedy creature as the music becomes dramatic, and take loads of snaps of the action. You’re then presented with your best one at the end, which not only earns you more money from the magazine, but you can also save it to your actual hard-drive. Clever, eh?
Despite the flaws in some of the visuals, hackneyed mission structure and rubbish jeep, we’re glad that Sony have changed their minds and decided to release Afrika in Europe – date TBC, and hope it gets a North American release. Its tense moments and thoroughly unique gameplay make for a great experience and for those that have already squandered over a grand on a PS3, HDTV and all the other stuff that goes with it, this is probably the closest you’re going to get to an actual safari for some time.
Jan 27, 2009