Afrika

7.5 / 10 Banzai!s

The Game:
afrika-coverIn Japan, Afrika was released in the summer of 2008 when the Playstation 3 was still shy of its second year anniversary.  Its library of games were slowly growing, though many of which were just older Xbox 360 titles ported over.  Afrika was one of the few new games that were exclusive to the PS3, and Sony took advantage of that fact – as console sales weren’t reaching their targets – by deciding to go all out on their advertising.  Afrika became known for its humorous commercials of a father and son falling asleep while playing the game (never said it was a good commercial!) while posters and standees crowded the electronic stores.

Did the marketing campaign work?

Afrika suffered negative to lukewarm reviews, with sales to match.  Perhaps the game was too slow and serious for younger gamers, while the older generation wanted to shoot things with guns rather than a camera.  After some hesitation, Sony at last decided to release Afrika overseas, though players in North American and Europe would have to wait sixteen months to take their naturalistic photographs.  Ironically, the game took so long that it had to be refitted with the newly released Trophy Support which came out between the Japanese and overseas version.

Afrika can be described as a peaceful adventure.  You play the role of a photographer flying out to the African continent (probably somewhere around Kenya or Tanzania, though the game doesn’t specify) in search of wildlife to help bring about your photographing fame.  In third person, you stroll about, crouch behind bushes and climb trees, in attempt to snap the best shots of the country’s various animals, from zebras and lions to elephants and flamingoes.  A jeep allows you faster travel; just don’t run over any animals, or you’ll get scolded by the NPC in the back seat.

At your camp, e-mails will periodically be sent by various magazine owners requesting certain shots of particular animals – such as a hippo yawning, a head-shot of a zebra, or flamingoes taking off from the pond.  The better your picture, the better your grade.  Sell your photos back to the customer for cash, and you can buy upgrades for your camera, as well as other useful trinkets.

What I Liked:
Sometimes, between cutting up zombies and shooting ferocious aliens, it’s nice to play something peaceful.  Even the music only pops up when you’ve taken a nice shot, leaving you with the sounds of bird chirps and zebra barks.  The scenes are beautifully well done, and as someone who’s personally been on safari in Kenya, I can say are quite accurate while still finding that balance between realism and convenient gameplay.  By that I mean, when I was in Kenya, we’d spend hours driving around in search of giraffes and elephants, but only a minute or two in the game.

afrika-screenshot1For the most part, the animals look pretty good – especially from at a distance.  Elephants spray themselves in a lake, while giraffes move with grace towards a tree to nibble at the leaves, their ears twitching against a buzzing fly.  The rendering of water has improved in gaming since 2009, but still looks believable enough in Afrika.

I suppose you could argue that the game is rather educational.  This all depends on the player, however, if one is interested in reading through the supplied text about specific animals and bird species.  I started to in the beginning, but after awhile it gets boring and you just want to get out of the tent and take some pictures.  Since most of that information is on Wikipedia anyway, it may have been nice if these tidbits about the animals were integrated more into the game.

What I Didn’t Like:
One complaint I have about Afrika is the movement of the animals.  Earlier, I’d stated that for the most part, they look pretty good.  And that’s true.  But sometimes they interact with one another, they stop becoming animals in Africa and start becoming NPCs in a game.  For instance, a giraffe is standing there staring at you because you’ve approached too closely.  A second giraffe is making its way towards a tree, but the first one is blocking the path.  Rather than walking around, it starts “pushing” the giraffe sideways, like its on roller-skates.  This happened quite a few times, obviously under a glitch in the game, and it really takes you out of the naturalistic world when the animals start pushing each other sideways.

afrika-screenshot2The other complaint is with the missions themselves.  Generally, you can only do one or two at a time, and you won’t receive anymore e-mails until either you’ve completed them, or sometimes when you’ve randomly photographed a new species.  Why is this a complaint?  Because sometimes those missions are hard to find.  I remember having to take a photo of a specific bird riding on an elephant, and spent hours exploring every corner of Africa looking for that damn elephant with that damn bird.  It would have been nice to just pass on that one and try another mission, but I couldn’t.  Finally I succumbed to checking a Youtube video, and realized I had to be in a specific spot at a specific time of day to see the elephant come lumbering through the water with the white bird on its head.

Overall:
Afrika is definitely not a game for everyone.  There’s no running and shooting, no duck and cover, no magical spells or acquiring XP.  It is what it is: an exploration of a national park in Africa while taking pictures of animals.

But if you need a break from the Resident Evil and Dead Space violence like I did, Afrika is a good choice.  While finding certain missions can be a pain at times, there’s nothing particularly frustrating or nerve-racking about wandering around with a camera.  And considering the game’s age, the graphics are still at par with most Playstation 3 titles.

Hakuna Matata!

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