Like guns? Post-apocalyptic wastelands? Gritty, urban decay, moral choices, and gripping dialog? Then go look somewhere else, because you're not going to find any of that in PS3 exclusive Afrika. What you will find is an engaging photo safari sim with an exceptional attention to detail and gorgeous visuals. If you're the type of person who can happily watch The Discovery Channel all day, or who owns Planet Earth on Blu-ray, read on, because you're going to want to check this game out.
Your mission in Afrika is simple: Explore your surroundings and snap pictures of all the pretty animals. You receive assignments and requests for specific shots via email, then pile into your jeep and head out into the bush to stalk your wild prey. Completing assignments earns you cash to buy new gear, like a tent you can use to avoid having to return to base camp, or a memory card that will allow you to take more digital pictures. So long as your photo fills the request, you'll get at least some cash for it, but the better the composition, the more likely you are to collect your full fee.
You start off with a crappy camera, but earn better gear as you progress through the game. Eventually you'll collect a nice assortment of cameras, lenses, and gadgets such as remote controls to help you in your quest for the perfect shot. Photography buffs will appreciate the ability to change their camera's settings to suit their needs, but if you don't know your F-Stop from F-Zero, you can just set everything to automatic. Afrika does a fair job of making the Sixaxis replicate the feel of using a camera; pushing the shutter button in halfway will lock your focus, while turning the controller sideways will reorient your viewfinder for a vertical shot. You can even get fancy by using effects like motion blur or switching to black and white film. Neat.
Most of your time in Afrika will be spent filling requests for specific shots, like a giraffe drinking water or a meerkat standing on its hind legs, but every so often you'll take on a Big Game Hunt, which is the game's version of a boss fight. These are particularly dramatic or exciting situations, like a cheetah or crocodile on the hunt. Unlike the rest of the game, where you can take your time and set yourself up however you like to get your photo, you're thrust into a specific set of circumstances to snag your shot. You can replay these sequences as often as you like, swapping out cameras or lenses until you get exactly the picture you want, and you more than likely will - tackling the same assignment with better equipment is very satisfying.
What makes Afrika stand apart from similar games like Pokemon Snap and Endless Ocean is that its developers worked with National Geographic to make sure the animals both look and behave as realistically as possible. Skittish impalas will scatter the moment you get too close, while water buffalo and elephants will charge you. Zebras will gather together, but cheetahs will be more solitary. Learning each animals quirks is vital not only to getting a good photo, but also to not getting attacked and sent back to base camp to lick your wounds. You can't die, but you will lose any photos you took before you got squished.
Though Afrika's realism helps give you the sense that you're out on safari, it also calls for a certain amount of patience. The animals of the wild aren't going to perform on demand for you, and you may spend several in-game days in vain pursuit of a specific snapshot. (Getting a hippo to yawn is not as easy as you'd think it would be.) The game does its best to meet you halfway by telling you the best areas to search for your quarry, but getting the actual shot will almost always require some waiting on your part. Climbing a tree to get a face-to-face shot of a giraffe is easy enough, but getting the giraffe to actually head in your direction is something else.
The animals of Afrika are wonderfully realistic, but other aspects of the game are annoyingly not. You can only climb certain trees, your jeep slams into bushes as though they were rocks, and you're distinctly unable to look straight up - which isn't a problem until you're trying to track a bird in flight. The animals are obviously the most important part of the game, and are absolutely remarkable, but their excellence just makes the game's flaws all the more obvious. The dialog, such as it is, is also completely underwhelming, but you don't play Afrika for its rich and rewarding story arc.
Bottom Line: Afrika's relaxed, picture-snapping certainly isn't for everyone. The game only does one thing, but it does it extremely well.
Recommendation: Shutterbugs and Animal Planet devotees should pick this up without question, adrenaline junkies should probably give it a pass, and folks looking for something different than the same old shooter should at least take it home for a weekend.
Susan Arendt now knows the answer to the question, "Where can you see lions?"