Afrika E3 Preview
Reviewed by Rebecca Wigandt
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-06-09 PS3 Simulation E (Everyone) Natsume

It's going to be a challenge for me to talk about this game without gushing. E3 seems almost formulated to trigger the "gee whiz" gene in journalists, wherein a sufficiently large room of sufficiently bright lights, loud music, and pretty pictures reduce you to a 12-year old girl screaming "oh my GOD!" at everything until you're so overstimulated, each title you encounter is the best game in the world until the next one.

Trust me, though. I'm back in New York now, it's been pouring rain since I returned, my day job still sucks, I can't print what someone yelled at me from their car this morning, and one of my cats still thinks the hardwood floor is a pliable surface to dig up to bury her leavings in the litter box. Reality has bitten me hard enough in the ass that I think I can be a little more objective at this point.

Afrika had Didi about to pull me bodily by the arm away from the play-testing station, because I seriously could have spent hours on it and scarcely noticed the passage of time. Before I was born, before my parents even met, my mother went with a band of other young public school teachers on a safari in Kenya, back when the labour unions offered all these great continuing education perks. Her experience of it isn't much more to me than a vague notion built from her half-remembered stories, a letter she wrote to my grandmother from the bush, and a handful of native handcrafted masks and dolls around her house. The simple wonder she felt, though, is something that seems to run in my family. I meet my father twice a year for an 8-hour pilgrimage to the Bronx Zoo, and summers spent on our then-undeveloped piece of swamp in North Carolina made the turtles, snakes and rodents in the woods some of my best playmates. To get to the point, in the right kind of person, seeing a natural, living world that stands apart from you elicits a very visceral kind of delight.

Like Didi said in the quick preview, the point of the game is pretty straightforward: you ride around in a Jeep through a large region of composite central African ecosystems and take assignment-based pictures of various wildlife. You have a progressively huge array of cameras, lenses, and other fiddly attachments at your disposal. That's really all there is to gameplay, and only the tiniest of fractions of why Afrika took my breath away.

It looks good - really, really good. The performance of the PS3 was used to great effect in creating an astonishingly lifelike world - dynamic lighting, weather, and movement run through the experience. The diversity and accuracy of animal life grips you the most, though- in the painfully brief time I had to tour the virtual sub-Sahara, I crept through knee-high flood plains to spy a herd of Grant's gazelle (antelopes with long, twisty antlers) on dry ground on the other side. I crouched low, sneaking as close as I dared, even at a distance seeing the lazy flicking of tails, twitching of ears, and flourishes of twisty horns. Bringing up my camera and engaging the telephoto lens brought the herd to arms' reach - I panned over lushly textured fur and the broad, rippling chest muscles of a large, upright bull until finding a female fussing over a calf feeding from low branches. With a push of L3, my character gave a short, high whistle- a wave of alertness rippled through the herd, and mother and calf darted their heads towards me for a quick, beautiful shot before all moved on in a rumble and blur.

And yes, it looked just as real as a television nature show - moreso, because I was in it.