An enjoyable photo safari
It's clear from the get go that Afrika isn't a game for everyone. You need a deep appreciation for nature's splendor and more than a passing interest in photography to make it past the first hour. However, if you get past that hurdle, there is enough good here to keep you entertained for a long while.
Minimal GameplayAfrika is a photo safari in the same vein as Pokemon Snap. The aim here is to take snaps of the rich fauna at the fictional Manyanga conservation area. After the generic male/female character choice, you're set loose to explore and flex your photo-journalistic muscles. As you encounter new animals, you photograph them and report back to the local research project. In turn, they send you on missions with specific requirements based on the species you sighted. The final photograph is graded based on qualities like distance and technique. Your trusty laptop with its simple interface serves as the portal for all your assignments. It's a minimalistic system with no real narrative but it works well enough to keep you interested in the rich and varied wildlife. The game could've used better presentation and some voice work for the humans but in the end, it doesn't detract too much from the gameplay.
The animals are spread across five regions that slowly open up as you progress in the game. Each region is essentially a microcosm with its own unique ecosystem and characteristics like the fictional Kiwanja plains, which was obviously modeled on the Serengeti overlooking the iconic Mt. Kilimanjaro. The exploration element is kept very simple as you can drive around freely in your 4x4 or get on foot to silently approach the more agitable animals. The mission descriptions are usually detailed enough to lead you to your objectives, though there are a few side missions that might force you to refer a FAQ.
The gameplay is built around photography and had just enough depth to keep my interest. The point and click controls are very simple and they work just as well as any on a normal camera. It makes good use of the sixaxis motion controller for vertical shots and the pressure sensitive "click" offers an intuitive parallel to the real thing. You can upgrade your camera & lenses and there is a marked difference in picture quality every time you change any component. The high visual fidelity means that options like aperture size, shutter speed or the kind of lenses you use actually matter. Your pictures are also graded based on their artistic value like the kind of hue or backdrop used in certain cases. The excellence is in the details and trying out all the various photographic options is a rewarding experience in itself.
Maximum SceneryThe thing that impressed me the most was the animal behavior and the way they react to their surroundings. Afrika's animal AI is more believable than the generic AI you find in conventional games. It's a wonderful experience just observing them interact among themselves or with other creatures in their natural habitat. The sensitive nature of some animals creates a sense of tension when you get upclose to them for the required picture and it's an exciting experience in its own way. The game is also punctuated with Big Game events, which are essentially scripted sequences that let you capture unique, beautiful moments like a baby elephant taking its first step into the wild or the annual migration of the wildebeest. Natsume collaborated with National Geographic for research and the result is an interesting environment for you to explore.
Another reason you will have fun watching these little social interactions is because of the audio & visual detail on all the animals. The constant roars, barks and chirping help provide a natural background when you get up-close. In addition, the animals look amazing thanks to the high texture details and authentic looking muscle-animations.This minutiae translates very well to your pictures and once you get a good enough camera, the end product is very photo-realistic. However, this detail takes a toll on the frame-rate and there is a minor amount of texture pop-in too. Also, in contrast to the animal textures, some of the surrounding environment like the plants & shrubs are poorly rendered. Coupled with the various technical issues, it takes the shine off an otherwise good looking game.
Nat Geo's involvement also means you get to unlock a huge set of real-life animal photographs & clips, along with their descriptions and behavioral patterns. Some of these fact sheets make an interesting read and it's a nice collectible to aim for.