Not quite a sim, not quite a challenge, not quite the experience.

 

Hakuna Matata (also known as Afrika) has been an elusive concept for me to get my head around. So much so that it became a title that landed on my “need-to-own-one-day” list simply because of my own conceived interpretation of what the product would provide me. But does the actual product live up to my imagination? Surpass it? Or is it a case of “why do good dreams always end so suddenly?”

 

 

 

Game On: 

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmPFAkIEphU 400×400]

Hakuna Matata is a product based loosely on a concept of living the life of a “natural” photographer. Set in the continent of Africa – the cradle of life – you would embark on “missions” to photograph some of the world’s greatest animals. Observe them in their natural habitat and be captivated at the species unique personalities and quirks.

For anyone who has ever dreamed of working for the National Geographic as a young boy/girl, this title seemed to hold the answers.

Upon entering the world, you have a quick option to choose either playing a male or female avatar. It’s fuss free and quick.

The aim of the game is to “shoot” with your camera. Your goal is to record the images requested by different organisations who reach you via email.

With a simplified element of “stealth” deployed, you can creep up to your chosen target to gain the best “shot” Distance, Angle, Target and Technique are graded after you submit your best photo to your client.

Money is given in return and you can use to purchase “add-ons” for your camera such as extended memory cards, new lenses, new camera etc.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpRC3TVJzrY 400×400]

Death is absent from the game, you simply go to camp if a dangerous animal attacks you.

In terms of control and game play, it is intuitive and easy. The problem is, its instant accessibility becomes its first drawback.

The lack of character customisation stops me to take ownership of how I want to be represented in the game. Also, the fact that the female character wears a bright orange vest really detracts from the idea of being “invisible” to the animal. I really didn’t like either of the two characters available and the game didn’t have a story to help me embrace either avatars.

The general response to my photos that I submit are also limiting – it really is nothing more than getting a grade and money. I feel like I’m back in art class 101, the only problem was that you never get money for the work you did as a student. And the fact that there is no real sense of danger to these animals makes me feel like I am wandering through an open zoo rather than the African Savannah (more of this discussion later). Where are the Poachers and the reality that our way of living is intruding into the natural habitat of these animals?

Presentation:

The graphics are magnificent. The background vistas and detail of the animals are rendered wonderfully well. The movements of the animals are lifelike and in certain parts of the environment, you can see them kick dust up as they walk. The colour palette used is also attractive. Beautiful greens and yellows that make the world look lush but also dry. The sound is also wonderful. The music in the background fits the sweeping landscape it fills.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXlgjQa4yBE 400×400]

The problem is, it looks too perfect to be Africa!

From the image of your driver and the jeep you ride on (both of which are dust free), everything is spotless. Africa is beautiful, but it is not a “Mr Sheen” spit polish clean. Its beauty lies in its ruggedness, its dangers. In fact, for anyone who loves the outdoors, that is the appeal. Mother nature is like an unwashed, loin dressing Grace Kelly. She is graceful and beautiful, but also brutal and real. Hakuna Matata the game, is a man-made savannah and it’s strive to show the PS3’s graphical prowess becomes a barrier for me to transport myself into the world of Hakuna Matata.

It really is an alternate universe to the Africa I have studied and seen.

As for the music, it becomes overwhelming and tedious. The same background track looses its appeal after awhile. The lack of voice over also seems strange for a nex gen product.

Enjoyable moments:

There are wonderful moments that light my experience up such as wandering to take a shot of a target animal only to find another species that I have yet to record such as my first sighting of a leopard or lion in the distance. I also like finding monkeys at base camp – I like monkeys and the crazy movements they make as they run from you makes me want to chase them even more!

Missing pieces:

But with all the nice moments you find in Hakuna Matata (the sweeping landscape soundtrack, the joy of stumbling onto another species, chasing animals around) there are a lot of things it leaves out which stop my full enjoyment of the title.

The world is open, but the animals do not seem to mix in the world as mother nature intended it. The volume of animals that inhabit the world also seems lacking – A herd of Zebras does not mean five or six to me – especially for a “conservation” area.

I would expect to see at least triple digits for certain species (such as migrating gazelles etc) considering the aim of “conservation” parks is to regenerate animal numbers.

Along my travels I never found any carcasses or freshly fallen victims. There do not seem to be any random encounters of significance and I never really feel like I am a journalist or zoologist (as the two job titles for each character suggests). 

To be honest, I just feel like a screen floating across this landscape. I don’t “feel” the heat, the dryness, the struggle between life and death. The game lacks soul. And Africa is a continent full of soul, full of sounds, full of colours, full of life. Hakuna Matata is too sterile to be wild.

Hakuna Matata is more like an Interactive Screen saver rather than an adventure game or sim. This is especially true when you are looking through the lens whilst on the jeep. The entire jeep and driver suddenly disappears: A Houdini moment! 

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxWosB8MSL4 400×400]

Alternative Options

What I wanted to find was not a leisurely stroll into the world but rather a visceral image of the frailties of life and death. I wanted to see vultures eating dead carcasses, Wild animals struggling to find water. I wanted to see Darwin’s theory in action.

I also wanted to have a purpose. If a game removes the competitive space, at least fill the void with a story. If I am zoologist or nature photographer, why am I really there? Am I trying to bring media attention to a dying species? Am I trying to stop poachers? Educate the local tribes about the importance of environmental conservation? 

Weather is such an important element in the African Continent. The life cycle depends on it. That is why the absence of heat exhaustion, deluge of heavy rain and powerful winds make it feel “constructed” rather than “organic”. For a game based on nature, you would think the latter term was important.

Hakuna Matata could be a riveting game mixed with competition and intrigue.

You could add online multiplayer aspects such as a timed race for who can find and capture the best image of migrating birds (or which ever animal you wish to set as the target). What about introducing a leader board for the best photo taken or have competing factions vying to record or buy information on the wildlife you document in the game

You could have conspiracies, selling the information that you gathered about a species for either good (saving them) or bad (poachers). 

The game has so much potential and I believe the safari expedition has a lot of scope for story arcs and complex gameplay.

As for DLC, this game offers a vast scope such as expanding the animal catalogue, downloading new environmental threats to add challenge to the game play, new story arcs with meaningful characters. It could be so much more!

But sadly, Hakuna Matata is not any of the above.

If you took out the “zoo” experience of Hakuna Matata we may have something.

Verdict:

 For now, it’s a title that is as good as owning a tank full of fish, only you don’t have to worry about feeding it.

Grade: C “just rent it.”


Grade info:

F: WTF? Why did I even bother!

D: Don’t think so.

C: Just rent it.

B: Wait till the price drops before buying.

A: Worth the RRP.

A+: If I knew it was this good I would have pre-ordered it!