A New Definition For “First Person Shooter”
You’ve played Doom and blasted all the demons on Mars. You’ve cleared countless World War II battlefields of the evil Nazis. You’ve even defeated all opponents in futuristic sci-fi tournaments. But have you shot all the animals in the African Serengeti National Park? Now’s your chance.
Lest environmentalists complain, the shooting here is strictly camera-based, as you take the role of photographer for a team of environmental journalists writing a series of articles on the park. Wild Earth: Photo Safari is ‘eduware,’ a genre that has come a long way from the ridiculous “add the two numbers together quickly to make the monkey smile at you” silliness of years ago that gave eduware such a bad reputation.
Your coworkers have the actual knowledge and perform the writing, you need only follow their instructions and take the pictures they ask of you; numerous ‘side quests’ abound, and you might well take 50 or more pictures on a mission. For each article, you’ll go on a tour of the relevant area of the park, taking relevant photographs (you can also take irrelevant pictures if you like; all go into a journal). At the end of the tour, you get to see the actual article. Any pictures you failed to take are represented by blank spots in the article, but otherwise your pictures (a dozen or more) are put right in the article: a real treat, and, of course, you are credited as the photographer.
"...your pictures (a dozen or more) are put right in the article: a real treat..."
Granted, eduware titles don’t have the big budget of ‘pure’ games; production values here are lean, but the audiovisual elements of Wild Earth are all good if not great. You don’t just photograph big African animals; you’re taking pictures of birds in flight, piles of dung, various plants, even termites and individual beetles. They’re all done well, with many animations of specific animal behaviors, even if the details are sometimes a bit blurry. As the game isn’t really meant for older, jaded gamers who need super high-resolution graphics detailed enough to represent flaring nostrils and eyeball veins, this is fine.
Gameplay is likewise tailored for the less hardcore gamer. Get lost, and a ‘magic’ compass will appear telling you which way to go — rather important, actually, since it’s easy to head in the wrong direction while looking around for herds of wildebeests or termite mounds or whatever. There is, alas, no option to remap keys; the defaults are fine, but some folks (like me) don’t really use the standard “wasd” movement keys for first person shooters. Also, I found myself missing an option to jump; there’s no real need, of course, but the thought of jumping on some rocks to get a better look around does occur from time time, and an option to sprint would be nice as well. The last issue is the camera; real-world camera fanatics are forever worrying about film, shutters, resolution, magnification, and so forth, but all we have here is a simple ‘zoom’ feature.
In keeping with the ‘for younger players’ theme, the animals are all completely harmless, you can pull stunts here that the Crocodile Hunter would be too timid to perform, such as walking right up to hunting lionesses; there’s a ‘stress meter’ that keeps you from interfering with the animals too much lest the safari end too soon, but no risk to the player of, say, running right into a crocodile and being eaten.
Minor issues aside, parents and even teachers looking for quality eduware, or at least something that doesn’t revolve around endless killing, should definitely check Wild Earth out. Even a child not old enough to read can still play this, as the most crucial instructions are given verbally (with text reminders onscreen). The game is legitimately fun, gives real animal knowledge (unlike say, the pseudo-animal knowledge of Pokemon), there’s plenty to like, and absolutely nothing objectionable, and very few games fit that bill today.
"...there’s plenty to like, and absolutely nothing objectionable, and very few games fit that bill today. "
+ Original design
+ Completely non-violent
- Little challenge (for older gamers, 14+)
- Can’t remap keys
- No special cameras