Wild Earth

Review by MrLipid
July 2006

We Have a Winner!

I'm still smiling. Why? I've just been replaying some of the assignments in Wild Earth. What is Wild Earth? Gather round the virtual campfire on the plains of the simulated Serengeti and I'll tell you.

Wild Earth is a photo-safari game. You play a photo journalist on assignment with a writer (Valerie Deveraux) and a professor (James Connors), who exist in the game as voiceovers only. The writer asks questions as the professor provides guidance, both in terms of what one is looking for and what one is looking at. And you'll need guidance. Wild Earth features a 3D engine proprietary to Super X Studios that allows players to wander about as if actually on location in Africa.

As you wander, a panel in the upper left corner informs you of what pictures need to be taken for the article Valerie is writing. As each photo is successfully taken, the next required photo appears. Professor Connors suggests what to look for next, and if you get completely lost, a direction finder appears in the lower right corner to offer a hint.

The direction finder is particularly useful when what you are looking for is hidden by the terrain. If not for its guidance, I'd never have found the pangolin tucked away behind a collection of massive boulders. Finding the subjects of required photographs gives Wild Earth an engaging Easter egg–hunt quality. And stalking subjects while waiting for specific actions to occur helps develop the patience that great photography requires. Wild Earth gently insists that players slow down and pay attention while remaining ready to get the shot the instant it appears. The process is both calming and exhilarating.

The engine does a superb job of conveying the impression of a living world. Scripted events, for example, can be viewed from any available vantage point. Happen upon a hyena eating crocodile eggs and you can walk to whichever position affords the best shot or take shots from a variety of positions. You can even crouch to capture the moment eye-to-eye. Super X Studios has worked wonders in rounding off the usual harsh edges found in computer-generated outdoor environments. The meticulous sound design and drumming/chanting musical score also help deepen the immersion.

Don't Annoy the Animals

There are specific photos that must be taken and some that are optional. While it might be tempting to get as close as possible to your wild subjects, you will lose points if you annoy them. A red indicator, shaped like a boomerang, appears when you are too close. Annoy them enough and you'll have to restart the assignment. In some cases, such as driving a jeep overland in the middle of a stampeding herd of wildebeests—before dawn, no less—avoiding contact becomes quite a challenge. (Tip: Let them all get past you before you begin pursuit. And be patient lest you sideswipe any stragglers.)

The Wild Earth manual, in addition to the usual epilepsy and motion sickness warnings, also has an Animal Warning: "Since Wild Earth is a game, the animals cannot hurt you. But in real life, wild animals can be very dangerous! Always use caution and have respect for wildlife. Remember, it's their home, not yours!"

Once you have taken all of the required pictures, you can edit them for impact before seeing them published in Ms. Deveraux's article. The edited photos appear on a web page, which can be printed out. You, as the photographer, get a credit alongside the writer. The article recaps much of the information that emerges from the conversations between Deveraux and Connors during the assignment. Did you know, for example, that adult elephants can eat up to 440 pounds of food a day, excreting 60 percent of it undigested? Neither did I. But I did get a picture of that 60 percent.

What Are We Doing Today, Zool?

The assignments include catching up with a herd of zebra and exploring their social order, taking a helicopter ride across the Ngorongoro crater, following vultures as they soar and scavenge around the Serengeti, driving a safari jeep and meeting up with a variety of animals, going on a nighttime hunt for a lion pride, investigating the sometimes craven, sometimes bold hyena during a midday thunderstorm, entering a hidden valley and observing gentle giraffes and black and white rhinos (did you know there were black and white rhinos?), meeting a family of elephants as they care for their young and each other, wading into a rushing river to get as close to Nile crocodiles and hippos as you dare, meeting the fastest land animals (cheetahs) and possibly the ugliest ones (warthogs), and taking the previously mentioned predawn drive with a massive wildebeest herd as it migrates across Africa.

The helicopter ride assignment is particularly challenging because it plays out like a rail shooter. The helicopter takes a specific path, and it is up to you to find the images that Connors and Deveraux are discussing. You don't have a lot of time, and you don't get a second chance. Sort of like what it's really like to take pictures of wildlife.

An AAA Independent

Wild Earth picked up three prizes at the 2003 Independent Game Festival: Game of the Year, Innovation in Game Design, and Innovation in Visual Arts. All well-deserved. Even three years later, it remains a stunner. (It would have arrived sooner had not a publishing deal with Digital Jesters collapsed after burning up roughly half a year.) At the moment, Wild Earth is only available as a download. Soon, it should be showing up at a store near you. If Wild Earth sounds like something you'd enjoy, download the demo. If you do enjoy it, you can order the full game from within the demo for a mere $29.95.

Missions Accomplished: A Modest File Edit

If you want to unlock all eleven missions immediately, here's what you need to do. Establish a player name within the game. Close the game and go to C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Super X Studios\Wild Earth\.

Open the file "users" with NotePad. (Do not confuse the file "users" with the folder "Users.")

Once the file "users" is open, you'll find, under the heading [user0], the following:

MissionSuccess00=0
MissionSuccess01=0
MissionSuccess02=0
MissionSuccess03=0
MissionSuccess04=0
MissionSuccess05=0
MissionSuccess06=0
MissionSuccess07=0
MissionSuccess08=0
MissionSuccess09=0
MissionSuccess10=0

Change the final 0 to 1 so that you now have this:

MissionSuccess00=1
MissionSuccess01=1
MissionSuccess02=1
MissionSuccess03=1
MissionSuccess04=1
MissionSuccess05=1
MissionSuccess06=1
MissionSuccess07=1
MissionSuccess08=1
MissionSuccess09=1
MissionSuccess10=1

Save and close the file "users." You have just convinced the game you have successfully completed all of the missions.

This means when you go to select an assignment, you can choose from among all of the assignments the game offers. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Super X Studios
Publisher: Super X Studios
Release Date: April 18, 2006

Available for: Windows

Four Fat Chicks Links

Player Feedback

Screenshots

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System Requirements

Windows 98SE, ME, 2000 Pro, XP Home, or XP Pro
1 GHz CPU
1 GB free hard drive space
256 MB RAM
32 MB DirectX 9.0-compatible video card (NVidia Geforce, ATI Radeon, or better)
DirectX 9.0-compatible audio card

Where to Find It

Wild Earth website

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