Just my rifle, Sony and me

If you’re sick to the back teeth of all the blood, guts and guns associated with computer games, you might like to mellow out with a dose of New Deal Productions’ wildlife-conserving antidote. ‘Safari Guns’ is an eco-friendly, first-person perspective, on-rails, philanthropic, ‘snapper’ published by Infogrames… in which you kill people with a rifle. If I were forced to pigeonhole it, it would fall into the, ‘a big name studio released that?’ category.

Unique can either be a compliment or an indication of making a major blunder other developers have had the foresight to sidestep. I’ll leave you to decide which applies here. Safari Guns was released for the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS platform, and the guilty parties responsible were coder, Dominico Manfredi, graphician, Matthieu Hofseth, and musician, Elie Daniel.

Set in the imperilled plains of Africa it’s your duty to earn money by taking photos of lions, tigers, zebras, gorillas, elephants et al to fund the conservation of their habitat and well-being. At the end of each day your film is developed and the results sold to the chief warden of the reserve. You’re rewarded with £800 for capturing a unique Kodak Moment, whilst duplicates generate diminishing returns; half price for the first and a quarter for the second. Snaps that fail to develop, or those of poachers are worthless.

Speaking of which, these will be your principal hindrance in bringing home the bacon. I tend to find that being pumped full of bullet-shaped lead by ivory traffickers will rain on most people’s parade. It’s a funny old world.

Luckily you’ve moseyed on down to the unruly shooting gallery armed with a gun of your own, and if you can pull off a convincing enough impersonation of Quickdraw McGraw, you’ll get the opportunity to take aim and shoot with your other ‘weapon’. You know, your endangered species papping gadget. Cameras I believe the insiders call ’em.

If you fumble and select the gun when you really meant to reach for your camera, you could end up with some extremely lifeless portraits. Literally. Please don’t kill the models, it’s bad for their health, and what’s more, you could extinctify them. That’s a technical term the botanists amongst us will be familiar with.

Upon initial release in 1989 Infogrames’ off-beat ‘shooter’ was known as ‘Safari Guns’, yet on route to becoming a budget ‘Action 16’ title courtesy of Digital Integration it was re-branded as ‘On Safari’. I suppose to downplay the gun-toting aspects and emphasise the humanitarian angle; that was supposedly the USP from the outset, only somewhere along the line the message became a bit muddled.

That wasn’t the sole change between releases. On the wall in the warden’s shack in the French edition you’ll note there are two decapitated trophy heads; one belonging to a Caucasian man, and another to a Zulu tribesman. Nevertheless, in the version published in the UK, the indigenous ‘ornament’ is missing in action, likely to appease our former imperialist shame.

In case you’re struggling to get a handle on the pacifist, altruistic sentiments of the edutainment offering, I’ll let some of the critics of the time re-cap…

“An Operation Wolf style game without any violence seems like an odd mixture…”

“Equipped with your camera (and a gun for any nasty encounters with poachers) you must take pictures of the various animals that you come across…”

“When it comes down to it, Safari Guns is really just a topical shooting game where, instead of shooting anything that moves with a gun, you do exactly the same but with a camera.”

“A large number of poachers will be encountered and, unfortunately, like you, they don’t use a camera to shoot their animals. You pose a great threat to these poachers, and on the first sight of you, you will become their target and a change to your gun will be needed if you are to escape; you can take up to five hits before you are killed…”

“… there’s just two rules. If it’s an animal, use the camera; and if it’s a poacher, use a gun.”

“The mouse control was faultless as I snapped away on my camera, but having to move down to a gun icon before I could shoot a hunter was too longwinded…”

Amiga Action (February 1990)

“An ecologically sound game, this one. There you are in Africa on a ‘big game’ shoot: but the shooting is all done with a camera.”

“It’s not that easy, though, because each level is swarming with poachers who take pot-shots at you, removing one of your five lives.”

“It’s a bit like Operation Wolf without any of the violent tendencies.”

“You are armed with a gun so you can shoot them first…”

Amiga Format (January 1990)

“Operation Wolf without the violence.”

Amiga Power (May 1991)

OK, does that clear up any confusion? Thought not.

Well, hold onto your toupee, the watering hole is only going to get muddier!

A year later, New Deal Productions tweaked and re-released Safari Guns as ‘Wild Life’. Not Wildlife you understand; that would hardly put a tick in the pidgin English checkbox now, would it?

This time round you play as a globetrotting international animal reporter tasked with snapping three pictures of three different species at the behest of a current affairs magazine. Your perilous assignment takes you to the rugged Australian outback, buffalo littered plains of America, the chill-tastic Arctic, and inhospitable Indian jungle.

In the process of exploring these new locales, you face the additional challenge of identifying the target animals from Top Trump cards, and having to forage for your photographic paraphernalia before you begin. Again you must contend with hunters who would love nothing more than to turn you into a trypophobic’s worst nightmare, though you do have the opportunity to scoop up first aid kits to counter any injuries endured.

Wild Life is marginally enhanced (in the loosest sense of the word) except for the absence of a photo haul presentation screen, which leaves you floundering in the dark when it comes to establishing whether or not you’ve snagged the right shot. That being the critical objective, it’s a bit of a drawback to say the least.

Collision detection is as dodgy as ever and the fun factor went AWOL back in Africa. Tacking on the option to switch between a 50mm and telephoto lens does nothing to address this. Take the turkey to another continent and it’s still a turkey.

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