Stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
Generally speaking, I've found that – when describing a game to another gamer – it's easiest to fall back on my favorite statement: "It's like 'X', only with 'Y'." This comparison seems to work on virtually any game I encounter and tends to do a good job of "warning" gamers as to what new titles they might like. Dead Space 2? It's like Left 4 Dead, only with(out) common infected. Call of Duty? It's like Halo, only with semi-realistic gravity.
[image1]Wildlife: Forest Survival? It's like… um, well, I guess… kind of like… only not really… sort of like TF2, only with teams entirely class-based, but also kind of like Bad Company 2, but with more of an emphasis on squad mechanics, and sort of like Mario, only with more animals trying to rip you limb from limb, and I guess it's mostly like… like…
I don't know. After sitting down to play the game, I'm not honestly sure I can fairly compare it to other games with any degree of accuracy. There are standard, familiar elements to be found, but as a whole, the experience feels incredibly original from anything else I've played. This is, for what it's worth, a very good thing.
In EA's Wildlife, you choose one of four animals competing to survive. Each animal has their own set of unique moves and attributes, and each animal plays in a team of like animals. When you play as a rabbit and eat a carrot, you're not only gaining points for yourself, but for your entire team. Trust me, this is a lot cooler than it sounds.
The crocodile is most comparable to a tank in any given scenario. There is no other animal that can eat or kill a crocodile, and the crocodile can, in turn, eat every other animal. It moves incredibly slow on land but is almost as fast as the rabbit in water and, when sitting still, virtually invisible in water. The Hawk is the only animal that can fly, allowing it to get a bird's-eye view (ha ha ha!) of the arena. It's swooping attack is great for "backstab"-style ambushes, but if it misses, it forces the bird to regain its composure for a few moments before taking flight again.
[image2]The fox is only one of two animals small enough to take advantage of the various hidey holes found in the landscape. While not quite as fast as a rabbit, it makes up for this by having a sort of predator vision; when sitting still, the trail and locations of all rabbits are revealed. And finally, the rabbit runs really fast, eats carrots, and gets eaten by every other animal.
To mix things up and add a little danger, there are two power-ups on the field: a red pepper which drastically increases your speed, and a green pepper which poisons you and more importantly, any animal that eats you.
When the game was described to me by the developer, I had to ask the question that every other person in that room had to be thinking: Why in God's name would anyone want to be a rabbit? Why would anyone decide not to be a crocodile? The answer lies in the secret intricacies to Wildlife that lurk just beneath the surface.
As I played the hands-on demo, I reluctantly chose the rabbit (after being goaded into it by one of the developers standing behind me). As I learned the controls, he guided me to one of the poison peppers– almost immediately, I saw my team's points start to drop beneath the other teams. Quickly, my "adviser" told me to sit out in the open! I did as I was told like a good little boy and saw a hawk drop out of the sky and eat my poor, defenseless, poisoned bunny… at which point the Hawk team's points began to drop like mad when the hawk became poisoned.
[image3]As I played more, I began to catch fun little tactics like this, inherent with every class. With the rabbits, the majority would gather carrots (their source of points), while a lone rabbit would always hunt out the green pepper and purposely place themselves in the path of an opposing team that posed a threat. The Pyrrhic victory could quickly turn a losing round into a winning one. As a fox, I could watch the rabbits long enough to recognize the rounds they would constantly make, at which point I could situate myself in some nearby bushes, and cackle gleefully as lunch hopped towards me over and over again (shut up, yes, I'm a camper, it's a legitimate strategy). As a hawk, I could swoop down and eat a fox that was about to eat a rabbit, and just as quickly hop over to eat the rabbit. And as a crocodile… well, if it moved, I ate it, simple as that.
Even describing the gameplay doesn't feel quite right. It's one of those games you have to see and play to understand and appreciate fully. My gut reaction was that the four teams would be incredibly unbalanced, even with the implemented perks and abilities. But seeing is believing; after several games, there was no clear "better" team. At the end of almost two dozen games, I believe the rabbits had bested the other teams by one or two rounds, though I attribute this to my conversion to a hardcore bunny-gamer and kicking the other animal's respective butts.
As one of the designers told me, Nature can "balance the teams" a whole lot better than anything else, so they turned to Nature for emulation. I think that, to some extent, by borrowing an idea that evolution itself has perfected over millenia, EA was able to create a gameplay experience that was not only inherently balanced, but fundamentally different from all the space-marine alien-genocide shooters that flood the shelves.
To describe my final verdict would be difficult without the use of a thesaurus and words like "awesome", "incredible", and "addicting". I think that, to more accurately describe my feelings for the game, it's worth noting that I tried everything available at the EA event. But Wildlife Survival was the only game I went back to play.