From Orson Welles scaring the bejesus out of people with his interpretation of The War of the Worlds, to Charlton Heston and a career defining role from Edward G. Robinson in the overcrowded world of Soylent Green, contemporary culture has long held a fascination regarding the obliteration of the human race. But what would happen to animals if humanity no longer graced the planet? Developer Crispys takes a stab at this notion with their PlayStation Network title, Tokyo Jungle.
Set in such a dystopian future where man has been mysteriously disappeared off the face of the planet, in Tokyo Jungle animals roam free from their shackles. From domestic pets all the way up to the top of the evolutionary ladder in the form of Lions, Tigers and Alligators, these creatures vie to assert their dominance on the once crowded human streets.
The player is presented with just two animals to begin with; a Pomeranian and a Deer. After a brief tutorial that shows the basics of hunting, sneaking and, if needs be, escaping, theyre dumped onto the ruined streets of Tokyo to find their way in this brave new world. Throughout there are three considerations for the player to be aware of: Health, Stamina and Hunger. Each are represented with a bar in the top left hand of the screen which is constantly ticking down, meaning that food needs to be consumed regularly to maintain peak levels.
And like all animals, the need to procreate and maintain the bloodline is a primary feature in Tokyo Jungle, with each year one minute in game time equalling a year. This never-ending ticking of the biological clock becomes all the more relevant because after fifteen years the player will grow old and, if a mate hasnt been attracted by then, the fate of the species is at risk.
The player must mark their territory and once enough is covered, and enough prey has been eaten, a mate can then be attracted. These are comprised of three categories; Prime, Average and (our personal favourite), Desperate.
The first few attempts at playing Tokyo Jungle will feel odd and maybe even a little discouraging. The player will happily sneak up on prey, level up a bit and continue to mark territory as fast as they can while generally wondering what the fuss is about. But just like real life, the animal kingdom respects no-one and a swift death is never far away. The urge to overreach kicks in, with that irresistible kill too far resulting in a swift death, with the accompanying grisly death animation. To add further anguish if the player hasnt converted enough territory and opened up a save point its back to the very beginning for them. It really is a Jungle out there, make no mistake.
The sneaking mechanic feels like its been lifted from the Metal Gear series of games, as potential prey or threats go into an alert status if the player strays too far into their cone of vision. The bigger animals will actively attempt to track the player by scent which leads to fraught, tense moments as the decision to stay put and hunker down in the long grass gives way to the urge to high tail it as fast as possible and hope to out-manoeuvre them by virtue of being smaller and more nimble.
And while there is a great deal of fun to be had in dominating swathes of Shibuya with the progeny of the original Pomeranian couple the player started off with, playing as a Deer flips the gameplay firmly on its head. Learning to dodge just about every kind of animal as they forage for fruit and attempt to successfully mate turns the game into a truly new take on survival, where each corner turned has to be weighed up carefully for literally fearing for their lives. And even when the player unlocks chimps and elephants, being placed higher up the chain doesnt mean an easy ride as larger predators become nigh on impossible to avoid, and new strategies have to be worked out and devised.
Tokyo Jungle is such a fresh and compelling experience, but it also has a fantastic rough feeling, one of not being one hundred percent polished, seemingly very proud of its rough edges which add to its charm. The animations arent quite right in places, and some of the translation falls down, but its packed with moments that can be considered comedy gold.
Theres something truly hilarious about witnessing a miniature dog trying to turn a cow into dinner, and grisly consequences for one of them (hint:- its not the cow). Or thinking a pack of wild dogs are chasing the player, only to find them running right past them, as they engage in fights with other animals higher up the food chain. Or the player channelling Elmer Fudd in sneaking up on wabbitser, Rabbits and turning them into dinner. These and many more provide so many reasons to love this game even more.
Tokyo Jungle is that rare thing, a completely unique and interesting title that works because the concept is so out there and different, but crucially isnt all fluff and bluster, it actually delivers. It all adds up to a game that is utterly essential and really isnt quite like anything else.