Heart Of Africa
Requirements: Commodore 64 or 128 in 64 mode; Apple II-series computer with at least 64K RAM; or an Atari 400/800/ XL/XE with at least 48K RAM. Disk only.
One of the truths in the entertainment industry is that anything popular will spawn many imitators. The field of computer games is certainly no exception. The first hits were Space Invaders, then Pac-Man, and then Donkey Kong. Each of these games begat a host of imitations, few of which approached the quality of the original. Imitations are rarely as good as the things they imitate.
Still, for every imitator trying to capitalize on the popularity of someone else's game, there's a designer trying to improve upon his own original design. This is not imitation-at least not what we normally think of as imitation. Instead, the designer is making an honest effort to improve on a game concept. Much like an artist, who chooses a medium and produces work after work trying to perfect his use of that medium, the game designer invents a system, then produces game after game to develop the system to its fullest. As long as the system keeps improving, the enterprise is justified.
Such is the case with Ozark Softscape's Heart of Africa, published by Electronic Arts. Heart of Africa is an extension of the system pioneered in Ozark's own Seven Cities of Gold (reviewed in the September 1984 issue of COMPUTE!). Far from an imitation, it improves on the original game and offers a fresh approach to a system that many people considered near-perfect already. Both games deal with exploration, but Heart of Africa gives us something more: a quest.
In Search Of A Tomb
Your quest in Heart of Africa is to find the lost tomb of Ankh Ankh, somewhere in the middle of the Dark Continent. You travel alone, buying supplies and tools wherever you can. As you cross the continent, you make discoveries and try to obtain clues about the lost tomb from tribal chiefs. It's not hard to get information, but it's very hard to get useful information, and just as hard to stay alive. The perils are constant, from dying of thirst in the Sahara Desert to suffering a fatal bite by a poisonous snake.
Like Seven Cities of Gold, Heart of Africa is entirely joystick-driven. You can put your feet up, lean back in your easy chair, and play the game without touching the keyboard. For further playability, the game offers a diary that continually updates itself. The diary is a graphically attractive series of pages that records special events. On the surface, it seems only a nice addition to the game, but in play it greatly eases record-keeping. Any exploration game, be it a text or graphics adventure, demands some keeping of records: mapmaking, recording conversations, jotting down clues. But Heart of Africa takes most of these out of your hands. The map is produced for you on the screen, and your observations, even conversations, are recorded in the diary. You can read the diary at any point simply by loading it from disk. It makes the game extremely playable, especially for those who loathe keeping records.
The Heart of Africa game screen shows a solitary figure marching across the map. As you walk, the map scrolls north, south, east, or west, shedding light on more and more of the Dark Continent. The map is constantly updated, and you can check it at any point during the game to see what you've already discovered. As you travel, you discover villages, mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, and, of course, if you work hard enough, the source of the Nile.
Random events are sometimes positive, such as finding valuable caches left behind by previous explorers, as well as negative, such as encounters with crocodiles, poisonous snakes, or rhinoceri. If you're equipped with the right weapons, you can normally stave off an attack, but you may become ill, fatigued, or very thirsty. You can paddle a canoe along the rivers and lakes, and you can even go over waterfalls. The entire continent is yours to discover.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the game is the interaction with the tribes. As in Seven Cities of Gold, where cooperating with the natives established your reputation, working with the tribes in Heart of Africa is difficult. Each tribe is different and each chief reacts differently to you. For some tribes, a few gifts will yield helpful information. For others, all the gold in the world seems insufficient. You can steal supplies by wielding your gun, but your reputation will suffer. Or worse, you may catch a blow dart. The only way you can know how a tribe will react is to visit each village. If you do well and reward the chief, he'll tell you what else you might bring for more information. If you do poorly, you'll be drummed out of the village.
The Heart of Africa manual consists primarily of the notes written by your predecessor, the person sending you on this mission. It describes each of the areas of Africa and the tribes therein. An impressive document for its sheer information, it is also vital for gaining clues about where you should go. It gives, for instance, translations of the tribal names for geographical points. To the natives, after all, Victoria Falls is not Victoria Falls.
There is nothing easy about the game, but the difficulty comes from the situation, not in trying to learn the system. It is extremely easy to get across Africa, buying things, finding things, and giving things away, but it is very hard to gain useful information. Still, this is the game's strength. A poor game is difficult to learn and offers few rewards. A good game is easy to learn and offers endless rewards. Heart of Africa, in this sense, is a very good game.
Like Seven Cities of Gold, Heart of Africa is professional in every way. An excellent program, filled with surprises, the game is even more addicting than its predecessor. In Seven Cities of Gold, your rewards were the excitement of discovery and the favors of your monarch. Heart of Africa duplicates the excitement of discovery, but adds a desperate search for a lost tomb. This quest makes Heart of Africa an adventure as well as a simulation.
Only One World To Explore
One of the superb features of Seven Cities of Gold was its ability to create new worlds to explore. Players could never exhaust the game because the program could make the world different each time. Surprisingly, Heart of Africa offers no such option. There are very good reasons for this-the time limit, and the quest itself-but perhaps the game would be even more complete if each Africa could be a new one. Discoveries are less exciting when you know about them beforehand. Furthermore, the desperate feeling of being hopelessly lost, which Seven Cities of Gold presented so well, cannot happen here. If the game has a flaw, this is it.
But the flaw is easily overcome. The romance of uncovering the Dark Continent captures the imagination to day as much as ever, perhaps because there remain no large, unexplored land masses anywhere in the world. Heart of Africa lets you canoe down the Congo, meet a Zulu chief, and even get caught in a whirlpool near Stanley Falls. Khartoum, Timbuktu, the Zambesi, Lake Tanganyika, Tangier-they're all there, waiting for you, ready to throw you many surprises.
An almost flawless development of an already excellent game system, Heart of Africa should excite anyone who found Seven Cities of Gold even remotely interesting. Now, if only I could find Dr. Livingstone.
Heart of Africa
2755 Campus Drive
San Mateo, CA 94403