“This is a work of fiction. Any persons or groups named herein are entirely fictitious.” This is one of the first things you see upon starting up Tokyo Jungle. Given the game’s unique premise, it’s hard to tell whether the developers were joking or not when they decided to slot that in. In this game, all humans have vanished from the city of Tokyo, transforming the area into a sprawling suburban jungle and leaving animals great and small left to fend for themselves and survive against each other. Sounds wacky, doesn’t it? It is, but despite the amusement you’ll get out of using a deer to kick a herd of pigs to death, the game is surprisingly complex and you’ll soon be taking your survival very, very seriously.
Most of the time you’ll spend playing Tokyo Jungle will be in Survival mode, in which you take control of an animal and survive for as long as possible. There are more than 80 types of animals to play as, such as pigs, panda, lions, hippos, Pomeranians, cats, hyenas, and even a couple of dinosaurs. These animals can be divided up into two categories: grazers and predators. Just like in real life, grazers and predators play very differently, with grazers focusing on more defensive play and feeding off the various plants scattered throughout Tokyo’s several areas, and predators having to use their hunting skills to get their next meal while also avoiding stronger animals. However, fulfilling your hunger and staying out of trouble still leads down the road to your inevitable death of old age, making the ultimate key to survival carrying on your animal’s lineage through breeding. To do so, you must mark various points throughout a single area, after which a couple of potential mates will appear. Whether you interest them sufficiently or not depends on their grade (ranging from desperate, average and prime) and how many calories you have consumed. Breeding with different grades of mate will result in a larger or smaller litter – of course, the larger the litter, the better your chances of survival.
So with these points in mind, why not just use the same area over and over again? Aside from the fact that the game doesn’t let you, Tokyo’s environment is frequently changing and with it comes various effects on an area. These include rain and nightfall, which affects your range of vision; pollution and blistering heat, which increases the rate of food decay. Most of these effects play havoc with your animal’s toxicity meter – if this gets too high, your health will begin to decrease quite rapidly, although it is possible to nurse yourself back to health by eating food, drinking water or using an item. Food levels are also constantly fluctuating – an area abundant with food a few years ago may be barren the next time you visit it. There will also be the sudden appearance of more dangerous predators in some areas, making a stealthy approach for most animals a worthwhile one. The game’s large areas and these negative factors make for a steep learning curve and there’s a lot to grasp before you can really make an effective plan for survival. The game also has a cruel tendency to try and screw you over in as many ways as possible, although whether this is intentional or just a long series of unfortunate coincidences for me is up for debate. Keep at it however and it makes your victory against the odds that much sweeter.
The game’s complex survival mechanics are bolstered by a combat system, albeit a fairly basic one. Apart from standard attacking and evading, there are also opportunities to perform a critical hit which when used against weaker or similarly matched enemies will instantly kill them. This mechanic also proves useful during fights against stronger predators, which may attempt to catch you in their jaws. During these moments, time slows down and a mini quick-time event occurs in which you can use this move to counter their deadly attack. If the odds are unbeatable, you can always try and flee your attackers, which involves hiding in tall grass when you are a sufficient distance from them and waiting for the Metal Gear Solid-esque alert meter to tick back down to zero. However, in a display of the AI’s incompetence, this meter can be exploited; when you die and the game switches you to another member of your litter, which immediately reduces the alert to zero even if your enemy is still in the area. This allows you to flee or if you’re feeling brave, get a few free swipes at your opponent. In my experience, attacking them soon afterwards would confuse them even more and in the face of a not-so-invisible enemy, cause them to flee. (Most notably, this happened to me when I tried to take on a lion as a Pomeranian.)
Tokyo Jungles tries to keep things fresh by giving each animal objectives to complete, with the reward being points that count towards your overall online ranking and also act as a form of in-game currency. While these objectives do give the game a lot of meat, they can get repetitive as well – a single animal’s list of objectives can have ‘eat x plants/animals’ listed two or three times. And don’t think that clearing the objective once means you’ve cleared the subsequent ones, as when these objectives actually unlock depends on how long you have survived for. Despite the boredom of having to clear the same objectives and running through the same areas over and over again, I do like a time-based objective system – usually, it was enough to make me ignore the tedium of the game and make me feel frantic and stressful instead. There are special events that randomly occur as well, with a hefty reward in store for investigating. Clearing certain objectives is also the main method of unlocking new animals to play as (although there are a few up for purchase in the PlayStation store).
If you’re not content with simply running around and are actually interested in finding out what has happened to the humans in Tokyo Jungle, there are various archive files littered around the areas which unlock chapters in the game’s Story mode. Story mode allows you to play through various animals’ scenarios, such as a Pomeranian who has run out of pet food or two Sika deer fawns trying to find their mother. It’s an interesting mode and manages to personify the otherwise nameless, generic animals.
Tokyo Jungle has everything that should make media outlets like A Current Affair or Fox News sit up and whinge about video games – sex, violence, cannibalism and mass murder. However, for all its faults and the presumptions that the game’s subject matter is nothing more than parodic, Tokyo Jungle has proven to be a decent foray into the world of survival type games. It is, without doubt, one of the stranger games to come out this year and is set to be a cult classic for years and console generations to come.