Gameplay and game modes
Lion has two primary modes of play; a scenario mode and a simulation mode. There’s an additional mode that’s called ‘Safari’ which is actually just an educational resource about lions, presumably to make this game more attractive to parents who feared their children were just frivolously pretending to be big cats. The Safari mode is extremely extensive with voice overs, information and pictures in what is basically an interactive encyclopaedia. The scenario mode has objectives that you must complete and has a very strong roleplaying element as it also comes with background information on what has recently happened. Sometimes you are trying to find food for your three cubs who trail around behind you whilst you yourself struggle to keep going, other times you’ve been cornered by a group of hunters and must quietly slip away without being shot. There's around twenty scenarios in total and some of them border into the obscure, such as having to find and hunt a ghostly white giraffe that's been taunting a male lion in his dreams. The gameplay is varied due to these objectives and also pretty challenging. When you’re starving hungry, unable to find water anywhere and desperately need to sleep it’s extremely difficult to keep going and the sense of urgency that comes with it is highly immersive.
The scenario mode and the simulation mode are both played from a birds eye view of the area which I prefer over ‘over the shoulder’ type cameras as this way you can see what’s happening around you at all times. The scenario mode’s use of objectives is really the only difference between that and the simulation mode as they require you to complete the objective before time runs out or the game ends. Simulation mode strips away these time constraints and you can just go about your business which generally means resting, drinking, eating, not being killed and living a prosperous lion life. Whilst simulation mode is generally where you’ll be advancing your social status or increasing the size of your pride you won’t have to do these things for the scenario mode, unless it’s the specific objective you have been set.
Staying alive isn’t necessarily easy however as you live somewhere between the Masai tribes and the wilderness of the savannah. You could always try stealing the Masai cattle but it’s not recommended as they have spears and they want to keep their cows. Since the Masai don’t want to share their food with lions you need to either scavenge off of already dead carcasses or hunt down your own meals, though that requires a great deal of energy. Thankfully you don’t just have to rely on what you can immediately see on the screen; you have access to a plethora of lion senses to help you survive in this harsh wilderness of a landscape. These senses can be used via either keyboard hotkeys or by using the bar at the bottom of the screen that also includes your stats and a mini-map. By using the bar at the bottom of the screen the game is automatically paused so you can click around and freely use your mouse without moving your lion who is usually controlled by the mouse, not the keyboard. Hearing and scent are extremely important as they will point you in the direction of valuable resources like food and water. Some animals are far too large for you to catch on your own and are more likely to crush you than nourish you. When you’re just a single, solitary, hungry lion you need to be a little selective about which animals are worth wasting your energy on. The easiest way to catch prey by far is to sneak up on them. By using your mouse you control how fast your lion is moving and you can also make them crouch so that rather than walking up to a giraffe you’re sneaking up to them, making use of the environment’s natural cover like trees and bushes. If your prey notices you then you’ll have to sprint, full pelt, and try to slash them as soon as you’re on top of them, this is no easy task as lions have fairly low stamina. The game also employs a tally for each lion, which is basically how many animals they’ve killed that’s broken down into individual species, meaning you can see which member of your pride isn’t pulling their weight.
Of course, all that running to catch a zebra is going to tire you out and make you thirsty. Sleeping is easy, you can sit or lay down whenever you want to though you should make sure you’re in a safe area first or else have to groggily escape from a group of tribesmen or poachers. Water on the other hand is rare, we are in the savannah after all, and you can quite literally spend days trying to find a watering hole or river. It’s an incredibly realistic representation of the struggle that African animals have to go through and, when you finally find the water, the sight of dozens of other species of animal also quenching their thirst there is not only surprising but really quite lovely. Keeping yourself fed and watered as you try and complete your mission objectives sounds easy, but it’s not and it does require a bit of practice to realize just how far you can push yourself before you become too weak to survive. To make matters worse there’s also mankind to contend with. From time to time you will encounter hunters who, if they spot you, will most certainly shoot you. They’re incredibly dangerous but fairly slow moving so as long as you’re aware of where they are at all times you should be ok. The addition of hyenas also adds an extra challenge as they are not animals to shy away from a fight and, particularly when you have cubs with you, they can be particularly dangerous.
The simulation mode has the exact same form of gameplay only without objectives or time restrictions. At the beginning of a simulation mode you can adjust the settings for each new game such as the weather, the density of prey, the number of poachers on the map and how long the game will run for which can be anywhere between six months to infinity. You then select which lions you’d like in your pride by looking through a number of female and male lions each with their own strengths and weaknesses in the fields of endurance, hunger and strength. These lions are all named and have backstories to make things a little more immersive. In simulation mode you have greater freedom and can try and improve your own social status if you like. That means for male lions starting your own pride or taking over a pre-existing one. You can find and then try and overthrow the leader of another pack before mating with others and having some cubs. You can then raise those cubs; keeping them safe, fed and watered so that they may grow up to be lions themselves and to keep your pride going strong. There are not many games that require you to take on the role of a hungry lion who is desperately trying to impress a lioness in order to mate with her, but then again there are not many games like Lion.
If you’ve ever fancied trying out what it’s like to be a lion for a bit then you may as well give this game a go. The graphics are normal VGA and nothing spectacular but the game looks fairly appealing, nicely coloured and detailed enough to do the job. The transition between day and night is brilliant with sunrises and sunsets whilst the change in weather adds a much need variation to the otherwise dry and yellowed landscape. Though I find the simulation mode a little boring due to the repetitiveness of gameplay I found the scenario mode interesting and varied enough to play through a couple of times. Since I kept dying I can only assume I’m either a terrible lion or the game is actually pretty challenging but it’s still a great game that you can get a few hours play out of before it loses its initial edge. The animations are fantastic with realistic idle animations like the odd washing of a paw when laying down and the natural grazing and looking around of the prey animals. Overall though this game is such an old gem that it’s instantly appealing for those who like a good simulation game or who just really like animals.
Score – 7/10
I hope you enjoyed this review of 'Lion', if you did and want to read more of my game reviews then feel free to check out: Rambling Fox Reviews.