22-Dec-2005 Peter Jackson's great ape beats his chest and roars onto 360 and it's a brain-melting explosion of special effects and monkey business Carl Denham has a problem. Not only is it a bad time to be a movie director (it's the 1930s - the Great Depression - and nobody has any cash to spare for the flicks), but his latest production has run into disaster. Coming with scriptwriter Jack Driscoll and actress Ann Darrow to the mysterious Skull Island might have seemed like a good idea for a location shoot, but how was he to know he'd find a rain-lashed hell filled with cannibals, dinosaurs, and a giant gorilla with an insatiable crush on his leading lady?
Not that we're complaining. Not when Peter Jackson's latest is a cinematic tour de force. On screen it's a brain-melting explosion of special effects, monkey business and ear-splitting screams (courtesy of Naomi Watts' Ann). And on Xbox 360? Well it's that and more. It's a first-person shooter (you play Jack Driscoll as he and his fellow survivors run and gun their way through Skull Island's deadly jungles). It's a third-person action adventure (become Kong in a series of Prince of Persia-inspired running and leaping bits before pounding prehistoric monstrosities with your meaty fists). It's even a puzzle game (manipulate fire to create new paths and send roaming packs of Velociraptors to dinosaur hell). But most of all it's a stunning, non-stop romp of spectacular gaming setpieces.
MONKEY MAGIC Forget the simplistic mechanics (ammo is too scarce to really class it as a proper first-person shooter and the Kong sections are short and basic compared to anything Prince of Persia serves up), and instead lap up the runaway madness of being thrown from a beach assault against giant crabs to fighting between the legs of a Brontosaurus stampede. One minute you're wrestling T-Rexes and oversized Pterodactyls as Kong, the next you're wading through a burning swamp as Jack while giant centipedes attack from all directions. Think of it as a really big movie trailer, one mindblowing setpiece after another with none of the boring talky bits that hold up the action. Okay, so it's as linear as a newspaper story, but you'll hardly care you'll be having that much fun.
We could sit and sing the praises of Kong's bombastic setpieces all day, to be honest. They are, after all, what makes it such a compelling game. But they're not what make Kong really special. There's something far subtler at work here, and it helps catapult Kong from quite cool movie-to-game effort into a truly new take on the first-person shooter/adventure genre.
Take a good look at the screenshots and tell us what you see. A giant ape, right? And a man holding a gun. And a spear. And some dinosaurs. Right, yes, all correct, but it's what you can't see that's important here. Look again and you'll notice that unlike pretty much every other game ever, Kong does away with any kind of onscreen status bar. No energy bar, no ammo count, nothing. You might not even call it a game anymore: it's a joypad-controlled movie.
Which of course sounds pretentious, but think of it this way: you enter a clearing as Jack only to see Ann on the other side cowering in a crumbling ruin. Between you and her is a very angry, hungry T-Rex. "Get his attention!" Ann screams, leading you to squeeze off a few precious rounds of 9mm. Do you have enough ammo to waste like that? You don't know and there's no time to check as Mr Rex is already thundering towards you. Now try and imagine a scene like that with all the standard on screen mission objectives and gaming distractions. It just wouldn't have been as dramatic. By doing away with interface stuff Ubisoft has created the next step in total gaming immersion. With atmosphere this intense, we found playing King Kong as moreish as monkey nuts.
KONG TOO LONG? But what of the all-encompassing power of Xbox 360? How has it been used to ensure this version of King Kong towers - like the big ape himself - over all others? Well, in all honesty it hasn't. Much in the same way that other launch games like Gun and Tony Hawk's AW come across as little more than slightly sharper takes on their Xbox cousins, so King Kong lacks in the all important bells and whistles department. A prettier lighting trick here, a sparklier water reflection there, but beyond that, very little has been done to add to the, admittedly, visually impressive Xbox version.
While we can just about accept that from a graphics point of view, it seems a shame no extra content has been added to the Xbox 360 version, because if there's anything Kong lacks (and you wouldn't really think it to look at him), it's length. If you can pound through a 15-hour game in a single weekend, King Kong's not going to last you past Saturday night - even if you go to the effort of replaying some of the levels to unlock all the extra stuff. It really is that brief. True, you'll have a blinding time from start to finish (although you'll have seen the best bits long before you get to the New York finale), but all it takes is a hint of gaming prowess and you'll have Kong rolling over like a drunk, three-legged dog on a particularly slippery hill.
KING OF THE SWINGERS Then again, if games are something you dip in and out of as the mood takes you King Kong is exactly the kind of intro to Xbox 360 you'll want to pick up. It looks, sounds and feels just like the movie, it's simple to pick up and easy to play. It'll even alter its difficulty level every time you die just to make completing it a bit easier. How thoughtful is that? Besides, what other game portrays 60 foot of hairy, muscle rippling sexual frustration so convincingly?
Fifty quid is a lot of money to ask for a title that any competent gamer can pound through in six or so hours, so bear that in mind before you flash the cash. But if you're a fan of the film or you've got money to burn, you can't go far wrong (or should that be Kong?) with this supremely solid effort.
Xbox 360 - The Official Xbox Magazine
HUGELY ATMOSPHERIC FUN, BUT FAR TOO SHORT
Perfectly recreates the movie Breathtaking setpieces throughout Supremely atmospheric
Looks quite similar to Xbox version Linear and very, very short