Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
N Amer - 11/22/2005
Peter Jackson's King Kong Review
Nothing can follow The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Peter Jackson will continue to make great movies, but for many of us, The Lord of The Rings will always be King.
This Christmas he will release his first film since the Rings conclusion – King Kong. Early clips and teaser trailers sent our anticipation meter through the roof. We could only dream about the intense battles that await Kong and his most lethal adversary, T-Rex. Or will his most lethal adversary turn out to be man?
With the whole world stoked the return of King Kong, we knew it wouldn't be long before a video game was announced. Then Ubisoft made it official – Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of The Movie was born.
Whereas most games cast you as a powerful hero, King Kong casts you as the quiet screenwriter Jack Driscoll. Jack doesn't say much, partially because he isn't given the chance since director Carl Denham won't shut up. Carl is the island-obsessed filmmaker who brings everyone there in the first place. No doubt you'll notice how much he looks like the actor who plays him in the film, Jack Black. Every time something happens he pulls out his camera and starts rolling. Life? Death? Who cares about those things when you could be filming a real-life phenomenon. At least that's how he looks at it.
Playing as a screenwriter and not a superhero means sacrificing many of the things we're used to having in a game. There's no jumping, running leaves you breathless (in sound effect only), and the magical crosshairs that appear in every FPS are nowhere to be found. This is a game of survival. Ammo is not unlimited, and you can forget what a health bar looks like because it's not a part of the experience either. The game defaults to a widescreen view designed for the 4/3 aspect ratio TVs, reinforcing the idea that you're interacting with a movie. (The picture may be changed to 16/9 got widescreen TVs or normal 4/3 for viewing on a standard TV without the black bars.)
The controls are a bit dull at first. Movement is typical for an FPS with two exceptions: the gameplay is really slow and you have to hold down the L2 button to draw your weapon. It's not like Resident Evil; you can move when it's drawn. But there was never a point in the game where this seemed necessary. Granted, it didn't harm the experience, I just don't think it was necessary to fool with a standard feature.
The slow character movement, although annoying at times, separates this from other first-person shooters. King Kong is primarily an adventure game with an easy-to-follow path and puzzles that anyone can figure out. Combat ensues everywhere, with giant bugs (crabs, spiders, millipedes, etc.) and prehistoric creatures (raptors, brontosaurus, etc., in addition to our favorite, T-Rex) interfere every chance they get. Winning isn't always easy. Unannounced checkpoints are everywhere, softening the blow of unexpected deaths.
T-Rex loves a good midday snack. When he decides to bite into Jack, his teeth cut into the screen as the color fades to red. Defending yourself against such a beast means clever avoidance. Utilize the confusion of pillars by running in between them. Take advantage of caves and any structures with a roof. Attack a few seconds before he strikes; if you wait until his mouth is wide open (as you would in most games), chances are it's too late.
Ammo is limited but re-fills can usually be found when it is most needed. Since there isn't an on-screen icon to tell you how much ammo you have left, you have to check it by pressing the circle button. Jack will then tell announce how much is left (the number of magazines or bullets), and will assure you that you have plenty if your ammo is full.
Bones play a big role in solving the game's puzzles. They're as effective as spears but may be lit to burn bushes and dinosaurs that won't go away. These bushes are thick and cannot be crossed by foot unless you're King Kong. That's how the game regulates where you go and when, and how it prevents you from going past the end of an area where nothing exists.
I lost track, but on at least six occasions a lever or two needed to be found in order to open a door. These levers were to be jammed into two pillars; turning them pulls the door up high enough for you to go through it.
These puzzles are repeated several times and do not pose a threat for hardcore players. Casual gamers shouldn't be deterred by them either. After all, that's who they were designed for.
Every now and then (which isn't nearly long enough) you'll get the chance to play as the character everyone's dying to control: Kong. Kong is an enormous, beautifully designed beast, though it's hard to tell at times with the camera being pulled back so far. This was done to make the action visible from multiple angles. Dinosaurs, including multiple T-Rexes, attack from all sides. This isn't like the beat-'em-ups of yesterday; nobody waits their turn. All dinos have the option to attack simultaneously. Whether or not they do depends on how quick you are at taking care of the problem.
My first viewing of the King Kong movie trailer gave me high hopes for dino-throwing and dino-baseball. I still have no clue as to whether or not they've given Kong that much power in the movie, but I can now confirm that he has that much power and more in the game. Pick up a dino and carry it around for a little torture or throw it at the others for a painful, potentially deadly hit.
Kong's controls are simple but big and bold. Three buttons (X, square and circle) control pretty much everything you need. The square button is all your all-access pass to swinging, jumping, and climbing on walls. Jumping is limited to ledges and other areas where a jump seems necessary. Attack with the X button, and grab your enemies (and Ann, Kong's true love) with the circle button.
This style keeps the game moving forward, which is clearly the intent. Kong's missions are shorter, faster, and more intense. Tapping the triangle button repeatedly makes Kong beat his chest. If he's allowed to do that for a long enough period of time (that is, if no one attacks), he'll go into a rage mode that makes him move faster and hit even harder. Once again this causes a color change, this time to a golden hue that brightens the whites and highlights the screen with beautiful lighting.
King Kong does a lot of cool things with color use, a technique that up until recently has been reserved for movies. Keen-eyed gamers will notice the extensive use of green, blue and gray, in addition to the aforementioned colors, red and gold. These colors are enhanced by amazing lighting effects, and in the case of the brontosaurus, some of the most realistic textures I've ever seen. I say this based on my vision of dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. Isn't that how everyone bases their opinion of what a realistic dinosaur should look like?
The smaller dinos don't look so good, which is pretty surprising when you consider all the time and effort put into the game as a whole. There isn't much of an explanation for why Ann's polygon model doesn't look like Naomi Watts either. I also must point out that while the lighting and color use are spectacular, and King Kong himself is very detailed, the overall look of the backgrounds is disappointing. The flames from burning bushes appear to be a flat, digitized image that's been cloned multiple times (as opposed to a true 3D effect that and/or one that moves in real-time).
Players will notice the visual flaws within the first 15 minutes. By the 30th minute they'll wonder where the game is going and if it's ever going to pick up the pace. King Kong might be an action flick, but this certainly isn't an action game. It's a slower-paced adventure that was made for every man and woman interested in the film. It's got a lot going for it and a lot that, while I wouldn't say it's necessarily bad, doesn't work perfectly in this kind of game. Michel Ancel, one of the designers behind the project, is known for experimenting with unique concepts. His previous creations include the Rayman series and the unforgettable Beyond Good & Evil. In many ways King Kong is a derivative of those games. Expect to be engrossed; don't expect to be blown away.
Review Scoring Details for King Kong
No icons, life bars, cursors or crosshairs, King Kong was built to be a game that played like a movie. The movie’s mid-December release prevents gamers from knowing just how closely the two mediums match, but the idea is effective. Players will be taken on a journey through Skull Island, battling every creature seen in the King Kong movie trailers and then some. It’s a slower adventure and may not seem to exciting when compared to other shooter adventures. Give it time and Kong himself will pull you in faster than you can shout, “Ann!!!”
King Kong's dark side ain't pretty, but it's the combination of several elements that will get your eyes' attention. I can't praise the lighting effects enough, especially when the black and white filter is turned on. It enhances the lighting effects in every scenario, making the game brighter and more artistic. (Note: The B&W filter is one of many secrets that can be unlocked.)
It's true, some of the dinosaurs are flawed visually. Their animations could've been improved, and don't get me started on their skin texture! The dinosaurs that aren't flawed, however, are absolutely amazing. In particular the brontosaurus look unbelievably realistic.
Not at all what I expected. I imagined a deep, meaningful score with high-quality, non-repetitive voice acting. King Kong didn’t quite meet those expectations. On the bright side the music is good until you get attacked. Then it goes into this weird, drawn out sound that loses its impact on the player after it’s played the 50th time. Interesting music ideas, but they’d work much better in a movie where you’d only have to hear each song once or twice.
Linear exploration and straightforward missions make King Kong accessible to everyone. As a result, hardcore gamers will plow through the quest in a day or two.
Rather than slapping together another first-person shooter, King Kong ventures down a different path, playing more like an adventure game with FPS elements. That’s the main theme. The other portion revolves around a Kong and his love, and the interesting ways in which he must fight to save her.
Control man or beast in this adventure first-person shooter that follows the film's storyline. The gameplay mechanics as Jack will bring to mind happy thoughts of Metroid Prime and Resident Evil, while Kong's adventurous levels are reminiscent of War of the Monsters.
As remarkable as those things are, there's no denying that King Kong is not the perfect movie game everyone was hoping for. It's a slower journey than you'll at first expect, leading many to question just how much of an action flick the movie is going to be. The puzzles left a lot to be desired, a move that makes the game more accessible to casual gamers but leaves us hardcore gamers wanting more.
That said, few movie games are original. King Kong take chances and delivers a unique experience that will excite anyone who loved the original movie and anyone who's excited for the remake. On the whole this is a worthwhile game. Not necessarily a must-buy, but for Kong fans it is definitely a must-play.