Normally, games based on movies aren't very highly anticipated. But when gamers found out that not only was King Kong director Peter Jackson working closely with the developer, Ubisoft, but that critical and fan favorite Michel Ancel (Beyond Good and Evil) would be heading the game's design, Peter Jackson's King Kong became one of the hottest properties this holiday season. Can the game live up to the pre-production hype, or will it be just another lame movie-to-game translation?
Not suprisingly, the plot of King Kong follows the path of the movie. For most of the game, you play as Jack, a screenwriter who travels along with a movie cast and crew to the mysterious Skull Island to film an epic movie. The crew's boat is ravaged by a storm and they are forced to crash land on the island, where almost immeadiately, they are besieged by angry natives, giant insects, dinosaurs, and, of course, a twenty-five-foot tall gorilla named Kong. While playing as both Jack and Kong, you must protect a lovely actress named Ann as you try to escape the island.
In what might be considered an odd turn for a game based off a film, King Kong doesn't feature much footage from the movie or very elaborate cutscenes. The game starts out with a few minutes of scenes from the film, and between levels, there are a few seconds of action generated using the game's engine. This might be disappointing to some hoping to check out a lot of the movie before it hits theatres or for those who like meaty stories in their games. But like I've said before, I play games to actually play them, not watch cutscenes, so I was perfectly fine with the way the story was handled.
Hands down, King Kong features some of the best graphics of this current console generation. Skull Island and it's inhabitants are rendered in painstaking detail, down to individual hairs on Kong. All of the actors from the movie, such as Jack Black and Naomi Watts, are instantly recognizable in the game. There are several jaw-dropping sequences, such as when Ann is captured by the natives and offered as a sacrifice for Kong, or when Jack must traverse a canyon while a herd of huge brontosaurii stampede along. King Kong is one of those games that is as much fun to look at as it is to play. Sadly, there is a bit of slowdown during some of the Kong sequences, but seeing as there's a ton of action along with dynamic camera angles going on, it's forgivable.
King Kong also handles itself well in the sound department. The soundtrack is more on the minimal side, rising up when your character gets hurt or important events occur, and it's the typical orchestral/choral stuff one would expect from a game like this. Skull Island's ambient noises, as well as the growls of the various creatures, make good use of surround sound and help to clue you in as to where to go next. As might be expected from a production like this, all of the movie's major actors voice over their characters, which helps to lend a bit more authenticity to the proceedings.
I know what you're thinking -- "oh lord, not another FPS". But King Kong takes several innovative steps to set itself apart. First off, there are no on-screen indicators for things like health and ammo. Though you have the option to turn these things on, leaving them off helps to give the game a more cinematic experience.
The core gameplay itself at times comes off as more of a "survival horror" game like Resident Evil rather than your standard "run and gun" FPS. Jack's ammo is very limited, and so he must make use of the natural environment and the creatures' "food chain" to survive. For instance, you can find spears, which can be used to hook smaller insects, which can then be used as bait to distract the medium-sized animals. The game seems overly tough at first, especially for those used to firing and forgetting, but once the player gets used to the lay of the land, it becomes quite fun and definitely one of the more unique FPS experiences out there.
As for the Kong levels, they're really a button-mashing fest more than anything else. Most of the moves you'd expect from a giant gorilla are here; you can climb walls, swing from trees, start beating your chest to unleash "rage mode" -- there are even a couple of "killing blows" which you can deal out to the larger enemies. Even though these levels are simple and somewhat repetitive, the fast pace and visceral nature make them a nice change from the more "serious" nature of Jack's levels.
The Bottom Line
I really only have one complaint with King Kong -- it's simply too short. It's probably since the game was so fun that I was disappointed that it ended so early, but after only a couple of days, not only had I beaten the game, but unlocked most of the extras as well. Even the most casual gamer will probably only take about ten hours or so to clear the game. Besides that, though, everything else is damn near perfect. Not only does King Kong avoid the pitfalls of most movie-to-game translations, it's actually one of the best games of the year. True, King Kong might be short, but you're going to have one hell of a fun time playing through it.
Genre: first-person shooter/third-person action
Rated T for violence
Version reviewed: Xbox
Available at Amazon.com