Reviewed: December 1, 2005
Released: November 22, 2005
Going into a review for ĎThe Official Game of the MovieĒ brings a set of low expectations roaring to the front, even when that game is Peter Jacksonís King Kong. At best you can hope for a mediocre title that is only really enjoyable if you have already seen the film in question. There have been exceptions to this rule recently, and King Kong is one hell of an exception.
True you still follow the plot of the film, as with all of these games, however instead of making a cheap cash-in Ubisoft has gone the extra mile and made what turns out to be a truly unique gaming experience. Yeah, Kong dies at the end, but you knew that already, the end isnít the important part of this game itís the journey. So hold on, this is going to be fun.
You spend your time in Kong split between running through the jungle in first person as Jack, the screenwriter for the film that starts this whole crazy mess, and rampaging around as Kong in third. This is a very nice dynamic, not only because it provides a break in game play for you so nothing gets stale, but also because itís using a very subtle effect to give you the experience of playing as Jack, but then ďwatchingĒ Kong even though you are at the controls.
Speaking of stepping into Jackís shoes, these parts of the game bring the FPS genre in an entirely different direction. Instead of having some silly HUD cluttering up your view the game does away with all of that. You have no health bar, no ammo counter, no mini map. In addition the game goes out of its way to make you part of the experience of the game. When Kong grabs the girl the first time, you are tied to a stake, and all you can do is look around and struggle against the ropes. This game is designed more as a ride; youíre just piggybacking on Jackís eyes.
The downside to that is that this game is very much on rails, and though you have plenty of freedom in how to fight the various ravening monsters in the jungle, you do have very limited ammo, and spears only work at extremely close range. This also leads to a lot of repetitive game play: grab spear, throw at monster, repeat until dead. Unfortunately this is made worse by the fact that there are only four or five types of creatures in the game so after the twentieth raptor you really are kind of bored with them.
Despite these limitations, the game is kept fresh by the fact that it keeps you on the edge almost the whole way through. With no health bar, damage and death are dealt with much like in Call of Duty. You get one, maybe two hits and the screen goes red, one more after that and youíre done. This makes nearly every combat a fight to the death, especially when you have to wait until youíre nearly in the thingís mouth to throw the spear at it if you want to have any effect. Sure you have a gun, and it has some ammo, but do you really want to use it now? One clip in a Tommy gun goes fast.
Also there is Kong. Playing as the big gorilla is an entirely different experience. You still have no HUD and it takes only a few hits to put you down, but all those little dinosaurs that were giving you trouble as Jack suddenly become a whole lot easier. Also most of Kongís missions are more like simplified versions of trap runs through Prince of Persia. Jump to this branch, swing across and grab the next, then shimmy along this wall (yes, a 25 foot ape can shimmy), jump to the other one across that gap and then beat the ever living crap out of that T-Rex.
What brings the Kong experience down a little are the camera angles and a corresponding awkwardness with the controls. While any of these sequences are incredibly cinematic in some cases the camera angles shift abruptly, sometimes going from a high angle chase camera to an ant eye view from in front of the action. This is not only disorienting, but the controls also shift to make sense with the orientation of the camera, so you can end up going back the way you came without really meaning to.
Ordinarily games that over use visual gimmicks, such as not giving you a gun with a flashlight attached so the whole game is dark and spooky, are trying to hide something. Kong is an exception to that rule as well, though it relies heavily on a screen blur effect. They use it during rainstorms, they use it when dinosaurs or Kong roar loudly, they use it when youíre about to die. Surprisingly these all add up to enhancing the graphics rather than hiding them. Basically it adds a sense of realism, so you look like youíre standing right in the maw of a T-Rex when it lets loose a mighty roar.
Aside from little tricks such as those, the graphics are gorgeous. Youíre mostly in a lush jungle teeming with death and sharp pointy objects, all rendered beautifully right down to the spiders crawling all over things and the grass waving as nasty crawls through it towards you. There are a few jaggies lying about but otherwise everything is very smooth, especially Kong himself. Some of the other characters are a little indistinct, though Jack Black and whatís-her-name, you know, the screamer, are well rendered.
The cinematics are either clips from the movie or little segments of game play graphics, so there is nothing new there, but they are still pretty.
If you happen to live in an apartment building and you have neighbors below you who you would like to remain on good terms with, turn your sub-woofer down for this game. For the most part the game is fairly quiet with a little bit of instrumental here and there, but when you get to the big dinos and Kong combat things get LOUD.
Aside from the various gruntings and roarings, the other sound effects are excellent, good water drips and falls, fire crackles, and insect buzzes. Better though, is the voice acting, which made use of the entire core cast from the film. The really nice touch is, that if you start to exert yourself (run through tall grass, fight, or otherwise just raise your heart rate) Jack starts breathing harder and will calm down if you stand still for a few seconds. Also, in place of a HUD based ammo counter you can hit a button and Jack will say how many bullets remain; all very nice ways of getting you into the game instead of having some artificial interface.
Music tracks are well suited to the action in the game, remaining instrumental through-out (all I need is Celene Dion singing about the tragedy of an ape falling off a building). Itís not quite John Williams, but itís not half bad either. Though itís rousing and climactic during battles, and falling to something calmer where appropriate, the place where the music stands out is when youíre about to die. The screen has a red film over everything and a haunting chorus comes up sounding mournful and mysterious. It strikes just the right tone, especially when everything starts to slow down just before the screen goes black.
All right, so youíve played through the main story, and counting restarts on levels, etc youíve probably spent 5-10 hours on the edge of your driverís seat. So now what are you going to do? Well, there are plenty of extra scenes and production pieces to unlock in this game. How do you to that you ask? Simple, you play through different levels for points, thatís how. It is perhaps a cheap way to extend game time without giving you more content, but the up shot of everything is that if you get all the unlockables the rumor is that you can save Kong. A worthy goal if ever there was one, though itís up to you how much time youíre willing to spend unlocking everything.
This game is definitely worth the time spent playing, and if you have any interest in a nail-biting run through the jungle, or just in cinematic adventures itís worth the cash.
Peter Jacksonís King Kong is one of the most intense gaming experiences Iíve had in a long time, without being too difficult. The game is beautiful, innovative, and a fun run when you get right down to it. It may be a little repetitive, but you donít really worry about that so much when a raptor is about to eat your face.