With video games based on movies suffering from an almost irreparable reputation of being complete flops, coming up with a solid and immersive experience was a daunting task for famed game creator Michel Ancel and his Montpellier studio. Preceding the worldwide theatrical release of the movie, and thanks in part to the close collaboration of Peter Jackson, the development team undertook an arduous journey to create an incredibly immersive and cinematic experience, which has come to be known as Peter Jacksonâ€™s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie. Sure, the title may be a mouthful, but players will certainly be delighted to know that gameâ€™s name is one of its only annoyances.
When the title was originally announced, many met the statement with great skepticism, due in part to the overall failure of the Lord of the Rings series when it was translated into an interactive format by EA. This time around, Jackson made sure not to make the same mistake twice and placed his faith into the French publisher Ubisoft, who even allowed the triple Academy Award-winning filmmaker to have a say in the development of his game. For those who havenâ€™t seen the movie yet, but intend to and wish to play the game as well, heed this warning as the game is spoiler-laden.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of King Kong, itâ€™s about an out-of-luck director named Carl Denham (Jack Black) who hopes to film his next movie on an uncharted and supposedly uninhabited island while dragging along his writer Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody), a hopeful actress named Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and his support staff along for the ride. Much to their surprise, the entire island is a gigantic death trap in itself, inhabited by creepy natives, pre-historic dinosaurs and an enormous ape named Kong. Their perfect venue rapidly turns into a fight for survival to escape from Skull Island in one piece.
Throughout the course of the game, players will be able to control both Jack and Kong, making the gameplay mechanics a mixture of an FPS shooter and a 3rd person fighting game. For the most part, the game puts you in Jackâ€™s shoes, and although there is a little gunplay involved, most of the action revolves around chucking spears and bones at your enemies. The creatures of Skull Island offer very little variety and youâ€™ll often run into the same basic types, but thereâ€™s always a certain sense of fear and suspense when dealing with these foes. Despite that fact, more variety would have been welcomed. Thereâ€™s also a heavy emphasis placed on exploration and adventure, albeit itâ€™s rather linear and leaves little room for straying off the beaten path, as objectives are essentially composed of getting from point â€˜Aâ€™ to point â€˜Bâ€™ in one piece. Along the way, Jack will run into obstacles in his path, such as thick brush and spiders. These can be dealt with by setting a spear aflame and throwing it into the brush, effectively burning it and opening a path, while dealing with any creatures that could have been laying in wait to ambush you. Using a spear to catch fish or flying insects followed by tossing it can also allow you to lure away and divert your enemies, giving you a small opening. Itâ€™s a very interesting gameplay mechanic and helps keep things fresh.
For a smattering amount of chapters, players will be granted the opportunity to play as Kong himself. The powerhouse of an ape is definitely a force to be reckoned with and the game does an excellent job at capturing his sheer brute force. The King Kong segments are a nice mixture of fighting with the incorporation of linear platforming elements. When in combat, Kong can also go into Fury mode, which slightly slows down time and allows him to get the drop on his foes. Wrestling against a group of V-Rexes and winning is one of the most satisfying experiences there is, and leaves no doubt that Kong is truly the king of Skull Island.
What really separates Peter Jacksonâ€™s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie from other games is the fact that it takes the immersion factor up a notch and completely rids players of the HUD. Thereâ€™s no health indicator, thereâ€™s no ammo count, thereâ€™s nothing. Gamers will have to rely on vocal checks from Jack to verify how much ammunition is left, and the approach to the characterâ€™s health is very similar to that of Call of Duty 2. This means that when Jack is attacked, the screen will turn red and shake and his breathing will become heavier. Staying out of trouble for a short period will eventually make your health recover and allow you to jump back into the fray.
Visually, Peter Jacksonâ€™s King Kong is incredibly impressive for a game thatâ€™s seen a release on practically every platform, the Xbox 360 most of all. The environments vary very little, but still maintain a lush and damp feeling appropriate to an uncharted jungle island. The gameâ€™s lighting is another strong point and compliments the exotic locales nicely. The way the beams of light are realistically cast is breathtaking, adding to the foreboding and uneasy atmosphere of the island. As Ubisoftâ€™s CEO, Yves Guillemot, mentioned, the game does look a little darker than normal on non-HDTVs, but this can be easily remedied by tinkering with the brightness settings. The character models generally look great and are fluently animated, but the lip-synching leaves much to be desired. The ferocious dinosaurs and Kong are unrivaled and look very menacing, especially in combat. Throughout all of this, the framerate manages to stay solid, with the exception of a few moments, but they are hardly noticeable. For a game combining both first and third-person perspectives, the camera never becomes an issue either.
In the aural department, the game is a masterpiece. The musical score successfully enhances the drama, queuing in at exactly the right moment every time and helping to build up the atmosphere. To top it off, the voice acting is superb as well, as most characters are voiced by their big screen counterparts. The sound effects are excellent in their own right and provide the best experience possible when set up on a 5.1 surround sound system. The first encounter and the roars of a V-Rex or Kong will positively terrify you and have you at the edge of your seat.
In the end, Peter Jacksonâ€™s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie is a terrifying and deeply cinematic experience from start to finish. However, it is short, running around 8 hours, and offers little in way of replayability, aside from unlockable concept art and trailers. The gameplay may seem a little repetitive in the end to some, but itâ€™s still a rollercoaster ride of Hollywood-esque proportions and an enjoyable one at that, despite its shortcomings. The audio and visual aspects are highly impressive, specifically on a HD setup with 5.1 audio; even then, those without will not regret it.