Gamestyle Archive intro: we’re at the end of the first excel Gamecube review spreadsheet and we’re finishing with a big budget movie adaptation that turned out rather well. If I’m not mistaken this also marks the debut of Drew Middlemas into the archive who was with the site for sometime.
Published: November 2005
If there are two words that are almost guaranteed to leave gamers in a cold sweat, those words are ‘movie licence’. Over the years we’ve been subjected to layer upon layer of the most awfully-derived trash imaginable, and genuinely good licensed games are rare – shining like a beacon of purity amidst the decay. Or to put it another way: for every Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, there are at least ten Charlie & the Chocolate Factories. Fortunately for us, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is one of those rare exceptions, a game that stays faithful to its licence while still providing a game that’s interesting and fun to play.
Created by the same team responsible for the criminally-ignored Beyond Good & Evil, this follows the story of the film to the letter. It is in how the plot of the film plays out before your eyes that makes this game such an excellent use of the licence: viewing most of the game through the eyes of one Jack Driscoll, the events of the film play out before your eyes with no ‘cut-scenes’ as such (aside from when loading up the next area), and it is this that truly helps to immerse you in the storyline. It is clear that a lot of thought was put into this game – above and beyond that required for most movie licences.
Like Metroid Prime, the perspective may be first-person but that doesn’t make the game a first-person shooter; there is no interface, no health meters or health pick-ups to be found – all it takes is a couple of solid hits and you’re stone-cold dead (although the evolved ‘V-Rex’ can kill you instantly). The point of the game is to survive, not to charge around with all guns blazing. The sense of realism afforded your character is genuinely unnerving, especially in light of the many superhumans who populate game history, and makes for some truly panic-inducing scenarios; gamers who don’t adjust sharpish will wind up dead pretty quickly. The real crux of Peter Jackson’s King Kong is in using the environment to your advantage.
There’s a clever ‘food chain’ system in place, where killing small monsters can divert a bigger dinosaur’s attention when he feasts. The spears you can find are the most useful weapons – used not only to attack but also to skewer small animals as bait – and they can also be ignited to set long grass on fire (which keeps dinos at bay). Guns and ammo, meanwhile, are extremely scarce, but if you manage your resources effectively you should always have enough to scrape through. Group dynamics also play a large part in the game, via your interaction with the other survivors. Fortunately, the AI of your party is decent, and they can take care of themselves (although it doesn’t mean you won’t have to save them on occasion). In fact, because the AI of your partners is so effective, you feel genuinely vulnerable when the game forces you to split up; it emotionally hooks you like few other games have managed to do, and that works strongly in this game’s favour. Playing as Kong himself, meanwhile, is still fun, but not nearly as engaging as the human levels. The combat system works fine – although the temptation to button-bash is very strong – and platforming is largely prescripted. That said, there’s something enormously gratifying about breaking the jaws of the V-Rexes that gave you so much grief as Jack.
As expected of a film licence, the graphics and sound are utterly superb, providing a huge level of atmosphere. Skull Island is superbly realised, if a little samey from area to area, and there are some standout set-pieces like Brontosaurus Valley. The humans are superbly-rendered, but of course Kong is the real star of the show; his personality really shines throughout the game – although this means the ending is all the more heartbreaking, even if you’re familiar with the Kong narrative and its inevitable outcome. So far this sounds like the perfect film licence, but alas it falls just short of perfection. The game is extremely short-lived, and not that difficult once you know what you’re doing (lasting about eight hours on the first playthrough). There is also an extreme linearity to the stages – because effectively they’ve been designed to steer you through the story. It’s not such a bad thing considering the all-around quality, but we found ourselves wanting to see more of the island than we did. The graphics can also get repetitive from area to area, but since almost all of the game takes place on one island, that’s entirely forgivable.
With all of this taken into account, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is possibly too brief to warrant a full-price purchase. If you can rent it or find it cheap, however, Gamestyle highly recommends this title – which has firmly restored hope that truly great games can be born from a film licence.
Gamestyle Score: 8/10