Jeremy Jastrzab
26 Nov, 2005

Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie Review

Xbox Review | See why we go Ape over this unique venture.
Hot off the success of Lord of the Rings, film director Peter Jackson’s next project hit cinemas next month, a remake of the 1933 version of King Kong. So while the man who recreated Middle Earth is in charge of bringing the big ape back to the cinema, respected game maker Michael Ancel has been charge with bringing the big ape into your homes and consoles. Given that this is the same fella who has brought us unique titles like Rayman and Beyond Good & Evil, we really can’t hide that fact we are genuinely excited about a game that is unlikely to be just another movie/franchise cash-in. But are Kong’s giant shoes too big to fill?

King Kong is a 30-foot gorilla who lived on the fabled Skull Island, along with some dinosaurs, monsters and other freaky inhabitants. The story goes, a struggling film director during the depression of the 1930’s stumbles upon an ancient map. This map is supposed to of the legendary Skull Island. Somehow managing to get a crew together, they set off on the journey to create the greatest film of all time. They eventually get there, only for all hell to break loose. By hell we mean plenty of life and death experiences with monsters, dinosaurs, natives and of course the giant ape himself. While the possibility of making a film is lost, the ambitious director, Carl, finds something a lot more interesting.

The story sticks pretty closely to that of the movie. While the latest one isn’t out yet, those who have seen the original will find that the game gets the plot nailed-down, as well as pretty much all the themes such as relationships, greed, beauty, fight for survival and so on. The unique aspect of the story is that you play as two characters. What’s the big deal with that? You get to play as Jack, the screenwriter for the play and of course, as King Kong himself.

Firstly, what do you do as Jack? You take control of him from a first-person perspective but the way you play makes for no ordinary FPS, despite the fact that your clambering through one of the meanest digital jungles ever created. This is primarily because the control scheme is very simple and there is no heads-up display (HUD). That’s right, there is no health bar, no ammo gauge and no indicators of any kind. Not only is it unique, but the developers have managed to pull it off quite well, with a tight and intuitive design.

You're going to be on the end of my shis-kebab

You're going to be on the end of my shis-kebab
The beauty of this system is that while it places you in an environment with many constraints, the design is never unfair or unbalanced. You start off unarmed, with nothing but the shirt on your back and in a group of four. These include yourself, Carl the director, Hayes and the (one who was supposed to be the) leading lady, Ann. Very early on, you find that there are crates that have been dropped around the island with firearms and ammo. The selection is very limited, with a handgun, shotgun, rifle and automatic among the selection. As off putting as this may sound, this is the realistic (if you can call it that) situation that you’ve been put in. Ammo is very scarce and you’re required to be very discriminant in your use.

Since that are a lot of nasties to contend with and not that much firepower, the game allows you to pick up a few other weapons on the way. These mainly consist of bones, sticks and spears. They shouldn’t be overlooked because in the context of the game they’re extremely useful. While not as strong as a firearm, all pickups can be either used to spear opponents, or thrown like a javelin. However, to get through the game, you need to use what you have at your disposal to solve a bunch of puzzles along the way.

The basic objective of the game is to follow the path that is laid out in front of you and follow a series of pre-scripted events that are inline with occurrences in the overall story. The game is broken up into a series of about 40 small “chapters”, that don’t last much more than 5-20 minutes each. However, this doesn’t mean that the game isn’t going to give you an intense and gratifying experience.

As Jack, you’ll be charged with overcoming a lot of the problems that are hampering the situation at the time. The will include burning new paths, catching bugs and using them to as bait, surviving an onslaught from giant predators and saving your crew from the clutches of flying beasts. Essentially, the game is driven by moments. Moments where you’ll be fighting for your life and moments for the lives of your crew members. One example of such a moment, is where you need to fend off a T-Rex so that the others can open a gate and you’ve got nothing but an automatic gun with a solitary clip.

Not only are the moments all intense and surreal but you have a choice how to go about them. You can take on a major predator, or distract him by killing a smaller one and allowing them to feast on the remains while you go about you business. You can save your ammo by using whatever’s at your feet and using the ammo only when the ground near your feet is bare.

Heh, I think we're in a little bit of trouble

Heh, I think we're in a little bit of trouble
Part of the game’s immersive design is some of the interesting quirks in the gameplay. These include being able to pick up your spears once you’ve used them and spearing bugs in mid-air. Then you’ve got the spears which break if you use them too many times or catch on fire when wave them near any flammable source or even putting the fire out when it rains or when you go through a waterfall. As for health, every time you’re hit, a ring of red will appear around your vision. This is a signal to get into cover and wait until you regain the full sight. It’s not realistic but two hits are enough to kill you. There are several other things to see, but they’re best found out for yourself.

This leads to the game’s unique yet simple control scheme. On the Xbox, you can collect any item that can be picked up with the pull of the right trigger. The same command allows you to fire/jab/use whatever you’ve got. If you have a gun or a spear armed, pulling the left trigger will allow you to aim. Since there is no HUD, the only way to check your ammo is by pressing the B button, where Jack will bark out how much stock you have left and Y is used to reload. The A button is used to communicate with people and it that other person has a weapon, you two can swap with another press of the button. Finally, if your holding a spear/bone/stick you want to get rid of it, press the X button. The controls themselves are extremely precise, responsive and there is an auto-aim that is generous yet still requires you to get the job done.

About 60-70% of the game is spent as Jack. Thankfully, the developers have made an intense, exciting and unique experience that will keep you on your toes from beginning till end. A few of the tricks get a little old as the game gets on and there are a few frustrating sequences but in all, it’s a great experience. But enough about Jack, the real deal of this game is about causing some chaos with a giant ape!

You get acquainted with Kong quite early in the game but his portions are scattered between the Jack portions. Thankfully, the objective of survival is somewhat on the backburner as you take charge of the jungle with brute force and uncanny athleticism. Not only are you set to barge through enemies your massive fists but the environment is somewhat of a playground for a gorilla his size.

Rumble in the Jungle

Rumble in the Jungle
Where as Jack, your movements are well-refined and precise, Kong controls a bit more like a wrestler. It’s something that you’ll need to get a bit used to when you’re moving around an arena, as he really does move like a massive ape. In spite of this, the controls still manage to play well and feel refined. This is especially noticeable when you’re swinging through the environments with absolute control and fluidity.

Kong has three main objectives. Beat up any dinosaur/monster in his path, protect his “captive” and move from point A to point B. Often you’re in something of a makeshift arena are being attacked from all sides by some little nasties. Once those are taken care of, the big boys come out to play. Combat is very simple but mightily satisfying. The A button lets off a might swing of the arms, B is a grab and X is a charge. Put these three together and you have a lot of squished dinosaurs. The combat gets away with being simple because it manages to be just sheer, unadulterated fun.

There are a few context sensitive actions as well. You can also pick up logs and swing or throw them around, as well as smaller dinosaurs. When you manage to grab a big dinosaur, you can smash his head in. To finish off these big predators, you’ll need to grab one and slam down on either the A or B button to perform a brutal finishing move. Slamming down the right button at the right time seems to epitomise the brutal and primal nature of this massive beast. This includes the unoriginal but damn cool fury mode. By slamming down the Y button, Kong will beat his chest and get himself into a furious mood where all his hits do massive damage.

When you’re not fighting to assert your authority, you’re making your way from one point to another. As mentioned, the movement by swinging and hanging off walls has controls that have been nailed and it’s a real joy to get Kong swinging across a grand chasm with lava at the bottom. However, the Kong portions are pretty quick to breeze through. As a design choice, this is not a bad thing, because it prevents the sequences from becoming too stale too quickly.

You can do it! Break his freakin' jaw!

You can do it! Break his freakin' jaw!
There are a lot of good things to like about King Kong. It provides a unique and exciting experience that you really can’t have in any other game, a virtue that will go a long way these days. Playing as Jack is intense as you fight for your life through the savage jungle. Playing as Kong is exciting as you smash your way through dinosaurs and asserting your place as the King of the Jungle. It may not be that deep but the great design will suffice for that. If anything, King Kong is some proof that games can be made with presentation as the focus as long as there is some tight gameplay to match.

Presentation-wise, King Kong is excellent. The graphics are superb, full of detail and life. The models are superbly made, especially Kong himself. The environments are made so that you really feel that you’re in a damp and dreary jungle. The game has numerous impressive water, fire and mist effects. While you’re introduced to a lot of enemies early on in the game, you don’t really get anymore as you progress. At least they all are modeled in great detail and have some interesting location. Spear a medium-sized dino in the leg and it’ll limp around. Where the game really wins is in it’s direction of presentation. As Jack, you really feel like you’re looking directly through his perspective. As Kong, you’re never bogged down by poor camera angles. The cinematic use of camera angles and presentation has been absolutely nailed in this game. Instances that include the screen blurring and shaking from the roars of massive beasts. If you play through a chapter multiple times, chances are you’ll notice a lot of things that weren’t there the first time.

Sound-wise, the game is equally superb. As Jack, you’re treated to some fearsome moments of deadly silence and some of pure adrenaline. Sound also plays an important role considering the absence of the HUD. There’s arrow pointing to where your enemy is and you need to rely on the advice of your group members. They’re surprisingly accurate in their help as well, often when they say something is behind you, there really is something behind you. Still, after a while, their canned phrases get annoying, especially when you kill a monster and they’re still screaming for help. As Kong, you’re treated to some awesome sounds that range from snapping of T-Rex jaws to the imperious roar of the King of the Jungle. The music is pretty good but it’s cued to play under certain events.

As wonderful and unique King Kong is, there are a few issues with the game. While it is definitely one of the better-made move tie-ins, there is still evidence in the final product of rushed production. A lot of the tricks and quirks in the game get pretty old and a bit tiresome as you close in on the end. The last level that is set outside the jungle is meant to be an epic climax but feels completely underdone and underwhelming. There is also evidence in some of the inconsistencies graphics, frame rate and game portions that indicate a rushed product. And even though it needs to resort to some backtracking to draw out the length a bit but the game still would clock in at about 6-8 hours. While the experience will provide a few new surprises on the second play through, mainly through things you didn’t spot the first time or didn’t know you could do, the heavily scripted nature of the events takes out any surprises and endearing moments that make the game memorable on the first play on any following play-throughs.

King Kong manages to do what most games based on movies fail miserably to do. That is, to provide a unique and exciting experience based off an equally enticing movie experience. There are many things that you’ll find in the game that you will not find in any other, especially the enthralling Kong sequences in the Jungle. Unfortunately, the game does suffer a bit from the deadline curse and a source material that really can’t be fleshed out too much without becoming redundant and diminishing the experience. Regardless, King Kong is probably one of the best movie based games since Goldeneye and an experience unlike any other. While the full price may be a little difficult to swallow for some that are still wavering, this feeling should be gone when the DVD is released in 6 months and the price goes down with it. Till then, we’re off to monkey around with our new best friend.
The Score
Simply, King Kong is a unqiue, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable game that provides an experience that you won't get anywhere else. It also happens to be one of the best games based on a movie since Goldeneye. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie Content

First King Kong Screenshots
11 Aug, 2005 Featuring the giant ape himself.
King Kong Review
17 Apr, 2006 Best left on Skull Island. If you could see it.
Don't buy King Kong for Xbox 360 says Ubi Soft CEO
14 Dec, 2005 Too dark for Yves Guillemot
8 years ago
I played this in Dick Smith Powerhouse just a moment ago. It seemed fun for what I saw, and the graphics certainly were nice, but the frame rate was terrible! It seemed like they had a retail copy in there (they had the open box and manual sitting on top of the Xbox in the display case) so it seems strange. There was a lot of of action happening in the rain on screen, but this frame rate was incredibly jerky.

Fun for what I saw, but having heard it's only 6-8hrs I'd want a slightly lower price than the $84 I saw it for.

Congrats to the developers for doing well without a HUD though icon_smile.gif
8 years ago
I played the demo on my comp. Maxed detail with AA, and it ran amazingly, considering I have a mid-range gaming comp too. The game freaked me the hell out at times though, the T-rex chasing you is just scary. No HUD rules too, makes it that much more immersive.
8 years ago
I know the review was for Xbox, but does anyone know how the GameCube version holds up? Does it have any problems because of less grunt than the Xbox. I only ask because the review makes the game a potential purchase.
8 years ago
Control-wise, the only issue with the GameCube version is that it doesn't that the thumbstick buttons. You only really use teh right onr to zoom and I suppose that it will be fixed by the Z-button. And from the Gamespot and IGN reviews, they don't mention any major impedences so I'm guessing that there shouldn't be too much of an issue
8 years ago
this sounds pretty good, i really should dl the demo.

i was wondering how it would turn out.
8 years ago
I'm fully obsessed with this whole King Kong thing. I've even started bidding for King Kong watches and stuff on ebay. i actually won a king kong watch for under three bucks on ebay!! and there's heaps left if u guys wanna bid too.
8 years ago
You wouldn't be selling these watches now would you chumpy icon_question.gif

Cause that would be bad.....mmkay?
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