Review By: Cameron Morris
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Peter Jackson's King Kong is a game that has really created a new hope for gamers who enjoy seeing interactive adaptations of their favorite movies. In a way, one could almost call it an entirely new breed of film-to-game adaptation, one that takes the clichés concerning the particular sub genre and hurls them out the window. Surely a part of this is because WETA was so involved with the creation of the game, but regardless of the reason the game is often breathtaking, while just barely falling short of true greatness.
You begin as Jack Driscoll, a writer who has been more or less forced to come along on a rather unorthodox voyage that will hopefully end in the making of a really great movie. Along the way, it turns out that you weren't headed for some tropical paradise as you had been told: the destination of the director was and had always been a huge and mist-shrouded piece of rock appropriately named Skull Island. There are dinosaurs on it. Also, there is a giant monkey. Do I really need to say anything more than that?
The concept behind Peter Jackson's King Kong is simple enough that it doesn't take a huge amount of explanation: you play through the events of the remake of the movie, alternatively playing from the perspectives of the timid writer-turned-hunter, who is often confronted by things he can barely stand up in front of, much less fight, and King Kong, a 25-foot tall gorilla who is everything that you would expect out of a giant monkey.
Now, don't let that fool you: while it may sound like you would be spending about half your time playing as Jack and the other half playing as Kong, it's really more like 80% of your time is spent as Jack, with the Kong sections serving as a sort of prize every once in a great while. This is my first and probably biggest complaint with the game, and you should know it going into this review: despite the fact that the game is named after him, and his big hairy mug is the one right on the front of the game's box, there is simply not enough Kong in this game.
Of course, that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you're the kind of person who likes survival games or first person shooters. As you spend so much time playing as Jack, it's imperative that his segments are interesting and creative and exciting enough to keep a person playing without succumbing to tedium, and in that regard Ubisoft has succeeded splendidly. The fact that you are just one man, most often armed with a small pistol and a pointy stick, on an island that is full of dinosaurs and insects the size of farm animals, makes for a very intriguing premise. You are often thrust into situations where you can't fight directly, and have to either flee or find some way to divert your enemies' attentions, like setting fire to grass or killing smaller, easier prey so that they'll go after that instead.
As Jack, puzzle-solving is rarely if ever more complicated than find this lever to fix this pillar or use this spear to light that torch, but the believability of the activities, in the context of the island environments, makes all of them enjoyable. Maybe I'm just partial towards starting a brush fire so that savage velociraptors have to either find a detour or burn to death, but there's a certain satisfaction in every action that results in your progress because it makes you feel like you're succeeding in a battle against something much bigger than yourself. Which is often the case.
Jack's segments are also notable because they follow a trend that seems to be becoming slowly more popular: a first-person game with no Heads-Up Display whatsoever. That means there's no health bar, no visible ammo count, no radar, no nothing; just you, your gun, and your wits. You don't really need a health bar because Jack can't survive much anyway, but when he does get hit the world turns blood red and tends to slow down. I appreciate the effort made to immerse the player here, but at times that can be really distracting and I find myself vaguely wishing that I had a health bar to refer to instead. It must be said, however, that several other touches are very nice: Jack will audibly announce how much ammunition you have for a particular weapon at the press of a button, and when he is injured or afraid his breathing and heartbeat with reflect it, so much so that it sounds like it's in your ears.
Whereas Jack's mode is all about being careful and planning ahead, using your brain and being very careful because you can be killed by nearly anything, playing as Kong is like playing the ultimate testosterone-fueled beat-'em-up. You move across the landscape with an almost awesome sense of power, running along vine-covered walls and swinging from ancient, crumbling structures, and most of all you fight. The fighting is really what playing as Kong is all about; attacking beasts so huge that even hearing them would send Jack running for his life, you become a massive bundle of raw animal power, tackling giant bats to the ground and wrestling them to submission, swatting velociraptors like oversized flies, and grappling to the death with T-Rexes. Every action you take literally oozes with force, and every blow simply feels powerful in a way that's hard to describe with words. You really have to see it for yourself.
Progression through the non-combat parts of playing as Kong is extremely simple and linear even compared to playing as Jack, but in a way they're also much more affecting and satisfying. Most of your progression will take the form of Prince of Persia-style platforming across the island, which has some truly epic-feeling environments to be run through. When you stop it's usually for something simple - lift up the giant stone pillar and throw it aside, kick around some minor enemies, and in general make your way to the next combat section. What makes these special is that the sense of power that you get from fighting as Kong carries over into the platforming, with a wonderfully expressed sense of weight and strength apparent in all of his movements, and the way all of his enemies react to him.
Posted: 2006-03-09 20:46:46 PST