Peter Jackson's King Kong Reader Review
We've all played a movie tie in at some stage or another in our gaming lives. From the bargain bin item that you thought was worth a go at the reduced price to those that sometimes warrant purchase at release if the film was one you hugely enjoyed- we've all been there. It's usually a road that leads to instant disappointment sadly and a nagging feeling that you've just comitted a great crime against your wallet.
There's something about the cross-over between the medium of cinema and videogames that still proves enticing though. Films, for me, have always been akin to a rollercoaster. You sit down and for the duration you are absolutely enthralled, excited or terrified by what you are seeing. Then it's over. You can ride it again but it's not the same really, you might notice something a bit different (like how you are afforded a view of the topless sunbathers on the nearby beach briefly) but ultimately you've done it all before.
Videogames offer something more. A chance to be in that film, move the story along at your own pace while marvelling at finally getting to be a part of the world you were allowed to look at but not touch. King Kong (in the same way that Goldeneye did years ago) realises this and uses it as a fantastically solid foundation.
A break from the norm
Ubisoft, presumably thanks to the directorship of a certain Mr Ancel, took the brave move of making the main sections of the game an FPS. This immediately enables the game to achieve a sense of immersion rarely seen in the standard 3rd person fare that accompany a cinematic release. Couple that with the outstanding graphics and you're well on your way to instilling a feeling you genuinely are in the film's world. Skull Island comes alive on the Xbox.
Just take a look at the screenshots. The jungle looks gorgeous doesn't it? The guys at Ubisoft seem to have exploited the work they've done on Splinter Cell to provide this game with a very impressive lighting system. Rays of light burst through from behind the jungle canopy and illuminate the humid air in a way that seems totally unlike anything seen in a game before. The effect is even more impressive in highlighting the sheer size of some of the island's larger inhabitants.
Un-armed but still fairly dangerous
So you're looking through the eyes of one of the film's main protagonists at detailed, beautifully lit surroundings faced with all manner of creatures. The obvious step, therefore, would be to furnish you with a gun and set you off shooting everything that moves while occasionally chucking in the odd cut-scene ripped from the film itself. Not-so in King Kong.
Guns can often be considered more of a luxury than a staple. You will regularly find yourself short of ammo with some form of dinosaur/ insect charging at you. Handily the local natives have left many spears or other sharp objects lying around that can be grabbed and thrown at pursuing foes. The increased tension added to firefights as your last clip runs dry and you find yourself hurling anything that comes to hand at the enemies is textbook Hollywood in game form.
These improvised weapons also provide the basis for the puzzles in Kong. Spears and such can be set alight to burn undergrowth blocking your way (and also any creatures that may be lurking within it). It's simple and can become a little repetitive but it demonstrates an intelligence rarely seen in FPS games.
Speaking of intelligence, your co-stars are packed with the stuff. The heroic captain of the SS Venture will happily throw any weapons your way at the touch of a button and I've yet to see any of them become caught by scenery. They provide covering fire when necessary and watching one of them desperately trying to defend each other is, at some points, oddly touching.
Kong for a day
Kong himself, provides an entirely different playing experience switching to a scolling beat-em-up of sorts with plenty of swinging from tree to tree thrown in. It provides a brilliant change of pace to the game and the big ape's sheer power is a joy to behold and, indeed, control. Going from running like a fool as Jack is chased by a pair of T-Rexs to ripping their heads apart as Kong is a wonderfully satisfying experience.
But, and it's a Kong sized but, there's not a great deal of it. The game itself clocks in at around 6-8 hours depending on how long you spend on that level with the Brontosaurus herd. The ape levels as well, are few and far between.
The question is though, does it matter?
If there had been more levels of the big man himself beating seven shades out of those dinos (and later the natives) then the shallowness of those sections would be laid bare for all to see and, worse still, they might become boring.
In a world stuffed full of games that seem to take an age to complete is it really that bad a thing that Kong is over in around a week of casual playing?
In a game that will undoubtedly be bought by a vast number of people who have already seen the ending in cinema form it is essential that the set piece finale (which will come as no surprise even to those who haven't seen the new film) is reached by them all. After all, it's the big climax which made Kong the enduring legend he still is today. If half the players were forced to forego reliving that dramatic Empire State climb for themselves purely to satisfy the more hardcore among us that believe a game which clocks in less than 20 hours isn't worth our money then that would surely be the greater crime.
If you enjoyed the film you should make a point of playing this game. It provides a fantastic example of how, with this generation of hardware and beyond, the two mediums of film and games are starting to cross over in successful ways at last. Ubisoft, with the aid of Peter Jackson, have stuck to that old adage at the end of the day which has served stage and screen well- always leave the audience wanting more.
9 / 10