Peter Jackson's King Kong Reader Review
Skull Island Ė not exactly the first place youíd choose as a holiday destination when thumbing through a copy of Thomas Cookís latest brochure is it. But for Carl Denham it seemed like the perfect place to shoot the film that was going to rebuild his reputation and save his career. Cue a 25 feet tall Gorilla, dinosaurs, giant bats and some other equally dangerous creatures, all on an island inhabited by natives and youíve got yourself one hell of a setting for a movie there Carl.
Itís also one hell of a setting for a game and despite this being a movie-license, itís turned out to be one of the most enjoyable games of 2005. Taking control of both Jack Driscoll (the scriptwriter turned Rambo wannabe) and Kong himself, youíre presented with 40 levels of first-person and third-person non-stop action. As both characters have different viewpoints and play like two completely different games, it helps to keep things fresh and whilst the majority of the game is played as Jack Driscoll and not Kong, this turns out to be a very good thing indeed.
The intro-movie really sets the scene perfectly with a hazardous boat trip to shore, the waves crashing against your small rowing boat and rocks tumbling off of nearby cliffs missing you by inches, this is Kongís equivalent of the D-Day landings. When you reach the shore and meet up with your party, containing the lead-actress Ann, Carl and Hayes, the first mate aboard your ship, the first thing that hits you is the sheer graphical quality of the game. This quality remains throughout and Iíve lost count of how many times I stopped atop a cliff just looking around me, taking in the scenery and the lifelike realism of it all, wondering just how they got this much quality out of the machine.
Backing the visuals up, maybe even surpassing them, is the superb audio. The voiceovers for every character are movie-quality and the environmental effects, especially through Surround Sound or headphones is second to none. From the distant roar of a V-Rex or Kong, down to the small rocks falling around you and water dripping from a cave ceiling on to the floor, everything sounds so lifelike. It really helps make Kong one of the most engrossing games I have ever had the joy to play and just goes to show just how much audio can add to the atmosphere and even enjoyment of a game.
Jack is an excellent character to play as. Vulnerable, inexperienced and unprepared for combat, you have to kill enemies that would make Sam Fisher squeal like a 6 year-old girl, often with only a spear or a bone from one of your previously fallen victims. Indeed the sense of vulnerability is heightened even further due to the lack of on-screen guides telling you how much health you have left and more importantly how much ammo is left in your gun. If you forget to regularly reload your gun, expect to be facing a dinosaur with only a click from an empty shotgun and a Kong sized lump in the back of your under-crackers.
Whilst there are a large amount of spears left lying around for Jack to use, the more powerful weapons such as Shotguns, Sniper Rifles and Machine guns are rare and the ammunition even rarer, adding further tension to the proceedings. And then, when the odds look like they couldnít be stacked further against you, up pops a gigantic V-Rex that you as Jack canít kill no matter what weapon you use. But wait, whoís that coming through the trees, itís Kong! Suddenly this terrifyingly large V-Rex looks like an iguana compared to Kong and this previously unstoppable beast is soon despatched with a few swift strikes and a bone-crunchingly satisfying jaw-breaking finish. But rather than being an ďOMFG Iím Kong, this Roxxors!Ē moment, it turns out to be quite a disappointment.
Expecting a combo infested beat-em-up section, what I was faced with was a screen that often had my adversary off camera and one button that punched, another that threw an arm up in the air, one that grabbed and two that combined to make a shoulder charge. Thatís it! Surely I was missing something! This is Kong against a V-Rex (how exactly is that different from a T-Rex by the way? Is he a vegetarian or something?) This should be like Ali vs. Foreman, or Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant. Instead it was more like Williams vs. Harrison, except thankfully in this instance it didnít take over half an hour to reach the boring conclusion.
When it came back to controlling Jack I couldnít have been happier. Setting spears on fire to burn down bushes in order to progress deeper into the island in search of Ann just felt so right. Constantly looking around, keeping an eye out for a dinosaur trying to flank me or an unsighted Megapede rearing itís ugly head out of the grass to attack me kept me on the edge of my seat.
But then the inevitable happened and another level where Kong became the lead character once again came along. Again this involved repetitious presses of the A button and a lot of running around trying to find out where the next enemy was. It seems that in order to get across the sheer size of Kong, the developers decided to make him take up as much of the screen as possible. But this causes problems with not being able to see very much of the environment around you.
Me Kong, you food
Even getting Kong to navigate the island is a chore. The possibility to introduce a Spiderman type system where swinging from tree trunk to tree trunk and gripping on to walls in-between was certainly possible. What you get however are a few branches, the odd rock wall with vines growing up it to grip on and thatís it. To progress all you need to do is hammer the X button. No skill is involved as Kong wonít let go of anything until the exact moment he can reach something else, meaning that you simply canít go wrong. In addition to this these segments of the game become almost unplayable as the frame-rate dips into what feels like single figures and quickly becomes ďPeter Jacksonís King Kong Ė presented to you in Jerko-visionĒ. But you persevere knowing that the next section involving Jack is just around the corner and then the game will get back to doing what it does best.
Thatís not to say that the levels involving Jack are flawless, far from it in actual fact. Often a dinosaur will clip through a rock wall and be able to get you but you will not be able to shoot it. Then there was the occasion where a dinosaur leapt at me, I crouched to let him go over me and then I turned expecting to unload my shotgun into him. What I found was that the dinosaur had disappeared through the wall with itís head sticking out and I couldnít progress as the next section wouldnít open up until Iíd killed him, thus resulting in restarting the level.
Thankfully Kong regularly checkpoints your progress and itís very rare that youíll have to replay more than 30 seconds of the game when you do die, which unfortunately isnít often enough.
Kong is one of the easiest games you will ever play. The odds may look stacked against you but the beasts are very easily despatched with and from start to finish you should be able to see the whole game on your first play through in around 5-6 hours. Iím all for short games. I think short games get marked down unfairly for ďonly offering 10-12 hours gameplayĒ. However Iíd rather have 10 hours of fun rather than a game that lasts double that and Iíd wished had finished hours ago. The thing is with Kong is that not only does it weigh in at around 6 hours, you also feel thatís as long as it could have been.
Some games finish sooner rather than later to leave you wanting more and to buy the sequel. But in Kong thereís only so many times you can go looking for a missing lever (the games only real puzzle), catch grass on fire and make dinosaurs into pin cushions before it all starts to feel a little stale. Sure itís fun and sure the island looks and sounds fantastic and is a great setting for a game, but there just wasnít enough variety on offer. In fact there are very few standout moments throughout the whole game to look back on and for something that only lasts 6 hours, it should be jam-packed with them.
A second play-through does enable you to rack up points and unlock some other more exciting extras rather than the basic art galleries you unlock on your first play-through. But when a game is this much on-rails and doesnít allow you to find alternative routes, does it really warrant playing through again? For me sadly not, even the addition of being able to complete it a second time and change the ending wasnít enough to draw me back.
Being the gaming equivalent of dot-to-dot drawing books isnít necessarily a bad thing. It certainly keeps the game moving, is always clear what you are meant to do next and appears to be the best decision for casual gamers who only have a few hours a week to invest and donít want to be bogged down with levelling up characters or spending hours solving a puzzle. But Kong feels like it goes past accessible and into simplistic territory. This isnít helped by many of the levels only taking 10 minutes or less to complete, all this seems to do is break up the flow of the game and make the island feel much smaller than it actually is.
But for a game that was a lot of fun to play through (apart from the dull Kong sections which unfortunately include the last levels set in New York) and is without doubt one of the very best movie licensed games this industry has ever seen it seems harsh to finish this review in such a negative light. I would whole-heartedly recommend playing Kong and if youíre a fan of the film and only have a few hours to spare then itís certainly well worth the money. But for those of us who dedicate as much spare time as possible to this hobby of ours, itís doubtful whether Kong will give you enough value for money for anything other than a rental or budget-priced purchase.
7 / 10