Published & Developed by Ubisoft
Platform: PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, Xbox 360 (reviewed on Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: Teen
My Advice: Rent it for the unbridled joy of smashing dinosaurs in the guise of a 30-foot gorilla.
With any massive blockbuster movie release, the gaming world is assured of a tie-in video game. The vast (and do I ever mean vast) majority of these tie-in games are the sort of crap that ends up buried in landfills. A few games in the past couple of years have challenged that paradigm somewhat (notably Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, which was a more interesting project than the film it was supposed to help market), but the prevailing wisdom remains: movie games are shitty games, and should be avoided at all costs.
[ad#longpost]With the release of Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake, a game release was a no brainer, particularly with the release of Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox 360 promising full HD gaming. So it was that Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (no points for creativity in the title) found its way into my review stack. Alas, holiday shortages of the 360 meant the full review had to wait for my hardware to show up, but now that situation is all sorted, here we are. The news on the game isn’t all good, but it’s not all bad, either.
The game is divided into two distinct gameplay types. The first type (and the bulk of the game’s playing time) centers around the FPS-style adventures of Jack Driscoll (the Adrien Brody character), stranded on Skull Island and trying to survive giant bugs, dinosaurs, and spear-wielding natives while rescuing Ann Darrow from the mighty Kong. On his journey, he’s frequently accompanied by Carl Denham and other members of the ship’s crew, and their pilot periodically drops crates with guns and ammo while looking for a safe landing spot. The second type (and the eminently more enjoyable type) revolves around Kong himself, allowing you to step into the role of 30-foot gorilla and break T-Rex necks. Unfortunately, the Kong segments occupy way too little of the game’s total playing time, which clocks in just over a meager six hours in any event.
The biggest problem with the game, aside from its very short duration, is a lack of ambition. The FPS elements are mediocre at best, tired at worst, and there’s not much to them. The game is incredibly easy, with only a few segments that represent any real risk of dying. The other characters that accompany Jack frequently just tell you how to solve problems or where to look for danger, and also prove more than capable of taking care of themselves against most foes. In a few sections you have to be a little more concerned about keeping them alive, but things are rarely tense enough to make it a real challenge.
The lack of challenge extends to the Kong sequences as well, and the gorilla-on-dinosaur combat is pretty lackluster from a gameplay perspective, despite the great visuals. A tiny handful of available combat maneuvers reduce the battles to flavorless button-mashing. Also, the Kong sequences switch to a static-camera 3rd person view that can make it difficult to really see what’s going on in some of those fights. Why the developers didn’t push for an over-the-shoulder view for Kong, I don’t know, but I found static cameras a pain in the ass with the first Resident Evil game, and was not happy to see them here. The endgame is also rushed and not nearly as fun as it could have been. A very linear bit of rail-roading in a non-destructible NYC culminating in a lame bit of plane-smashing atop the Empire State could have been a great deal more entertaining with the addition of some destructable environments and a few more options for fighting back against the pesky fighter planes.
Gameplay issues aside, the game looks good. The monsters and environments are excellent, and the character models are pretty good as well (though some are better than others). Alas, the game suffers if you attempt to play in standard definition (at least on the 360), as the dev team never tested the game on anything except HDTVs. The result is a game that is so frustratingly dark in places that you just have to blunder about until you find the exit. The problem here is exacerbated by the fact that carrying a flaming sphere into the darkness does nothing to lighten the situation up (i.e., there are few if any dynamic lighting effects in the game, and that seems a serious flaw in a game these days, several years after the effect became a standard in FPS games). The sound in the game, on the other hand, is absolutely fantastic. The music, adapted from the film score, sets the scene perfectly throughout the game, and helps elevate tension even when the gameplay challenges are actually minimal. The characters are all voiced by their actors from the film, and everybody does a good job bringing real emotion to the performances.
With lackluster gameplay and little (read: no) replay value, the game’s a rental at best. Fans of the movie will want to check it out, and there’s a certain amount of fun to be had smashing stuff as Kong. There’s just little reason to shell out full price for a dated FPS with a bit of gorilla rampaging tacked on.