XBOX REVIEW: PETER JACKSON'S KING KONG

If you can only play one FPS/Giant Ape sim game this year, make it King Kong! by Vaughn Smith

November 30, 2005 - Welcome to the intro paragraph of my review of King Kong. Correction: Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie. That's a mouthful, but luckily I'm typing. This is the part where I'd usually jump right in with one of those diatribes regarding how licensed games aren't usually very good yada yada yada, but I just don't have it in me to start another review of a licensed product that way today. Besides those kinds of intros go either one of two ways: Intro A) Licensed games are usually crap and this game proves it or Intro B) Licensed games are usually crap but this one is the exception. Since we're dealing with a huge pissed off mutant mammal (Peter Jackson, not King Kong) , let's go with Intro B for the sake of personal safety. Relax. I keed. I keed. PJKKTOGOTM is a whole lotta fun and manages to be almost as brilliant as designer Michel Ancel's previous work Beyond Good and Evil, which landed him this gig in the first place.

King Kong the movie won't be released into theaters for another few weeks but Ubi Soft knows that missing the all important November release date could spell trouble for game sales, especially if movie reviews are lackluster even if the game happens to be great; which it most certainly is for the most part. If you're a diehard Kong fan and don't want to ruin the movie experience I can only highly recommend NOT playing the game as it follows the events of the movie.

You'll be playing the part of successful New York scriptwriter Jack Driscoll who takes a gig with hasbeen director Carl Denham, voiced by Jack Black complete with all of that charming sardonic wit he's known to bring to his roles. Carl Denham takes his semi-reluctant crew to Skull Island where the adventure kicks into high gear. The year is 1933, which just so happens to be the year the original King Kong was released into theaters starring legendary Fay Wray and some guy in an ape suit. However I found a little time continuum error in the manual which states that Hayes the first mate on the ship Venture is a weapons expert from WWII which won't be occuring for another 6 years.

At any rate, the game assumes you have an inkling as to what's going on (because it assumes you'll see the movie) and wastes no time setting up the action. Your small crew arrives on Skull Island consisting of Driscoll, Ann Darrow (the actress who becomes the object of Kong's affections), Denham, Hayes and Jimmy (a sailor) in hopes of rekindling Denham's lackluster film career. Once you land on the island you'll find a need to instantly defend yourself as the large shrieks coming from God knows where are natures of way of telling you that you ain't in Kansas anymore Dorothy. Surely you'll want to take a moment and orient yourself while gawking at the awesome visuals (which look best on the X360, but manage to impress on the current gen systems as well), but there won't be much time for sight seeing as all kinds of trouble rears its ugly head almost instantly. Consumate professional Denham isn't phased in the slightest. His camera continues to roll even after they've encountered the first wave of giant crabs and megapedes.

The game limits you to carrying only one firearm and a spear at one time (plus a lever used for opening giant gates). You won't find extra ammo lying around on the island so you'll have to take firearms when you come across them (usually found in wooden crates conveniently littering areas of the island). Spears can be thrown at enemies but the aiming can be very hit and miss. You'll primarily use the spears for solving the games puzzles which are environmentally designed. You may need to light a spear on fire to burn brush away to clear a path or in a nice little touch of realism, use the food chain to take the heat off - stab an enemy lower on the food chain than the beasts in your particular situation and toss it in the opposite direction you want to go. You'll find it creates an excellent diversion.

Ancel went for a non-cluttered visual window to work in so you won't have to worry about watching health or ammunition gauges as everything you need to know is learned by giving you either visual or aural clues. If you are attacked the screen will go red. If you don't get to safety in enough time or are attacked again, the game will end and you'll restart at the current checkpoint for the level you are. Driscoll will provide you with a running tally of the ammo you have left when things are getting low so you'll have an idea when you need to jettison your firearm. No having to rely on a HUD display is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the action at hand.

And there will be plenty of action to go around; the many enemies in the game will see to that. Certain instances will occur in PJKKTOGOTM where you are completely helpless and your only hope for survival is to not get eaten. The V-Rex species which likes to make a cameo every once in awhile appear only to keep the undergarment laundry industry in business as you can't take these mighty beasts down; at best you can distract them, but you won't be hanging their heads on display at the country club. However a certain 25 foot tall ape might have a bananas chance in hell of kicking some dinosaur butt.

Playing the game as King Kong is greatly satisfying after being chased down and attacked by the bullies of Skull Island. This is your revenge and it feels mighty good. Playing from an over the shoulder perspective, Kong has an impressive array of moves which either provide his locomotion (climbing, swinging) or his violent attacks which includes punching, biting, throwing, jawbreakers and a fury mode. Unfortunately it's short lived excitement as the majority of the game consists of the FPS portion featuring Jack Driscoll, but it's still a lot of fun nonetheless.

Speaking of visuals, there won't be too many gamers out there unimpressed with the look of the game on any system. While the Xbox 360 and the PC version definitely shine brighter (and so they should) console owners won't be disappointed in the slightest unless they've been hogging the Xbox 360 kiosk at the local EB for hours on end. The character models and the beasties lurking within the game are excellent. The surrounding landscapes are lush while at the same time swathed in a blanket of shadowy despair, permeating the experience with a constant foreboding aura. Once you get into Kong territory and start raining blows down on the various creatures, you'll marvel at the great beasts animations as he tears into the competition.

The voiceacting, soundtrack and sound effects are topnotch all the way. In fact, I'd say the roar of the V-Rex probably steals the show from Kong himself. When that dino screamed, I perked up my freakin' ears...and so did everyone in my house (until I turned the volume down).

Unfortunately it's impossible to maintain the dramatic tension of a movie over a game that lasts about 8 hours (depending on the difficulty level) and PJKKTOGOTM succumbs to repetition somewhere around the 50% mark. You'll engage in numerous skirmishes on the island that eventually lose their luster and you'll be counting down the time until you play as the mighty Kong. As mentioned, the Kong levels comprise approximately 25% of the entire game culminating in a New York battle which could have been far more ambitious than it turned out (that's where the alternate ending comes in but I won't spoil it here). As far as extras, replay value is provided in an interesting way. As you progress, you'll unlock various achievements. At 9%, you will be given a code which is you can enter on a special King Kong Ubi Soft website. There are three online codes you will eventually earn which unlock bonuses in the game. Replaying the game once you've beaten it the first time around allows you to play for points. Earn enough points and you'll unlock the online codes.

Certainly PJKKTOGOTM is not what we'd call a next gen game in terms of gameplay as there is isn't anything featured that we haven't already seen over the last few years, but it sure looks next gen if you're playing it on the X360 on an HDTV in high res. It's a fun romp though and definitely a welcome companion to the upcoming movie. There are countless tense moments playing as Jack and my only complaint is not playing as the featured star more than we were given the opportunity. It's a completely different flavor of FPS and might appeal to both sides of the fence - those that love FPS and those that usually shy away from them. So quit monkeying around and get on over to Skull Island and enjoy the scenery...while it lasts.

By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director

Rating out of 5
King Kong (Xbox)
4.3
Graphics
The better the system you're playing on the better the looks. Current gen owners won't be jealous as long as they don't nose around an X360 kiosk and check out the Kong demo.
4.7
Control
As pick up and play as you can get. Both the FPS and Kong aspects of the game control beautifully.
4.8
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
From the terrifying roar of the V-Rex to Kong himself, the sound effects, musical score and voice acting are excellent.
3.8
Play Value
We said it before "We need more Kong". Had the game been more 50/50 we would have preferred that. Ubi Soft added replay value with online codes and point values for levels once the game is completed.
4.5
Overall Rating - Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
Preview by Devin

Do you remember that Nintendo cereal? It was a breakfast delight, one part Fruity Super Mario, and one part Berry Legend of Zelda. I mean honestly, two for the price of one is a very good deal in my book. That is why Peter Jackson's King Kong seems to have such a high standing on my "Games to Get" list. Not because you run around the crazy giant island in FPS mode, chucking spears and shooting dinosaurs, but rather because the first person mode is only the first part of the game. Whoa, two games for the price of one? Yes, because the second part is where sweet sugar high lies, crowning you King.

Weird analogies and foreshadowing aside, to date, Peter Jackson's King Kong (or PJKK) looks more like a really, really good Jurassic Park. Skull Island, the island where our heroic team stumbles upon our big hairy bosom buddy, is chock full of giant creatures. Most notably are dinosaurs. The cool thing about being a giant creature in a Next-Gen game is: the food chain.

PJKK recreates Skull Island as an actual living island. A sort of eco-system, or food chain system, has been implemented to create a sense of unpredictability. What this means is that anything bigger than you will go after you. Lucky for us, we're not the only creatures on the island. Bigger creatures will go after smaller creatures as well. So if you're under attack by say, a giant scorpion, you should hope that something that likes to eat scorpions comes along to save your hide.

I don't want to ruin it for you, well I kinda do, but this system reaches its pinnacle on a level featuring 2 T-Rex dinosaurs chasing their dinner. That dinner being, you. And right when you reach that dead end and all hope seems to be lost, Skull Island's eco-system saves the day and brings in King Kong. But what does King Kong do to the T-Rex? That's completely up to you.

This is the part of the game that really gets me hyped. You will get to take on the role of King Kong in third person mode fighting off the T-Rex. The hairy God has an amazing display of brute strength. Three primary attacks are known at this point: A round house punch, a two-fisted slam which shakes the ground and knocks down your opponents, and an amazing "finishing move." King Kong will drop the T-Rex like a bad habit, then pick it up by its mouth and rip the thing apart. This hopefully hints that the Big Screen Kong will be a big, bad, brutal gorilla and not just girl-crazy.

First person shooter slash third person ape-chase, King Kong is looking absolutely gorgeous. With only a tiny bit of information on game play released, it will be hard to gage just how fun this game will be. However, if the graphics and the King Kong

Click For Media
System: X360 (shown), X, GC, PS2, PC
Dev: Ubi Soft
Pub: Ubi Soft
Released: Nov 2005
Review by Vaughn

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best