From The Box: Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie

May 12th, 2010

Being a big fan of Michel Ancel (Beyond Good and Evil is one of my favorite games of all time), I had wanted to play Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie for quite a while, but had always avoided it due to my distrust of movie games and the mixed reviews it had gotten.  So, when I found that Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie at a low enough price, I promptly bought it and put it in the box.  Now it is out of the box and I have played it, and will thus review it.

Now, first of all, this game is called Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie, but if this were a just world, it would be Michel Ancel’s Adventures on Skull Island:  An Unofficial Tribute to Pulp Adventure, because that’s what this is.  Or, at least, that’s what half of this game is.  See, this game is actually two games stitched together.  In one game, you play as the male lead from King Kong, who was forgettable enough to make a good faceless protagonist in a video game, as he journeys through Skull Island trying to survive against the monsters that inhabit it.  The other game is a beat-em-up in which you play as a Giant Ape named King Kong, who was memorable enough to warrant a 3rd person camera so you can see him while playing.

Now, full disclosure here, I have not beaten this game.  This is a fairly common occurrence for me, as I get distracted easily, although it’s been something I’ve been trying to fix recently.  So, part of this review will be my analysis of why I stopped playing when I did.  However, the King Kong segments don’t start till a good deal into the game, and are rather rare at that point, so I haven’t played many of them.  Therefore, this will be primarily a review of the Male Lead’s adventures on Skull Island.  If you want my opinions on the few King Kong segments I did play, they can be summed up as “Clunky and awkward controls, feels tacked on, but I get to play a giant gorilla fighting dinosaurs, so it’s not all bad.”

First of all this game succeeds as a licenced game for the same reason that games like KOTOR do.  While the game follows roughly with the story progression of the movie, it isn’t too married to the source material, and serves not as a straight video game translation of the original, but more as a tribute to the genre that the original King Kong emerged from.  It is a pulp adventure through and through, or, rather, the specific genre of pulp adventure that features people being lost on an island full of deadly monsters.  If the titles alone of movies such as “The Horrors of Spider Island” and “The Incredible Petrified World” are enough to intrigue you, then you’ll find what you’re looking for in this game.  The game expands upon the location of Skull Island from the movie and turns it into the setting of an Action-Adventure/Survival game, complete with scenic cliffs and crags, giant bugs and, of course, dinosaurs.

The element that really separates this game from other Action-Adventure games is this survival element.  When you have a gun, you have to reserve ammo, and running out of ammo all-together is a common occurrence.  Fortunately, there are many possible improvised weapons to find in the game world.  Spears and bones can be picked up and used as weapons.  The game can, because of this, get quite intense.  Moments such as holding off a raptor with a stick until you can find something more deadly or a place to hide and gather your senses.  Spears can also be lit on fire at certain places, which is useful not just to clear a path through impenetrable brush, but also to make your spears more effective against your opponents.  Even the ecology of the creatures can be used to your advantage, as the creatures will feed off the corpses of other creatures.  You could, for example, attach a large grub onto your spear, then throw it near by some monsters in order to distract them.  The game is about making due with what you have and, above all, surviving with limited resources.

The presentation of the game is quite good as well.  The game pushed many aesthetic styles that were just starting to gain momentum at the time.  For one, the lack of HUD and the avoidance of cut-scenes, all to maintain immersion.  The island itself is quite a visual spectacle as well.  Although everything is low saturation/shades of gray, this fits in the setting.  The views can still be quite stunning with cliffs, caves, ledges over the ocean, and valleys with stampeding brontosauruses.  The environment is well designed and adds to the pulp adventure island feeling.

I did have a few problems with the game, however.  First of all, one recurring element of game play is finding a handle to put in the many pillars that can be turned to open doors.  Each of these doors has two pillars that each must have a handle in order to be pushed.  This is where the rather monotone nature of the environment becomes an issue, as these handles are rather hard to find and annoying to look for.  I get the feeling that Michel Ancel only put this particular mechanic in the game because it was supposed to be a licenced movie game and it was getting too good.  These segments broke the flow of gameplay, were incredibly annoying, and were generally the points where I would save and quit.  These were the bits of the game I would procrastinate having to play.  And with the improvised weapons system, I always wondered why I couldn’t just stick a bone into the pillar and use that as a handle.

The second issue I had, which was probably the one that caused me to stop playing, was that the game just got repetitive over a while.  It started by introducing all these clever mechanics that interacted to create some excellent survival gameplay, but as it went on, it didn’t introduce enough new.  It began recycling too many enemies, not introducing new dynamics, and became rather stale.  One of the things that always impressed me about Michel Ancel’s games was their variety.  In Beyond Good and Evil, at any point I could be fighting, sneaking, racing, flying or playing a parlor game.  This game, on the other hand, is quite a bit more homogeneous.

However, until the point where this game starts to get tired, it is quite fun.  If you like survival games, or games that have this pulp adventure island setting (a rarity in video games) then this game is definitely worth trying out, particularly since you can get it for a pretty low price these days.

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