Peter Jackson's King Kong - 360 - Review
Having accomplished a major feat by brilliantly bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to life, director Peter Jackson set his sights on a much bigger and hairier project. The legacy of King Kong has been chronicled well after the cinematic achievement that was the 1933 classic, having spawned a remake that starred Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lang as well as questionable sequels and the unfortunate pairing of Kong and Godzilla. Now in the year 2005 Kong is king again on the big screen as well as on the smaller screen with Peter Jackson’s King Kong for the Xbox 360.
Games based on movie franchises have had quite a bad reputation but recently there have been games that have proven to be quite spectacular (The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and Spider-Man 2 comes to mind) and King Kong, the official game of the film, is one of those rare gaming gems from the creative minds that brought us the unforgettable yet largely ignored Beyond Good & Evil. While it faithfully follows the events seen in the wonderful Peter Jackson film, the game takes us deeper into the events that unfold to tell two very different yet human stories.
If you’re unfamiliar with King Kong or haven’t seen the movie I will give you a quick summery. Filmmaker Carl Denham has lost the trust of Hollywood producers and is determined to win back his reputation by creating an epic tale of adventure in an uncharted yet exotic locale. He finds Ann Darrow, a beautiful yet down on her luck actress who agrees to follow Denham to the remote Skull Island where disaster strikes. Trapped on an island where dinosaurs live and the locales worship a giant gorilla, Ann is taken captive and offered up as a sacrifice to Kong. With love interest Jack Driscoll in hot pursuit, Ann and Kong develop a strange bond that eventually leads to his capture and to the mighty beast’s eventual downfall.
We begin the game in a first-person perspective as we see Skull Island through the eyes of Jack Driscoll. Jack is quickly given a gun and unlike most first-person shooters there is no aiming reticule and no HUD. This gives the game its sense that you are seeing and feeling what Jack sees and feels. This, of course, makes each situation that quickly arises in Skull Island intense and jarring. You’re aided by a number of crew members of the ship called the Venture like Hayes, filmmaker Denham and even Ann … and when I say aided they actually attack enemies, help you open doors and will toss you a weapon when you call for one. One of the many great things about this game is that each character’s personalities come through nicely throughout the game. Jack is determined to keep Ann safe, Ann is determined to survive and Denham is determined to get all of it on film.
Skull Island is filled with giant monsters you will face such as the huge scorpions, crabs and winged serpents. The island is also home to dangerous dinosaurs like the vicious Velociraptor-like Venatosaurus and the T-Rex like, well, V-Rex. Intelligently the game has a plane drop supply crates that hold weapons like pistols, shotguns and even a Tommy gun. Realistically you don’t get a lot of ammunition so you will learn how to use your guns when you absolutely need it most but thankfully the island is filled with other useful things you can use as weapons such as bones or spears. You can set fires to hold an enemy back to earn you extra time to escape or spear a fish and throw the spear in an opposite direction to catch the attention of predators.
While playing as Jack is an absolute joy, you’ll be introduced to Kong during a most dramatic moment in the game. Smitten by Ann’s beauty, we control Kong in a third-person perspective as he fights to protect Ann from a number of Skull Island’s biggest and smallest predators. While gently guiding Ann through the jungle and often picking her up and gently placing her in a safe spot, Kong tears into V-Rex or the Venatosaurus monsters using brute force. Kong possesses a number of combat moves that have using his gorilla agility and strength as he snaps jaws, viciously grabbing enemies and tossing them to their deaths or pounding them to death in a Fury Mode (where Kong pounds his chest defiantly and then proceeds to swat at enemies like bothersome wasps). It’s almost endearing to watch Kong tenderly interact with Ann that it brings to mind the brilliant Ico.
The game is ultimately too short, making gamers feel as though they’ve been on an exciting ride in an amusement park that ends right when things were getting really good. For King Kong the game ends in New York City were he goes on a rampage to end all gorilla rampages but its over before we really got to sink into the role of Kong. Despite the short length of the game, though, the really good parts will stick with you.
On the visual front, King Kong looks absolutely stunning on the Xbox 360. While the game was released on multiple platforms, really, what can you say about the graphical powers of a next generation console? Skull Island is alive with lush flora and fauna and the creatures that inhabit the island feel like they belong on the big screen. The game’s characters look like the actors that portray them in the film, especially when it comes to Jack Black. The visual effects are also quite an achievement. Shadows will dance, leaving you to believe that something will jump out and devour you. The monsters you encounter early in the game slither or scamper or pounce at you. The real treat here is seeing Kong take down a couple of V-Rex. In short, this game shows off the power of the 360.
While the game’s visuals are truly impressive, it’s the sound that tops it with its gorgeous soundtrack, stellar voice acting and incredibly detailed sound effects. The game’s music is intense, turning each situation even more nail-bitingly tense. The film’s cast provides the voices of each of the characters they play in the movie so expect Naomi Watts voicing Ann, Adrian Brody as Jack and Denham voiced by Jack Black. Not only is the voice work originally made for the game but it’s handled beautifully throughout the game. Then there are the detailed sound effects I mentioned. You will not only be bombarded by great visual detail but the sound - especially if you have a great sound system hooked up - will take you by surprise. You’ll hear all the creatures before you see them and Kong’s entrance is absolutely memorable.
While it’s rather on the short side, Peter Jackson’s King Kong for the Xbox 360 is an endearing and imaginative adventure that does justice to the new film. The game truly admirable moments are few but when they happen you will remember them well and that, much like Michel Ancel’s Beyond Good & Evil, makes this an original jaunt well worth taking.
Review Scoring Details for Peter Jackson’s King Kong
Going ape has never been this much fun but sadly you won’t get to play as Kong for very long periods. The introduction to Skull Island and seeing the events that unfold through the eyes of Jack is gaming gold. Control-wise the game runs smoothly on the 360 and the action is both intense and really fun. Unfortunately it’s over way too soon.
Visually the game is a work of art on all consoles but on the Xbox 360 everything is just even more impressive. The system just brings out the best when it comes to rendering water and smooth surfaces. The creatures literally jump at you. Even the fur on Kong’s hide looks amazing.
The sounds of crickets and creaky old bridges won’t mask the sounds vicious dinosaurs make when they spot you nor will it hide the sounds of giant millipedes ready to spring at you. Then there’s the game’s score that’s just as haunting and as beautiful as Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. And with a stellar cast that voices the characters you have a game with amazing sound.
There are a few clever puzzles but its nothing that will have you wondering what to do next. The really difficult battles come while playing Kong. Just try breaking the jaw of a fully grown V-Rex.
The game wonderfully captures the feel of Pete Jackson’s vision but also branches out and does its own thing. There are various memorable moments in the game and there are interesting extras to unlock but there isn’t much replay value here, though.
King Kong is one of those truly rare gems that, while very short and based on a blockbuster film, is original and completely enjoyable as well. It is a shining example that sometimes games based on movies can be just as good as the movie but still be able to show us a different and interesting take on a story we’re already familiar with in the first place.