reviews\ Dec 11, 2005 at 7:00 pm

Peter Jackson's King Kong - GC - Review

Subject A: Peter Jackson. Esteemed film director from New Zealand, who has proven himself in a surprising number of fields: the low-budget gross-out sci-fi film (Bad Taste), the cult-classic horror-comedy (Dead-Alive), the touching true story (Heavenly Creatures), the legendary series based on books (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), among others. Peter's newest project is a remake of a classic film; he takes Jack Black and Naomi Watts, for starters, and flings them into an epic retelling of 1933's King Kong.

Subject B: Michael Ancel. The creator of Rayman and director of Rayman 2 (but not, thankfully, the less-than-brilliant Rayman 3). Known for its creative characters, fantasy settings, and delightful charm, the games are considered to be some of the finest platformers – both 2D and 3D – ever created. His 2003 project, the underground hit but poor seller Beyond Good & Evil, strikes a chord with nearly everyone who played it – with its genuine characters, amazing locales, and a surprisingly cinematic presentation without becoming clogged down by cutscenes, it tells one of the finest stories the game industry has yet seen.

Subject A not only happened upon, but actively seeked out Subject B, as he claims to be a big fan. Is it any surprise that the result, the video game counterpart to Jackson's King Kong film, is one of the most impressive games based on a movie the world has yet seen? It's obvious that this game, while destined to sell many copies, was not invented merely as a cash cow. Somehow, with games like this and others like The Chronicles of Riddick, the licensed game selection is starting to look up.

Ancel's King Kong is not without its faults. For one, it's entirely too short. Many gamers – most gamers – will be able to finish the game in around six or seven hours. And since the game automatically adjusts itself to players who are having a tricky time in a certain area, it's tough to get stuck. Throw in the fact that there's no real “lives” to worry about losing, or specific save points, or other artificial difficulty increasers, and you've got a game that, while challenging at times, is fairly easy to progress through. The game also shows signs of being rushed to delivery – a common artifact of licensed movie games, and obvious towards the game's relatively tame ending, in comparison to the beginning. 

In addition, it's pretty linear and focused. This makes sense for a game so incredibly plot based, but it also means that when you're done (with all six hours or so), there really isn't a huge reason to go back and play it again. This makes an actual purchase of the game a little tough to recommend, as $50 – or $60 for the fancier Xbox 360 version – isn't exactly pocket change for most of us. At the very least, though, a rental should be sought, because the six hours that it does last are an absolute blast. 

The game follows closely with what are presumably the events of the yet-to-be-released film. The game is split into two different parts: 90% of the time, you play a normal human. Every now and then that other 10% pops up in some very visceral scenes where you play as the big man, Kong, himself.

The basic story involves a small group of filmmakers who have become stranded on Skull Island, where the film was intended to be shot. You play Jack Driscoll, the screenwriter and general accomplice of the director, the actress, and a first-mate of the ship you were on. When a storm starts to ravage the larger crew and the four of you crash on the island, you set about exploring. When you come upon a rather savage tribe, giant mutant insects, seemingly-extinct dinosaurs, and a huge monkey that may be very hostile or very gentle, things start to get interesting!

The human portion of the game is actually a simple but sophisticated take on first-person shooters. The entire affair takes place from the eyes of Jack, with absolutely no onscreen interface to speak of. Even your weapon is lowered if you're not holding the L trigger – and frankly, you'll want to conserve as much ammo as you can on this island where ammunition is less than plentiful. In fact, you can only carry one gun at a time or use a spear (be it a real spear or something handy like a rib bone pulled from a dead carcass), which are just as fun to use and often just as useful. When you do need some information, such as how much ammo you've got left, Jack tells you - “Two magazines on backup,” or “I'm getting dry,” for instance. When you're being attacked, your vision turns progressively red and shaky until you're finally slumped down on the ground. Somehow, the system works just as well as games with intricate heads-up displays. Nothing gets in your way, and the action is more intense than you might expect. There isn't even a targeting reticule turned on (by default, at least, though that can actually be added in the options menu).

The Kong areas are just as fun to play, really affirming how strong he is. Where Jack can barely muster the strength to kill smaller dinosaurs, let alone a T-Rex, Kong tears all sorts of reptiles apart while barely flinching. These segments are reminiscent of a simplistic fighting game, with some easy platforming segments scattered about between duels. They're fun, but simple, and since they're quite uncommon, playing as Kong is delightful rather than boring.

Depending on what console you are playing on, King Kong can look great or merely decent. This GameCube version, while not bad looking, is definitely on the lower end of the spectrum, along with the Playstation 2 and just below the Xbox. Obviously, the Xbox 360 – and PC, if you've got a good one – versions look much, much better. Despite the noticeable texture quality decrease and general feeling of low-res-iness, the game is convincing because the character models still look surprisingly good (close-ups look remarkably good) and animation is excellent. The sheer scope of the game is at times very impressive as well. Although you're often confined to small pathways and rocky corridors, reaching the peak of a mountainous area or swinging across the jungle as Kong is really impressive.

The sound is great in all versions, of course. The music is moody and kicks in at the perfect times and dies off when things calm down. Sound effects are poignant and exciting – every bullet makes a pronounced sound (and it should, for as few as you sometimes have) and the very sound of dinosaurs in the distance can cause shivers to form on one's back. And boy, it's really something when one is opening its jaws and screaming in your face. The voice acting really tops things off, though. All of the movies actors are here in fine form: Jack Black as the director, Naomi Watts as the actress Ann, and Adrien Brody as Jack are among the main performances, and they all immerse you in the experience even more.

King Kong really is a thrilling game – a roller coaster of ups and downs, with nary a boring point. Playing as Jack is thoroughly fun, and playing as Kong from time to time really puts the icing on the cake. If the game weren't so short or so linear, or maybe had some other incentive to play after the initial run-through – perhaps a two-player fighting mode, or a co-op adventure, it would be nearly perfect. As it stands, it's hard to justify $50 for a short game. But it is an excellent game while it lasts, and one that is definitely worth going through, whether that is with a purchase or merely a rental.

Review Scoring Details for Peter Jackson's King Kong

Gameplay: 9.5
There's really nothing to complain about. Simple but sophisticated, refined, polished to a T: the game is fun, exciting, and never lets up. The only really negative aspect is that it ends so quickly. 

Graphics: 7.0
There are better looking GameCube games; this is about on par with the PS2 version – but the characters, both their modeling and their animation – make things impressive nonetheless.

Sound: 9.5
Everything, from the sound effects to the music and the voice acting, draws you in more and more. Incredible.

Difficulty: Easy
There are definitely some challenging areas, but since the game adjusts itself to players having trouble, it is never hard to make progress.

Concept: 8.0
The basic premise – follow the story of a movie being released – is not uncommon. However, the gameplay nuances – like the fact that there is no onscreen interface, for instance – are everywhere, and make it a very interesting experience.

Overall: 8.5
King Kong is not so much a game as an experience. Simply put, it's emotional, exciting, scary at times, and terribly fun. The unfortunate thing about King Kong is that because it is so short and tight, it's hard to really advise a purchase! One way or another though, this is a game that anyone would do well to play. Check it out.


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