Writing a critical piece on an unfinished game has haunted me. Not drastically. I’ve been sleeping, eating, generally carrying on with my life in an unaffected fashion… except for the ghost of Lara Croft. I didn’t finish her newest game “completely”, more like I angrily abandoned it to its buggy existence, and turned to the Internet and clever friends to fill in what I missed.
I’m glad I committed this sin early, because if more people begin to read this I might have some bull shit called on me, and where that would – again – not affect my sleeping, eating, or general carrying on with my life, it might bring the integrity of this whole thing into question.
Don’t you think? 😉
So, I geared up and buckled down for Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie despite a few nuances that would get along charmingly well with Lara Croft’s most recent game. Yeah, I know. It’s not going to be a totally nice review this time around either. I wish it was, because Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie – now to be called PJKKTOGOTM for brevity’s sake – does have a lot going for it!
In PJKKTOGOTM, Peter Jackson has teamed up with Ubisoft heavy-weight Michel Ancel, well known for his Rayman games and the cult mega-classic Beyond Good and Evil. Initially, Peter Jackson was moved by Beyond Good and Evil. So moved was Jackson that he sought out Ancel and the partnership was formed.
Shortly after these pictures, Michel Ancel was in fact eaten by that dinosaur… who happened to belong to Peter Jackson.
When you play PJKKTOGOTM, a sense of foreboding sets in as the film’s trailer introduces you to the game, but the tension disperses as the game takes over. A few Half Life characteristics show up, such as in-game cut scenes, and the fact that our hero Jack Driscoll reigns as the third-person-limited-via-FPS-gameplay king. This very inviting presentation eventually reveals itself as a facade once the ultimately “okay” Jack game is interrupted by the repetitive, sigh inducing great ape himself.
To be fair, this was not my first reaction when beginning PJKKTOGOTM. Originally, I was looking forward to playing the character of King Kong, and wanted nothing to do with Jack. Playing King Kong, at first, is giggle inducing. Seriously, you get to bang your chest to power-up and snap V-Rex’s jaw apart.
This fades as the well-designed character begins to plow through levels that are linear and echo each other in puzzles, combat, and maneuverability. This little bit extra becomes a little too much way too fast.
Luckily, the game will always check back in on Jack. If Jack beat his chest and tried to break V-Rex jaws, well, let’s just say the 20 hour game would become a 40+ exercise in “what the fuck do you think you are doing?” futility. See, Jack is very squishy, and everything on the island wants to eat him. You can take about two hits before your screen goes red, and then after that the odds of getting dragged off into the jungle to be consumed is much higher than if you, say, back pedal and take any kind of cover you can find. As Jack, you will have fire power, but in a cheeky way the game provides you with more bone and spear nodes than weapon crates.
You are forced to depend on your environment, which in the end I can’t fault. The game is encouraging its player to rely on their instinct, rather than depending on button mashing, quick time events, or shields kicking. The effect of all of this is very palpable, and as I continued through the game I could not help but look forward to my Jack levels, rather than my monkey ones.
Although PJKKTOGOFTM has its perks, it also has its downfalls. The levels do grow repetitive, the puzzles tedious and childish. The impression after a while is you would have about as much of a challenge if you picked up one of these.
And I would like to take a moment to condemn and praise the lack of HUD.
There is some true immersion in this, which is one of Ancel’s major philosophies in gaming. He enjoys making games that take the player and envelope them to the point where it does not feel like they are in just another game, but instead they are in another world. That’s fine. Look, the lack of reticule actually works, and Jack’s health is more than clear as your screen goes red and the Howard Shoresque music comes on to chant you off to Valhalla, but even with Adrien Brody breathlessly panting how many bullets he has left, it is hard to see just how far you can stretch any given gun.
The island itself has fantastic atmosphere.
A brontosaurus stampede in a narrow ravine, stray rays of light, and murky waters that hide some great creature features are just some of the positives. However, it also has invisible walls, and a color scheme that will sometimes lead to these sort of discoveries:
Speaking of island, the final Manhattan level where you play King Kong is remarkably bland. Breaking out of your bonds is fun, throwing the first couple of cars also fun, and eventually crowning the Empire State Building in a defiant, desperate attempt to claim this new island as your old home is fun.
Playing the level itself, is not fun. There is something last minute and altogether lifeless to it, and all the King Kong levels for that matter. Although hitting the planes out of the air is gratifying, I would have really liked to have seen the end of this game through the eyes of the character that started it; Jack. Kinda hard to do, I know, but still, there is a lusterless ending to this game that left me ready to close the book – or case – on PJKKTOGOTM.
There are a lot of things that keep it from being a solid game, but there are also a lot of things that do make this game a noteworthy endeavor in the “movie” genre of games. There is zero replayability, true, but I definitely don’t regret picking this one up. The whole time I was playing it I found myself wanting to watch the movie again, something I did do, and something that did put the game in a better perspective. The cast returns to the game and lend their voices to their rendered characters, making the translation from big screen to loading screen very entertaining. It’s even a treat to see concept art scroll through the loading screens. Jackson and Ancel do present a semi-decent game, and it would be interesting to see them put something else into the market together in the future.
Game Play/Mechanics: 1
Score: 5 out 10.
The game has a lot of promise, it sure does have a lot of heart, but the game falls into tedious patterns and repetitive game play, and these things should not be confused with replayability.
Stay tuned for King Kong Mofongo, the dish inspired by the game!