Monkey Ape Business
King Kong puts you in the first-person perspective of Jack Driscoll
as you traverse Skull Island. Your weapons are limited to a single gun at a time, or bones and spears you’ll find
littered throughout the island. There is no on-screen display telling you how many bullets you have left or what level
your health is at. With the press of a button Jack will call out his ammo count, and if hit your screen will flash red
until you recuperate. The simplicity of this system eliminates any interference between you and the game.
The game is divided into short
chapters, each one a small exercise: finding Ann, saving Hayes, or defeating a T-Rex. While these stages are linear -
don’t expect to wander off the track and investigate Skull Island - they are thrilling. There is a palpable
tension propelling you; with a massive T-Rex just behind you or an enormous chasm beneath you, the game excels at
pushing you through it.
The few scenes where you play as Kong himself - er, yourself - are as different from
Jack's scenes as Kong is from Jack. Playing as Jack, patience and wit help you survive. As Kong, you run, climb and
swing with no chance of falling to your death. It too is straightforward and scripted, but manages to capture the size
and strength of the massive ape. Playing as Kong during the final scenes in New York City offers a unique point of view both similar to the movie, but perhaps
even surpassing it. The initial realization that you are controlling Kong, shackled on screen, is frightening. Breaking
free from his bondage and rampaging across midtown Manhattan is thrilling, though fatalistic: you already know what
happens, it is inevitable. Being on rails in this stage lends a certain poignancy to Kong's fate.
Perfect Dark Kong?
The games graphics
are, for the most part, exceptional. The art direction of the entire game is superb, and is equally owed to both
Ubisoft’s expertise and Jackson’s vision. The scale and detail of the environments, their inhabitants, and
the lack of interface obstruction, creates a uniquely immersive experience. Curiously, the admission that the Xbox 360 port was
tested solely on high definition monitors, resulting in an image that is often too dark on standard definition
televisions, wasn't apparent to this gamer. If anything, many scenes were too dark on both high definition and standard definition screens, with no
distinction between the two.
The game has also accrued a
reputation for being especially loose with its gamerscore points. You can gather every single achievement the game
offers, netting you a cool 1000 points, by doing nothing more than beating it straight through. Even more curious was
the revelation there is indeed a second
unlockable ending, attainable after completing the game once, and then again while scoring over a certain number of
points; a bona fide achievement goal if ever there was one. Despite this obvious attraction, it's hard to recommend the
Xbox 360 variant when, at $60, it offers little extra in exchange for that premium price. The title's online scoreboards are outside of the Xbox 360 Live service, and the graphics,
while a notable improvement, lend little to the gameplay above and beyond their surface appeal.
Despite being linear and, at six to eight hours,
exceedingly short, King Kong never feels simplified. It was designed, in part,
for novice gamers, eager to play a polished, cinematic game without cumbersome controls and punishing difficulty. But
gaming veterans will also find an elegant and thoughtfully designed game, owing as much to classic survival horror
titles as it does to the movie it's based on.
Overall Rating: 8.5 out of
At $60, Kong is a
very highly recommended rental, if for no other reason than to rack up all of those gamerscore points. But if you're
interested in owning one of the best movie based games out there, either pick up a cheaper current-gen version, or wait
for that price to come down.
(Update 1: Score has been amended to reflect
Joystiq's grading scale using increments of 0.5)