History has shown us that movies to games usually don’t pan out with positive results. In fact with the exception of a few games such as Goldeneye and more recently Riddick they are generally disappointing. So when I heard that Ubi-Soft was bringing out a game to coincide with the release of Peter Jackson’s upcoming movie King Kong I simply said, “So what”. Then I discovered that Jackson had hand selected developer Michel Ancel to craft the game my interest peaked, in fact it quickly became one of my most anticipated 360 launch titles. For those that do not know Ancel has created some simply amazing games including Rayman and the more recent and extremely amazing Beyond Good & Evil. With Ancel at the helm and the 360 as the platform this game, to me, simply could not fail.
King Kong the game takes place inside the same time frame as the movie, but don’t think of it as a scene for scene translation. In fact most of the game isn’t even featured in the film. The events of the game transpire in between key movie sequence making it feel almost like a director’s cut of the film. For instance there is a scene in the game where you are rafting down some rapids being pursued by two enormous V-Rexes, something that was completely left out of the film. Having Jackson work hand-in-hand with the developer really gave the team the ability to create some genuinely fantastic exclusive content for the game.
Most of the game you will find yourself behind one of the lead characters Jack, playing in a first person perspective really draws you into the world of Skull Island. Every creature you encounter will test your wits and skill and by the time you complete the game you will feel like you have really visited this eerie place. Kong delivers a sense of immersion that I have not felt from a game in a long time. Perhaps it’s the fact that the entire game is sans a HUD, there are no indicators of health, ammo, or even a map. While this may sound ridiculous to spoiled gamers Ancel and his team have done an amazing job of being able to manage these things without the help of an on-screen indicator. You can tap a button to have Jack call out how many clips he has left in the gun and when attacked the screen will glow red letting you know that one more fatal blow and its game over for you.
As for progressing through the intricate jungles of Skull Island fear not, the game holds your hand most of the way making it nearly impossible to get lost among the foliage. Kong is also not your typical FPS style of game; in fact you will not be using your gun very much at all. Instead learn to love the spears you find littered throughout the environment. They can be used more than once and are sometimes even more effective than a pocket full of shells. There are several ways to survive on Skull Island and this is one of the things that make this game so great. Need to cross a path guarded by a man-eating dinosaur? Simply find a smaller creature and take it out, the dinosaur will head for the easy meal before he decides to chase you. Think of it as a virtual food chain that you need to stay on top of.
There are also several puzzles in the game; sadly they do become a bit predictable and cookie-cutter by the end of the trek. Most of them have you either catching something on fire or finding a lever to open a gate. While the puzzles can become stale the environments provide plenty of ways to solve more than enigmas, in fact you can use the jungle to your advantage in just about every situation. Burning grass that is occupied by creatures is the quickest way to clear a path. You can also use stone buildings and trees for cover from incoming predators. Like I stated earlier Kong gives a true sense of immersion that you literally feel like you are on the island when you play.
Ladies & Gentlemen in the parking lot we have…CRIPPLE FIGHT!
The first person segments are also broken up by the scarce inclusion of Kong levels. This gives you control of the beast at several key points in the story and are sadly underused overall. These segments are basically a reason to create carnage and kick some serious ass, the controls are simple and the camera is dynamic making them a nice break from the frantic action of the on-foot combat. These sequences also make the player feel safe and powerful which is nice considering while on foot you feel in constant danger.
The visuals in the 360 version are how a multi-platform title should be. While the PS2 and Xbox versions both look fantastic the 360 version absolutely obliterates them by comparison. The subtle use of lighting and textures really bring out the dense jungles and dangerous inhabitants of Skull Island. The audio is also stellar, Ancel and his team were lucky enough to get all of the actors from the feature film to do VO work on the game. So when you hear Jack Black screaming about how he needs to get the shot you can softly hum the tunes of Tenacious D in your head and forget about his terrible acting abilities.
There is a lot to like about King Kong; in fact it was one of the more refreshing titles to come out this year. It also continues the fact that movie games don’t have to suck, in fact when given time and a good developer they can be top-notch and worthy of being attached to a fantastic movie. With so many FPS and racing games currently available on the 360 Kong is a nice stray from the norm, with intense visuals and the best immersion of any game this year I simply cannot recommend giving it a whirl. The main story only lasts about 10 hours, but it is 10 hours you will not soon forget. There is also a special hidden ending if you can go back through the game and amass enough points that actually let you return Kong to Skull Island. Don’t be hesitant to pick up this stellar title for Xbox 360, Xbox, or PS2.