Review by PieingDutchman

"Dinosaurs, a big ape and brown trousers!"

King Kong, while being an old game nowadays, is the hit game based on the (substantially shorter named) movie Peter Jackson's King Kong. When King Kong was officially going into the making, Peter Jackson decided to collaborate with Ubisoft's Michel [insert last name here] to make the game, after being unhappy with EA's collaborative work on the Lord of the Rings games (which was practically none at all). In 2004 the game was released (ahead of the movie) and gamers got a thrill to behold.

Story
The story of Kong is relatively simple. Director Carl Denham is losing money on his next film project and so hires Ann Darrow to be the leading lady to act alongside Jack Driscoll, who also acts as screenwriter. Called to a boat to travel to Skull Island, a lost island which man hasn't touched for a good part of a millennia, the ship gets stranded, and Jack, Ann, WWI Vet Hayes, Carl and his film crew set off to land on the island.

None of that is actually part of the gameplay and is briefly told in the first half of the Extras Trailer, which is just as well because it'd have been a drag to play Carl in First Person through New York. Upon coming onto the island, little story is told apart from the main things we all know Kong for. Any of the little story snippets is told in-game, not in a cutscene as the between-level montages are, which is just as well because it helps you immerse yourself in the island. A lot of the plot involves chasing after Ann or trying to get to a particular location, but the action involved is so great that you generally don't notice. The story for Kong is like that for a racing game: little of it apart from backstory to keep you immersed in what's happening on-screen, which is the best way to play it because the action is what the game's about, unlike other titles you may find.

Also, the story inside the game follows very loosely upon the movie's. You won't be fighting swarms of wetas and various insects at the bottom of the canyon, nor is there the V-rex vines sequence, but you will get the log scene, the Brontosaurus' (the ones with long necks) and of course the golden ending. So if you're worried about spoilers if you haven't seen the movie yet, there are so little it will be fairly safe to play this game.
8/10

Graphics
The graphics involved with this game are amazing. There are no reflections at all, and so the spare data is spent making Skull Island as gritty and have as much ambience as possible. The sea during the approach acts like a real stormy sea, the grass wavers in the wind and brushes away as your character pushes through it, and the fire, in a smart move, actually looks like real fire instead of the clusters of blobs you'd usually get in other games.

Of special note are the character models, specifically the faces. The likeness of the characters is so great I actually gawped at them because they looked EXACTLY like them, not vaguely in other film tie-ins.

Fog and mist takes a front seat on Skull Island. The mist effects of you blocking out the light are really well done, and it never looks like it's used to cover up the rest of the level. Also, there is very little gore in the form of blood and stuff. The worst you'll get is a ripped open dinosaur corpse early in the game, but apart from that the gore comes from throwing spears into enemies and enemies eating other enemies. Also, the dead bodies turn a browny texture and then fade away after being killed, unless an enemy decides to eat it.

The design of Skull Island is particularly good. Proving that polygon count doesn't matter THAT much, Skull Island and its inhabitants are actually a lot more scary and gritty in the game than in the movie. You can often see sharp, jagged peaks sticking out of the jungle as you venture deeper into the depths of the island. The dinosaurs on the island, regardless of how they got there, all look fearsome, and everything else is just plain ugly, in that ‘Good gosh that thing's hideous!!' kind of way.

As you get to the inevitable climax however, all the shrubbery and vines and bushes are replaced by bare concrete and little bibs and bobs. It's a complete change from Skull Island and it isn't pulled off very effectively either. It's like all the work was done on Skull Island and New York was done at the last second.
8/10

Gameplay
This is what the entire game is all about, and boy there's a lot of it! The gameplay is nearly all with Jack, the main character, and is stripped down to the bare bones (often literally). There's little to no HUD to be seen in the game, but it's not needed because Jack does it for you. Instead of a Health Bar, it's a Two-Strikes and You're Out system. Once you get hit or attacked, Jack's vision will get all bloodshot and sound drains out. In this stage, if you get attacked again, you die and have to start over at the nearest (unmarked) checkpoint. Instead of an ammo count and inventory, all you do is press a button and Jack will say how much ammo he has left, and you have to use your own memory to know what you've got (but the only things you get are Spears/Bones, 1 weapon and a lever handle, so it's not that bad).

Weapon's-wise, all you get is Fire, Reload, Pick up, Arm, Prod/Whack and Call/Exchange. The weapons you get are a minimalistic 4, not counting Spears and Bones. The Guns are simple and easy to use, no secondary fire here. Most any weapon can do the job right, and they aren't entirely new either. You get a pistol, which is fast to fire and reload, the shotgun, a powerhouse but slow, the rifle, the all-round weapon and good for all purposes and the Machine Gun for mowing ‘em down. All these weapons are provided by Engelhorn, the owner of the ship that got you here, and are contained in boxes dropped from his seaplane, which he's using to try and land somewhere so he can get you off the hell-hole. You also get bones and spears to use. Spears are a lot more powerful than bones, but spears, unlike bones, can break, and also bones are unlimited from their rotting carcasses. Also, you can light the spears and bones on fire to ward of Spider swarms or to set clustered bush on fire, and also impale various fodder, like grubs, dragonflies and small amphibians to ward of spiders or distract enemies.

As for an aiming target, there isn't any. “What?!” I hear you say? Well actually, you get used to it after a while with judging where you should point your barrel/pointy thing. Fortunately, for those of you who still don't think they can handle it without the crosshairs, you can turn it back on along with the inventory and ammo count in the Options menu.

Even at the start of the game the enemies take more than a few hits to kill, and the difficulty level never spikes except when you encounter a new type of monster to combat. And boy are there many of them! Early on you get simple enemies like vicious crab-things, scorpion-things and giant millipedes (all aggressive and lacking some fresh tucker), but the game really kicks off when you get into the jungle and into dinosaur territory.

You encounter three kinds of dinosaurs: little tiny ones which can be killed easily, but come in overwhelming swarms. Raptors are the large ones, and are very fast and take an effort to kill. But the worst are the V-rexes. These guys stand WAY taller than T-rexes, and as Jack, you can't actually kill them with ANYTHING. Oh, and did I mention that they can run faster than you? V-rexes are the most fearsome enemies in the game and can easily scare the crap outta ya.

The experience on Skull Island is amazing and scary. Moving into Resident Evil territory, many attacks have several sharp-toothed things having a go at your arm, and often pop into view right when you least expect it. Raptors are the worst in this situation because they're dammed fast and hard to shoot, and often attack in packs of two or three. V-rexes on the other hand, are scary from the get-go. Their jaws are big enough for you to stand in, and you are often looking up at them, too afraid to turn around lest he bites off your back. Did I mention you can't kill them? All this takes advantage of the lack of side-vision that comes with First-Person Shooters and makes you afraid to turn your back.

In the attack sequences, there are often many ways for you to dispatch you foe. One of my favourites has to be an area where there are two Raptors eating a carcass and a bat-thing watching over. First things first is you dash into the ruins that delve into a cliff nearby, offering you cover. As you climb to the top for a better view, you could do any of these:

= You could just rush out and Rambo them, risking getting killed easily by the Raptors.
= You could Snipe the Raptors with your rifle. This will alert them to you and they'll try to invade, but fail. You then kill then as they try to push through the stone pillars.
= You could shoot the bat-thing as it flies to distract the Raptors as you shoot them in the back of the head.
= You could impale a nearby grub on a spear and throw it into some bush. As the Raptors rush to fight over this (relatively worthless) snack, you light another spear on fire using a flaming altar, and then throw it into the bush and burning the Raptors for a free Skull Island BBQ! You snipe the bat-thing afterwards as it feeds on the dead Raptors.

There is a lot of variety with the action sequences in King Kong and this provides for a fun factor of ‘How should I kill these next guys the best?'. However, with the V-Rexes, the only strategy is this: Run away as you distract it or wait for Kong to show up.

About 30% of the game is played as Kong, but the reward of doing so is awesome. After fighting just to stay alive as Jack against the evolutionary rejects of the Jurassic, you get to unleash the beast as Kong and get revenge on that V-Rex for making you ruin your best pair of boxer shorts. Kong is nearly invincible and it's a blast to just run along and bash Raptors and bat-things with a hearty flick of the arm. Battling V-Rexes is amazing too. As Jack, you really get to know the size of them, and playing as Kong, who is just as big, in Third-Person mode gives you a sense of scale and massivity (if that's a word) of the fight. The finishing moves are great too, even though it's just two, which include a wrestling-like slam or pinning the monster down on the and snapping it's wing (in the case of a mother bat-thing) or the famous jaw snap (with the V-Rexes). You can also pick up tree logs and use them to play ball with the Raptors. Getting to the fights just involved pressing a button, and the game takes advantage of this by using some cool camera angles.

Despite all this fun and madness, it's a shame that the Kong sections don't have as much screen-time as you'd like to, as it's wildly great fun to rampage in the jungle bashing bat-things outta the park.
9/10

Sound and Music
Another great part to the game. The sound effects in this game are brilliant. Before a creature attacks you hear its call, so at a short listen you can find out instantly what to worry about. The V-Rexes and Kong's roars are especially great, as each is loud and sounds like a genuine roar. It's really satisfying to hear Kong roar loudly after you kill a V-Rex as you gloat in the victory.

The music is pulled off very effectively as well. Each monster has it's own theme for when it attacks you, and they really put on the tension and fear during an attack, and the build up to an attack is similar to that of a horror movie. The entire score is also done with an orchestra, so the climactic and authentic feel is really pushed forwards to the player effectively. In fact it's one of the few soundtracks I've heard where I'd download the music (which you can do at kingkonggame.com).
9/10

Longetivity and Replay Value
The only negative aspect to King Kong, apart from the amount of time you get to play as him, is how long the game is. The game is relatively short, and if you're good at FPS then you'd be up that tower within 5 hours. However, what's contained inside is all action, and if you're fair with FPS you'll be up there in about 8 due to dying so many times, but going back in for more. You can also unlock a variety of stuff, such as the trailer I mentioned, art museums (each in a level designed like a cave with a monster in the centers), and High Contrast and Sepia Tone filters. Also, in a neat addition, you unlock many of these by replaying the island and garnering points totals for each level. However, sadly, some unlockables require web codes that aren't available anymore, so you'll have to use cheats to get those.

8/10

Final word
King Kong is an amazing and scary experience that will leave anyone re-thinking about going into the bush alone. Choked with action sequences and scares, this game makes a mark, especially within the film-to-game genre. However, short game time and now non-working unlockables keep this game from perfection.

The Good
= Fast paced action and a lot of it
= Gritty graphics
= Kong levels are a blast
= Something to do after completing the story

The Bad
= The game is too short
= Not enough Kong sequences
= Some unlockables can't be accessed the normal way

Final Score
8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/24/07


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