Review by brutusmuktuk

Reviewed: 07/05/06

More proof that video games and movies mix like oil and water

Of all elements of a game based on Peter Jackson’s excellent King Kong movie, one would think the most obvious, most fun element would be controlling the giant ape himself. Instead, you will find yourself controlling Jack Driscoll, the man who writes director Carl Denham’s movie. Sure, there are parts in which you go behind the wheel of King Kong, but they are few and far between. King Kong the game can be summarized as several good ideas placed in the backseat of a car driven by some mediocre ideas and execution.

Story – 5/10

Those familiar with the story of the King Kong movie will find that this game has strayed quite a ways from it. There’s nothing wrong with that, as the story of a movie can only move gameplay along so far, as movies focus much more on drama than action. Gamers do not want to see the development of the love between King Kong and Anne while they bash the skulls of dinosaurs with trees. At first, the game follows pretty closely with the movie, except for some crab-like boss monster that attacks the group while a couple of characters attempt to open a door using two spinning switches which they must push in sync. But later on, the game stays on the island far too long, with one too many captures of Anne, making for some moments that when you think you are about to head back to New York City, along comes King Kong to take Anne once again. It grows a little frustrating, because you want to leave the confines of the jungle and see the terror Kong causes in the big city.

Jack Driscoll is the main character of the game, as he was the human love interest of Anne in the movie. Only he and one other character are allowed to use guns in the game, although anybody can through spears and bones. Well, I guess I haven’t really said too much about the story of the game, but there isn’t much to say. It’s repetitive. You chase after Anne after she’s captured, you get split up from the main group, you find the main group again, and all the while, story-wise, nothing interesting happens, and the only thing that happens is that which allows the game to continue on – the plot elements. The dialogue consists of, “Jack, follow me,” or “Jack, turn that lever,” or “Jack! Help me!” Everything centers on Jack, and this Jack-centric view makes the game out to be a lot like a Medal of Honor-type war game, with the lone hero saving the day. Nobody counts on the work to be done by anybody but Jack. And the end scenes seem too rushed, as the gamer knows what’s about to happen, and it seems director Michael Ancel knows that the gamer knows, so he ends it quickly. This might not be so bad, if it weren’t so disappointing you don’t get to explore New York to a fuller extent.

Gameplay – 7/10

As simplistic and linear as the game is, what it does is done decently. It’s fun throwing spears at creatures and landing a direct hit. It’s fun lighting grass on fire as raptors charge you. It’s fun running along walls as King Kong, and then jumping to a protruding obstacle and swinging from it. It’s fun grabbing a tree and swinging at the natives as they pathetically try to take down the enormous ape. Notice, I say it is fun, as the point of playing video games is to have fun, but the game doesn’t utilize this fun as well as it should, and other elements of the game aren’t as fun as they should be. Only one thing I listed above is used very often – throwing spears. Spears and bones are abundant throughout the game, so ammo is nearly limitless, although the piles of unlimited bones do only provide minimal damage to enemies, it’s still fun seeing bones that you threw protruding from the head or side of an enemy. Everything else I list happens as a rarity. Such as, you only occasionally get the chance to light fires underneath enemies, but when you do, it’s very rewarding, and I suppose the lack of chances to do this isn’t a complaint, as the rewards make up for the limited opportunities to utilize this gameplay element. And when you first use King Kong, it’s very fun swinging through the forest, but later his segments are used mostly for combat, which is less fun, and even the platforming elements grow dull, as you realize how there’s no way you can fall off. These platforming segments have King Kong running along until he can move no longer, and then you press the X button so he can continue moving, such as by jumping to a tree limb, or another wall.

One major complaint I have is the overuse of enemies. King Kong fights too many T-Rexes, which is okay at first, but the fight sequences weren’t very well done with them. It relies on too much button mashing, as you find yourself mashing the attack buttons in hopes that the T-Rex will fall, so that you may jump on it and continue mashing buttons to kill it. The first three encounters are fine, but the next six or so grow tiresome. Same goes for the enemies against Jack. The flying beasts are ok, as it’s fun to spear them, and the raptors are fine, except for the odd AI behavior, but the giant centipedes are just too much. For one, they’re a pain to kill; for another, there’s too much of them. Every time you enter a cave, expect to fight about ten more than you want to fight. Another nuisance is the predictable protect sections where allies cross waist deep water, or have to swim, and are vulnerable to the alligators. You always know that alligators are going to swarm the others, so there’s no surprise and nothing to be afraid of as long as your good aim with a spear. I think if King Kong had a little more variety of enemies, there would be no problems here, but as it is, you find yourself growing bored of fighting the same enemies time and time again.

Puzzles are simple, although I kind of like the rotating switches that require two people to spin. It can create some tense moments, such as when you have to keep a T-Rex from eating the two switch turners by throwing spears at it to get its attention. The two switches mean two people have to be present to open doors, instead of relying on one, although if you ever need two people to turn a switch, there’s always somebody there with you. It’s too bad some of the parts turn into fetch quests in which you must search out for a missing lever. It’s funny that whatever you need in video games is always hidden somewhere within the game, as though whoever built the doors and switches knew you were going to be needing to go through that door, but wanted to have a little fun. I can imagine the natives building the doors using their ingenious mechanism requiring two people to open it (perhaps slowing their appetite for human flesh at least until they get the door open) and the wise prophet looks at the stars and sees a journey of a man, no, three or four men, and a woman, perhaps, who will visit five years from the day the doors are built. Their journey will consist of many hardships: fending off giant crabs, defeating velociraptors, ducking tyrannosaurus rexes, and seeking out missing switches. Go! Hide the switch in a good spot! And five years later, the poor fools who landed the shores of Skull Island didn’t know what they were up against.

And as the human’s biggest foe is brought from Skull Island to New York City, you, the gamer, grow excited, exhilarated even, that you now get to roam the streets of the City (capitalized!) with the might ape himself – the great King Kong. Ok, so you escape the meager shackles as King Kong in search of the one woman who makes you all giddy inside and then what? You get to climb buildings? No, not really, especially since invisible walls and bad controls prevent much scaling. So you get to throw cars, right? Yes, yes, you do, but don’t expect anything to throw them at besides the occasional tank. So no, you don’t get to leap across buildings, decimating the area and smashing the military like you dreamed of doing. Basically, the end segment in New York just gets you to the inevitable climb and fall from the Empire State building. Sad thing is, this game never gets a real chance to climb before it plummets.

Visuals – 6/10

Despite a few glitches here and there, nothing too bad, though, the only thing wrong with the graphics is the repetition. King Kong moves smoothly, with a few framerate hits during his sections, but nothing I will complain about; the grass sways in the wind quite nicely and spears stick out of enemy heads. But the same environments, same details, seem to have been copied and pasted throughout the game. Suddenly, the “I’ve been there” phenomenon strikes soon wonder if you’re backtracking. Sure, it’s ok to look at, the animation is awkward, but it’s ok. It just drains your excitement when you find yourself looking at the same dull colors and same dull environments and same dull grass fields (and maybe that’s why you’ll be inclined to burn every strand of grass you see). The scene in New York changes things up a bit...except that it’s even more repetitive as all the buildings are the same, all the cars the same, the tanks, etc. Nothing surprises, and the dull, drab colors become tiresome.

Sound – 6/10

Can anything be more annoying than the irrelevant, cliche lines given the cast of characters, besides Jack? Well, maybe, but this is a rhetorical question, I’m not looking for an argument with you. Allow me an example: “Follow me, Jack.” “This way, Jack.” “Jack, take out those alligators while we cross the water.” “Somebody shoot me!” That last one wasn’t written in the script, as it is meant for the gamer to say, but the joke is that nobody in the game can hear you to end your misery, although your girlfriend or wife, who is waiting for some cuddle time with her, and not the game controller, might be willing to grant your wishes. Again (as this seems to be a theme plaguing the game), the sound is too repetitive. You hear the same lines spoken over and over (yea, yea, Jack Black and Naomi Watts lent their voices, so what? Decent voice-acting means squat in the face of poor writing), and the same monster noises and all that fun stuff. You know what makes a game scary? A sound you don’t recognize – that means a new enemy. Breakdown and Resident Evil 4 developers seemed to have realized this, but not everyone is Namco and Capcom, it seems. The most positive thing I can say for the sound, which is quite positive, actually, and I don’t need to spend much time explaining it, is that it does bring you into the game’s atmosphere decently. Hearing the airplane roar makes you search around looking for that darned thing, and hearing a raptor screech makes you find a hiding spot to avoid being an appetizer. Other than that, nothing in the sound department really sticks out.

Longevity – 4/10

Sadly, at about six hours, this game overstays its welcome. As I said before, Ann gets captured one too many times. After you first rescue her you’ve got that happy feeling that you’re near the end of the game, although deeper down you dread she will be captured again, and you’re right. You say to yourself, “Oh no, not again. Didn’t I just go through this?” Actually, you might say that throughout the game. I give credit to King Kong for some original ideas, albeit somewhat poor execution, and a lack of very many ideas, but the creator tried. It’s difficult to make a movie-game and do a good job, and even those that are well done are still subpar in terms of games in general (Goldeneye for the N64 is one of the rare examples, excuse the pun). If a game has to stick to the movie’s storyline and plot points, it fails on some level, as games require some amount of interaction and exploration which movies cannot provide. As a licensed game, this one sticks out, but as a game for gamers, it will get lost in the dust.

Overall score – 7/10

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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