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November 21, 2005



- Immersive first-person gameplay
- Action involves more than just mindless shooting
- Kong sequences look incredible



- Incredibly short
- Kong sequences are rather simplistic



Review: The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (XB)

Review: The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (XB)

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King Kong

Score: 8.3 / 10


king kong          king kong


Ubisoft’s Michael Ancel has carved out a name for himself in being one of the most creative directors in all of video gaming. After the goofy Rayman series, Ancel created the imaginative cult classic Beyond Good and Evil, which unfortunately failed to find much of an audience. So then Ubisoft got the video game rights for Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake, and put him at the helm. Given his talent, it seems rather astonishing that Ancel had been relegated to a mere first person shooter, based on a blockbuster Hollywood property no less. Thankfully, the man knows what he’s doing – King Kong is a thoroughly refreshing take on the genre, and pretty far from a generic shoot ‘em up that you’d first expect.

Through most of King Kong, you inhabit the body of Jack, Adrian Brody’s character in the movie. While the game opens with a quick montage of scenes from the film, you’re quickly tossed on a rowboat heading towards the mysterious Skull Island .




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The storm-weathered trip is almost entirely non-interactive, as you merely watch your comrades row the boat ashore, and you can do nothing as your companion’s vessel is crushed beneath a torrent of falling rocks. Once you’re ashore, you’re greeted by the main cast of characters: Carl Denham (Jack Black), the sleazy director of the movie you’re shooting; Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts),


the shining young starlet; and Hayes, (Evan Parke) the crewman who’s eager to help everyone escape with their lives. The character models all look remarkably like their real-life counterparts, but only when they’re standing still. Their movements feel too stilted to feel realistic (especially compared to Half Life 2), although the voice-overs featuring the actual cast members do help the illusion that you’re really fighting along side these people.

During the time you play as Jack, there’s never a time that you leave his eyes. Stranded on the island, you and your party make their way through the dank jungles and caves, fighting off gigantic creatures and disgruntled natives. There’s no HUD at all, leaving a completely clear and uncluttered screen. Jack announces how much ammo he has when he reloads, and reminds you out loud when you need to switch cartridges (you can activate an onscreen ammo gauge, but it’s entirely unnecessary.) There’s no life meter, per se – whenever you get hit, the view flashes red and everything slows down, leaving you vulnerable to further attack. If you manage to avoid enemy attack for a period of time – usually about five to ten seconds – then you’ll completely recover. If you take a hit during this time, you’ll be sent down for the count. It’s an interesting variation on the Halo-style life meter that we see so often in console games, while giving it a slightly more intense feel. Sometimes your leg will be snared by the jaws of a raptor, leaving you struggling on the ground and only a swift blast with a shotgun will save you. Sometimes a tyrannosaurus will snap out, and the only thing you see is in the inside of its mouth before you die. There are plenty of “Oh crap!” moments of tension that force you to react before you meet your doom, though checkpoints are common enough that you never have to replay too many segments.


king kong          king kong

Even though it may feel like a straight-up action game, you’re forced to rely on your wits more often that you’d expect. While there are plenty of guns and ammunition to be found, it’s still in a limited supply. More often that not, it’s smarter to grab a nearby spear to fend off giant bats or dinosaurs rather than waste precious shotgun shells. Sometimes it’s easier to just stab a grub, then toss it off into the distance, distracting your foes so you can run by unharmed. If there’s a torch nearby, you can set the grass on fire, a quick way to dispose of the huge army of monsters you’ll contend against. Amidst all of this, there’s some light puzzle solving, although nothing brain taxing, and the few fetch quests are rarely annoying. All of the stages are extremely linear, but you’ll never need to worry about straying off the path and getting lost. As a result, it’s a splendidly paced game.

Since you’re not traveling alone, you need to be mindful of your companions. Sometimes they’re smart enough to defend themselves – other times they aren’t. There are plenty of times where you need to cover them as swim across a river filled with crocodiles – it gets scary when it’s your turn, as you rush defenselessly through danger, trusting your fate to some computer controlled characters. Thankfully, most of the time, it works. Unfortunately, there are a few occasions where you’ll run into some annoying AI glitches – characters will either be stuck perpetually running into invisible walls, or sometimes just sit and stare off into space. Sometimes you can goad them out of their trances – sometimes you can’t, and you’ll need to restart the level.

The first person segments make up a majority of the game, but at certain segments through the game, you’ll take control of Kong in a third person view. When you first see the gigantic ape move, it’s a thing of wonder. The way the majestic creature looks and moves is incredible, as he swings effortlessly among the trees and runs along cliffs like a three ton Prince of Persia. This is the sort of stuff Ray Harryhausen only dreamed of, and you’re in control of it. But then you realize how simplistic it all is – you pretty much just run forward and press the necessary buttons, and you’re off. They’re only barely platforming segments, because there are only a few scant points where you can actually fail. Amidst these, there are also plenty of times where you’ll need to fight off dinosaurs and other vicious wildlife. Kong’s controls are naturally quite sluggish, and the combat plays off like a jungle version of WWE, except instead of pinning your opponents, you grab their jaws and pound buttons until you twist their necks with a satisfying snap. There are a few times where Kong is accompanied by Ann, and you need to let her down in order to open up the passage to the next area. It seems like the designers were going for a Ico-like emotional bond between Kong and Ann, although these scenes are too sparse and uninvolved to properly express this. The final chapter, where Kong runs through the streets of New York , running on buildings and smashing cars, is oddly disappointing, not only in its sloppiness, but its brevity. You’re given a linear path to run on, constantly overwhelmed by policeman or 1930's-era missile launchers or whatever they’re shooting at you. There aren’t enough people to grab, cars to smash, or buildings to scale. It all feels rushed - even as you get to the Empire State Building , the crowd blocking the way is literally made of cardboard cut-out people. It doesn’t help that the frame rate can dip considerably during some of the later segments.

You’ll probably reach the end of the game pretty quickly – only five or six hours to beat. You’re given the option to replay various levels of the game to score points and open up an alternate ending, but it feels like a cheesy way to extend its life. Thankfully, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome since 95% of the game takes place on the island, the environments do begin to feel a little bit repetitive by the time you get to the end.

Even though it’s short, and the Kong segments are a little shallow, King Kong still manages to be an extremely immersive experience. For years, game developers have hawked video game tie-ins as the ability to control the character’s actions for themselves, to be part of the action. In King Kong, you experience everything as the cast experiences them, because you see it through their eyes. When you’re being chased by a T-Rex down a river, hastily hurtling spears at it in an attempt to slow it down so it won’t bite down on your crunchy little body - well, it’s a lot more exciting than merely watching other people fend for their lives. I admittedly had little interest in seeing the movie before playing this. Now I’m really eager, but I get the feeling that it might end up being a little bit redundant.

- Kurt Kalata
(December 15, 2005)


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