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// King Kong
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Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Number of Players: 1
Memory: blocks
Release Date: 4/7/05
Region: North America

Given the success rate of movie-to-game transitions, it comes as no surprise that, by now, gamers are used seeing such games fail miserably at offering anything of value. It even works the other way around: game-to-movie transitions share an equal rate of failure. It's a stigma that has haunted the gaming and film industries for over a decade.

It's unfortunate to see a bad reputation attached to these transitions, because once in a while, a game such as this one comes along and defies gaming nature. Based on Peter Jackson's 2005 film of the same name, and produced by renowned game designer Michel Ancel at Ubisoft, King Kong is not a bad game... It's actually quite the opposite.

Considering the story of Kong has been around for over seven decades, it's only natural that this year's rendition has been slightly altered to make for a more fitting and modernized feel. The basic plot of beauty and the beast is intact, as it should be, but a few alterations, such as the way the crew lands on Skull Island, pits players directly into an action-packed scene from the beginning. Jack Driscoll, a writer, is the main character. You play about three quarters of the game through his eyes, while the fourth is played as Kong himself via a third-person perspective.

Gamers will quickly notice a lack of any sort of HUD on-screen, which means that there isn't direct access to the amount of ammo or health either characters have left. While a little confusing at first, this system actually simplifies the gameplay and riddens the screen of any unnecessary clutter. With a press of the Y button, Jack tells the player how much ammo is left with lines such as "two magazines on backup" and "almost dry!" As for health, if the character is near death, the screen will flash in red to the tempo of a heartbeat, a blur effect is used and dramatic music will play. When this happens, getting hit once more will kill Jack or Kong. If either character lasts about a dozen seconds without getting hit again, however, they will have their energy replenished, ridding the need of a health pickup. Simple.

The heart of King Kong resides in its first-person portion, and is where the gameplay shines the most. There aren't many types of guns to use, but what is offered does the job just fine, as the areas are designed and enemies placed to complement your available arsenal. There is a rather strict limit on ammo that adds a survival feel to the game, which in turn creates hectic situations for the player, adding some emotion to the experience. When all ammo is depleted, however, Jack isn't left to hope for Kong to come and save the day. Instead, wooden spears and bones left from the island's civilization and dead creatures can be used to attack whatever threat is posed. In fact, many a time players will find themselves throwing these more often than shooting bullets, so it's a good thing that they come in an unlimited amount.

Shooting isn't the only element in Jack's part of the game. There are puzzles to solve, and while they're infrequent, they usually involve retrieving the same item, a gate lever, and are occasionally clever. The developer could've been a little more original as to give players a better drive to solve these puzzles, as a lever can only be lost and found so many times before it becomes repetitive.

The game brings forth a wide variety of situations and circumstances. From common human on raptor battles, to V-Rex chases on a river, to playing as the king of the island himself. Kong's portion of the game, though as aforementioned is not a big one, is a bonus treat. Moving the king is simple and basically plays like an on-rail roller coaster, as there is always only one way to go forward and stopping to smell the flowers is not a good option. In battle, having Kong throw punches and other similar moves is easy and works well, but the great possibility of button mashing highly detracts from the gameplay. Most of the time, however, the cinematic views and the overall look of the battles are just so incredibly engrossing that you forget how much the button mashing can affect the enjoyment of these events.

The camera angles in Kong's portion aren't the only reason making these scenes incredible to look at. Various special effects add a lot to the experience, effects such as blur, lighting effects coming from the sun and a number of screen filters help in making the game a joy to look at. Adding these effects to the incredibly polished designs and props of the island locales make King Kong one of the best looking games on the GameCube, which is saying a lot. The art is simply incredible, with lucious jungle and brilliant temple designs complemented by great character and enemy models, the animation on which is smooth. The human facial animation, expressions and lip-syncing are, however, not up to par with the rest of the game's quality. The framerate also dips once in a while. It's nothing major and won't affect the gameplay, but it is noticeable.

As if the aforestated features weren't enough to make for a good gaming experience, the quality of sound doubles it. The soundtrack to the King Kong video game is its own monster: it is completely separate from the movie's, meaning that the team did not simply rip the music from the feature film and place it into the game. In fact, according to composer Chance Thomas, the two-hour soundtrack was built around the events presented in the game, and changes depending on the situation. It's true; the music in this game is incredible and fits every scene perfectly. To add to that, the sound is just as impressive, with nerve-racking raptor screeches and piercing V-Rex roars that just take you back. The sound also aids in the first-person battles especially, helping you in locating your enemy in surround sound goodness.

Overall, what we have in King Kong is a video game with a slight case of identity crisis. Peter Jackson's influence on the game is obvious, as it occasionally feels as if gameplay is sacrificed to achieve a more cinematic feel. The level design is excellent, but gameplay elements such as difficulty and controls are not always up to par. For example, a mission later in the game can be a lot easier than one presented earlier, which shows a lack of balance in the difficulty throughout King Kong. Button mashing while playing as Kong and a lack of crosshairs when throwing spears as Jack can be detrimental to the controls, and both are examples of gameplay sacrificed for cinematics, likely a movie director's influence.

That said, what the development team set out to accomplish was done so with flying colours. King Kong is one of the most cinematic games of this entire gaming generation. Offering outstanding art and special effects presented throughout the gameplay and fully interactive cutscenes, an incredible, unique score with great sound effects in backing, and good gameplay mechanics, Michel Ancel and his Montpellier team in France have molded a winner in what is definitely one the best movie-to-game adaptations in gaming history.


Editor Comments
My desire to play King Kong stemmed exclusively from the fact that the team behind it was the same as the one responsible for Beyond Good & Evil, now one of my favourite games of all-time. Going in, I had no real interest in Peter Jackson's 2005 adaptation of the classic Kong story, but my faith in Ancel was powerful enough to get me to buy the game on day one of release. It was a great decision, but in the end it also came up a little disappointing.

Perhaps it's all in my head, but despite having plenty of freedom for Ancel and his team to create this game, I can't help but think Peter Jackson's influence forced, or at least pursuaded, the team to focus more on the cinematic than on the gameplay. That might be good for some people, but to me personally, gameplay is priority number one. However, even through the game's flaws, including an extremely underwhelming end level, there is some solid gameplay present. When you consider that this was Ancel's first attempt at a first-person game, the renowned game director led his team rather well.

On a separate note, playing through this game reminded me very much of Turok and what could've come out of that franchise had it been given to the right developer. After what was an extremely disappointing and failing attempt in Turok Evolution earlier this generation, one can't help but think that King Kong, or at least its first-person portion, is what this generation's Turok should've been, albeit with more gore and unrealistic elements. If another Turok game ever sees the light of day, I hope whatever developer is on cue takes some notes from King Kong rather than from the latest, lackluster entry in the Turok franchise.

Note that the screenshots used in this review are all in real-time, most of which were taken directly from the game while walking around. It really is ridiculous when every other frame in a video game can be taken as a screenshot and be mistaken for concept art, but King Kong really does look this good. Kudos to the art team behind it.

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