Experience the excitement of the newest King Kong movie firsthand, both as the scriptwriter-turned-action-hero Jack Driscoll and as the great ape himself, King Kong, in Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie. The name of the game may be simplistic, but it says what it does and does what it says — there’s no mistaking it for anything else.
From the mysterious Skull Island to the streets of New York, the game gives us a glimpse into the vision of Peter Jackson’s King Kong from a whole different perspective, giving even those who watched the movie an opportunity to enjoy a whole new experience. While King Kong has been rampaging through box offices, let’s take a look to see how it fares on the console.
The game begins with scenes from the movie that’s really just the first half of the trailer for the film. The transition from the clips into the rendered CG for the rest of the game is done quite nicely, and the introduction demonstrates an important little detail about the game that helps make some of the scenes more enjoyable — your character’s angle of view is vital to catch the nuances of certain scenes, and even to progress in the story in some sections.
For the most part, the graphics are quite beautiful for a PS2 game. The environment is well-rendered and sets an appropriately immersive setting throughout the game, especially in the jungles of Skull Island. The characters’ likenesses to their movie counterparts are also done well, and the dinousaurs of Skull Island are particularly impressive to look at, as long as you’re not being eaten alive.
In between each section of the game, which are presumably load screens, are brief clips of scenes that you just played throguh as well as an old treasure map-style with an advancing dotted line to show the characters’ progress. The clips during these times are played on a narrow viewing area stretched in a panoramic view. I found the clips here to be rather badly artifacted, and it was hard to tell whether they were in-game rendered CG or just poorly encoded video clips from the film. I’m fairly certain that it was simply left intentionally low-quality so that it could be quickly loaded for the scene transitions.
Most of the game is a first-person view from Jack Driscoll’s shoes. People susceptible to motion sickness caused by the motion blur in fast-paced FPS games should take heed. During these parts of the game, I found the motion to cause DIMS (Doom-Induced Motion Sickness). Overall, I found the game very pretty to look at, but conditionally so. Namely, I had to stand still and not be in the process of being chewed on by a dinosaur. Though, I have to admit that I found it far more disturbing to watch someone else get killed than it was to have Jack die.
As noted, much of the game is viewed from a first person perspective. Then there are moments in the course of the game that switch to you playing King Kong, but in the third-person instead. There was some disorientation for me in each switch between the first-person view with Jack and the sort of three-quarter overhead third-person view playing as Kong, especially the first time that it occurred. It gave the initial impression that Jack was somehow flying in the sky viewing all the carnage that King Kong was causing.
It was difficult to tell how much, if any, of the game’s score was pulled from the movie soundtrack itself. The names in the credits for the game and the movie don’t match up where the music was concerned. Normally, symphonic pieces are something I enjoy listening to, but I often find them more difficult to notice while I’m engaged in another activity such as playing a game or watching a movie. However, it wasn’t the case here as I discovered that the music, at least in some sections of the game, was directly tied to specific spots on the path. Sometimes, as I explored particular sections, I found that by doing a cha-cha back and forth over specific spots on a map, I could restart a song over and over again. I didn’t do it intentionally at first, and I found that the abrupt stopping and restarting of a piece of music to be rather disruptive.
I also did not find much of the music particularly memorable. The songs were not bad, but not even the songs that I got to play over and over again really stuck in my mind. A lot of the soundtrack felt uninspired, and could at best be described as merely mood music. It did not feel like there was much effort made to establish themes, particularly for the characters.
Most, if not all, of the original actors reprieved their roles for the English spoken dialogue in the game. There were also French and Spanish versions of the game, which seemed to match up with the English versions rather well, though the audio seemed somewhat muted in the Spanish version, though I think that it was because the Spanish voice actors were relatively emotionless in their performance compared to the others. The English voices conveyed emotion strongly throughout the game, so I found the dialogue to be enjoyable and engaging.
The sound effects in the game by themselves were not particularly notable. However, what particularly stood out were the roars of some of the dinosaurs, specifically during boss battles. Rather than expressing the awesomeness of these creatures through the volume of their primal screams, they emphasized the intensity visually by distorting the screen. While it hurt my eyes and my head to watch it, I also found it rather clever.
There are two distinct modes of play (three if you count the little bit in a plane) that use significantly different control schemes and playing styles. Playing as Jack Driscoll is in the first-person, and makes extensive use of the shoulder buttons to employ weapons. Playing as King Kong is in the third person view, and uses the right side controller buttons for brawling and pro-wrestling moves.
For whatever reason, I found the first-person control scheme a little bit confusing at times. There are two attack modes: a repel with R2, which is essentially a spear jab or an attack with the butt of a gun; and an aim/fire by holding down L2 and tapping R2, which is how you perform a distance attack by throwing your spear or firing your weapon. However, I can’t count the number of times I launched my spear ineffectually into the brush, or attempted to snipe with the butt-end of my rifle.
Playing as King Kong was much easier to do as there were fewer buttons and combinations to worry about. Combat devolved into a button-mash, and the platformer sections of the game were little more than loosely timed button presses to jump and swing at the appropriate places.
Switching between the two was where I had the most trouble. Though there are load screens between most transitions, they’re done with little warning. The perspective switch coupled with the changes to the control scheme caused me precious seconds at the beginning of some sections as I adjusted myself to the differences. These changes aren’t so terrible as to destroy the fun factor of the game, but it does put a bit of a wrench into the works.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie is ultimately two different games in one convenient package. Playing as Jack Driscoll, the game is a first-person shooter with horror-survival elements: You have limited ammo, you can die from two successive blows, and things can jump out at you from anywhere. While playing as Jack, you often face what seem to be insurmountable odds, but there’s always more than one way to beat the bad guy and move on, so there’s a tiny bit of a puzzle-solving element to the game as well. This was, for me, the most challenging part of the game.
Playing as King Kong, you get to relax a little bit as it switches to a third-person platform brawler. The action is a little more manic, but I found a lot of it to be pretty mindless button mashing as well. Watching King Kong fight is not too unlike a simplified pro-wrestling battle, with the beatdown, grab, throw, and takedown for the win. There was some satisfaction on a primative level from the meaty cracks as Kong knocked smaller creatures out of his path on his way to save Ann for the fifty-seventh time. The rest of the King Kong part of the game is just a bit of ledge-jumping, branch-swinging, and wall-running that doesn’t really require a whole lot of skill in most sections.
I was somewhat put off by the fact that Jack didn’t know how to climb ladders and scale walls, while Ann, despite being deadly accurate with a spear, didn’t know how to use a gun. I found some minor flaws with the AI pathing as well, as I was forced to leave Ann behind more than once because she found it more interesting to repeatedly run into walls instead of following me to certain death.
There is very little opportunity for exploration, and you’re pretty much led by the nose to your next destination throughout most of the game. In the end, it doesn’t really feel like you’re affecting the game at all since everything is so linearly scripted. The option to use the environment to your advantage allows for a little bit of challenge from time to time, but for the most part the game is very simple and quite short.
The story of King Kong isn’t new. Many people already know about the story, whether they’ve seen the 2005 movie or not, so the game has to sell itself on its other, more unique features. Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many other features to be sold. The gameplay isn’t particularly compelling, and the amount of content isn’t really worth it either.
They offer some incentive to replay the game, since you can replay each scene again for points after you’ve finished the game once. These points can be used to unlock bonus features to the game, the biggest of which is the last level with an alternate ending. Even without spoiling it though, it isn’t exactly difficult to guess what that actually entails. They also force you to have to go online (via the web, not the PS2 Network Adapter) to get the codes to unlock a couple of the features).