Release Date: November 21, 2005
When I first heard of Peter Jackson's King Kong, I was not excited in the slightest, mainly due to the fact that a game based off of a movie usually spells poison for the gamer. Once I loaded it up, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it tried to be more than a movie gimmick.
The general gist of the story is that you are Jack Driscoll, a scriptwriter and a decent dinosaur hunter in a pinch, and you are following the director Carl Denham in his obsessive quest to make a great movie on the uncharted Skull Island. There are also other people along for the trip, most notably Ann Darrow, the resident damsel in distress. From the first step you take off the boat, the immense mistake of coming to this island is made readily apparent in the form of a huge roar from the craggy hills, to say nothing of the dinosaurs that come at you from every side. You'll mainly play as Jack, but you will also take control of Kong himself for about a quarter of the game.
In King Kong, the sections where you play as Jack are done from a first-person perspective. The developers really tried to improve immersion in this offering, and for the most part, they were successful. There is no HUD whatsoever in place. When you pick up a gun, Jack will tell you your ammo situation by yelling out something like "three rounds on backup" or "almost dry." You also have no "health" to speak of, so when you are hurt, the screen will turn varying shades of red, signaling that you are about to die. During this disorienting time, you have to find cover or hastily slaughter your attackers. The deep red and blurriness of the screen is a neat effect, but it definitely proves frustrating when trying to save yourself with a final onslaught against some of the smaller enemies in the game.
Most of the tasks you go about undertaking as Jack are your basic attack or defend affairs against the many inhabitants of the island, from flying creatures to small raptor-like monsters as you try to escape the mountainous jungle. There are some extremely simplistic puzzles as well, which generally feature lighting a bone spear on fire and burning down brush so you can run through to the next episode of the story.
You will spears quite a bit, actually - there are stone-tipped spears littering the island that break after several thrusts or throws, and there are also piles of bones that serve as infinite supplies of bone spears, which do less damage but are nonetheless employable. Gun ammo itself is finite, but can be replenished from the airdrops you can find scattered about by the plane that continuously attempts to save you. Shooting your guns or chucking a spear is a fairly simple task. When holding a gun, you hit the space bar to bring up the gun and the right mouse button to aim, and then you shoot. Of course, you don't have to aim, but this would be foolhardy, since there is no targeting reticule (by default, although one can be added) in King Kong.
An interesting thing about the island is that there is a food chain hierarchy in place to dictate which creature preys on which. For example, some of the bigger dinosaurs and even the V-Rex eat the flying creatures, so if you do not have the power to bring them down, you can simply distract them by shooting down one of these airborne monsters. You also come along some scenes where the monsters are fighting amongst themselves, which is pretty spiffy.
When you aren't playing as Jack trying to survive against all odds, you will be swinging and stomping around as Kong. The sheer feeling of power you get while playing as Kong is great, for a while at least. Controlling the ape is a somewhat ponderous task with the clunky controls, and the fighting system consists of basically three attacks and two moves to finish them off. Add in the fact that there is no free roaming, and your path is meticulously laid out for you at every turn, which amounts to a rather repetitive experience. Playing as the giant Kong is certainly fun, but it's much less cinematic in feeling as you are rampaging instead of surviving. While playing as the ape, there were only a few moments while I was wowed, whereas those moments occurred consistently when playing as Jack.
The graphics in King Kong are amazing, to put it simply. The character detail is great, and Kong looks fantastic. In my opinion, what really take the cake are the inhabitants of the island. The towering V-rex provides some of the game's tenser moments, and it is beautifully rendered to invoke fear. The lush terrains are not bad to look at and help greatly with immersing the player. Additionally, fire and the way it spreads is rather spectacular, especially if you can find a batch of brambles big enough - it brings out the pyromaniac in all of us. There were little touches I liked as well, such as the fact that the spears you use on the monsters still stick out as you fight them and can be reused after they are defeated.
The sounds are great, as one could tell from the very first huge roar blasted from Kong's mouth. All of the weapon sounds are good and give the player the feeling of raw destructive power in their hands. The ambient noise of the island itself is well done, with certain cues when a monster is attacking you. The music is wonderful as well, increasing tension when needed or simply playing a soaring score as the camera pans over the island. All in all, the audio is very solid.
The A.I. of your opponents and teammates in King Kong is fairly substantial. The creatures you encounter will always head straight for you no matter what, but sometimes, the larger ones will run away if wounded, which is impressive. On the flip side of the coin, there are also times when the creatures act really dense, like when I was fighting a medium-sized dinosaur from a small ledge, and it stood there while I launched an endless volley of bone spears until it was downed. You teammates don't act very helpless either, which is a great thing, as most games have you playing the role of bodyguard to people who are extremely feeble. Not so here - your teammates will pick up spears and skewer monsters rather than simply scream for your help, but if you do not help them at times, the creatures can overwhelm them.
There is a problem here though, and that comes in the form of length. This offering is simply not long enough, and is the main component holding back this title from a high score. I simply cannot praise any offering too highly when it only amounts to a little under six hours of gameplay. There are extras that can be unlocked by redoing the missions you have finished, but since the story progression is so linear, there is not that much replay value within the missions. It still amazes me when I come across a game this well conceived and developed, only to see that the length is insanely short.
On the whole, Peter Jackson's King Kong was rather good and has set standards for immersion that will most undoubtedly be implemented into forthcoming games. The graphics were amazing, and the story unfolded in a quick, action-packed manner. While playing as Kong was a bit too simplistic and the gameplay length was disappointing, King Kong was a good title, although it could have done with a little more fleshing out.