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PS2 Review - 'Peter Jackson's King Kong'

by Joe Keiser on Dec. 8, 2005 @ 2:08 a.m. PST

Delve deeper into the film experience through alternative viewpoints designed to immerse the player into the action and truly "feel" the tension of the adventure. Unprecedented Alternating Gameplay Battle for survival on Skull Island in first-person as Jack Driscoll AND experience the staggering power of King Kong in third-person taking on massive beasts.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: November 21, 2005

Buy 'PETER JACKSON'S KING KONG':
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Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie is, if anything, a great example of how Michel Ancel and his development are better than most at what they do. Movie games are simple exercises by necessity, as they are supposed to feed the play desires of the casual moviegoer and not the review-reading demanding gamer, so they don't break a lot of new ground. They're simple platformers or shooters, and they usually sell well. It's also more important for them to be out before than the movie than it is for them to be good, which makes them the bane of people who think about games more than they probably should.

King Kong manages, somehow, to straddle this divide. It's a simple game that, for the most part, doesn't do a great deal of new things. As a result, it should appeal very strongly to the casual movie-watching player who wants to continue the experience of the film at home. It is also a polished, nuanced, and most importantly, good game that can be recommended to discerning gamers.

King Kong has a pretty simplistic plot. It's 1933, and Carl Denham wants to get rich by wowing Hollywood, so he ropes together a film crew, throws them on a boat, and takes them to the mysterious Skull Island. As it turns out, the island is home to lots of dinosaurs, really irate natives, and one King Kong, a massive gorilla with a thing for blondes. After a few unfortunate incidents, he latches on to actress Ann Darrow, which sets the stage for most of the action.

The large part of this game has you playing as Jack Driscoll, who is Carl's script writer and who also harbors a crush on Ann. These segments are played in first-person view, and while Jack often has a gun, it's difficult to classify King Kong as a shooter – it's really closer to a survival horror title. Ammo is limited most of the time, so more reliance is placed on diversion and the unwieldy throwing projectiles that litter the island. The most important weapon to get off Skull Island is not the sweet early-20th century machine gun you tote, but the food chain system, a brilliantly deployed piece of gameplay. All the monsters on the island exist in a food-chain hierarchy, meaning if you kill one creature, another one will take the time to consume that corpse – during which it's not eating Jack Driscoll. This allows you to effectively take multiple enemies out of your way by only killing the weaker one, allowing you to save precious ammo.

The food chain system is just one example where King Kong breaks some new ground while keeping the game simple. Where this game really excels, and how it accomplishes its goal of being enjoyable for all players despite their gaming backgrounds, is in its excellent atmosphere and solid pacing. As Jack, the game is intense and terrifying, and captures the feeling of being lost and under-equipped in a place where everything wants to kill you, not out of malice, but as a matter of course. There are some truly heart-pounding moments where your clip will be empty, you'll be swarmed by hideous shrieking bat things, and the nearest spear is just out of reach. It can be incredibly intense.

So of course, right when the intensity starts to overwhelm, the game throws into gear its second mode, where you play as Kong. He's nearly invincible, exceptionally strong, and can beat his chest until he goes berserk, making him even stronger. These parts are less focused on scaring the player and more on creating epic battles. They're not as emotionally involving as the Jack parts by design – they're in third-person perspective, for one thing, and when you're playing as Kong, you never feel like you're in much danger. They help give the player a breather, which is probably much needed after fighting giants bugs with just a bone.

The ebb and flow of these two game modes is where the game really succeeds, making it universally enjoyable. Of course, it helps that both these modes are well-implemented – Jack controls much like any first-person game on the PS2 does, the only difference being you have to hold down the left trigger to ready your gun to fire or your spear to throw – otherwise, they're just used as melee weapons when you hit the right trigger. It still works fine, even better for this game because you're not always ready for what's coming. The AI of your associates is also quite good, and they're almost always helpful when it's possible for them to be. As Kong, you run to where you can punch things. You then punch them. It's good fun.

It helps even more that the game looks great. The PS2 version is well behind every other version of the game in terms of looks (especially the Xbox 360 version, which is actually quite breathtaking), but the system still manages to push out the interesting architecture and island foliage at a level of quality on par with the best of the console. The character models are particularly good, especially the Kong model, whose animations are also particularly emotive, especially the noticeable change in body language when he picks up Ann. The only issues with the graphics in this version of the game are that while the textures are fairly detailed, they don't have a great deal of color to them – mostly greens and browns, which can begin to make everything look similar after an extended play session. The framerate is also not particularly smooth and generally lower than ideal, though it never makes the game difficult to play.

The sound is excellent, assuming you like screaming. Most of this game is accentuated by overlapping roars, screams, roars in reaction to screaming, and gunfire; turn it up, and your neighbors will probably be terrified. It works for the atmosphere the game is trying to go for and definitely ups the intensity level of the larger battles, but the sheer amount of deep angry dinosaur noises and high-pitched yelling may cause you to reach for the aspirin.

King Kong isn't a long game, clocking in at around eight hours for a single playthrough. It also doesn't provide huge incentives for replayability – you'll unlock half of the bonuses (mostly concept art) just playing through the game once. The other half come from typing an internet code into the game's website, which requires registration, or replaying segments for points, but the incentive to do either is not particularly great. It also isn't a difficult game; in a possible concession to the movie-going audience it hopes to attract, it ratchets down the difficulty appropriately depending on how many times you die. This means the game goes from "studying the levels" to "cakewalk" in about two V-Rex bites.

Despite that, King Kong is still an exciting, fun game that most people will enjoy. It's a clinic in movie tie-in game making, with broad appeal, interesting gameplay, and stellar presentation. It's not going to set anyone's world on fire, but it's more than people usually expect from this kind of game. It's raised the bar, and it belongs in your collection.

Score: 8.0/10

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