Greetings fellow screeners!
What do Jack Black, Adrian Brody and Naomi Watts all have in common? They all witnessed Peter Jackson shed several pounds of weight before anyone had a chance to scream “Wait, where’s Tom Bombadil?!” Peter Jackson’s latest motion picture extravaganza, “King Kong,” also features all three of these thespians as they venture off to an uncharted island where they then naturally stumble upon the great King Kong. On the smaller screen’s battlefront sits French game designer Michel Ancel, known for his Nintendo 64 series Rayman, who was given the job of adapting the new King Kong. This may sound like a perfect moment to insert the words rushed or unplayable, but thankfully Kong offers much more for a film adaptation. With the brilliant direction by Michel Ancel, Peter Jackson’s King Kong (PS2, GC, XBOX, XBOX 360, PC) is able to create a cinematic experience that is not only entertaining, but well worth playing.
The game is divided into two very distinct perspectives: the first-person shooter view and the action/adventure third-person view. In the first-person view, you play as Jack Driscoll (voiced by Adrian Brody), a screenwriter taken to a faraway island by ambitious director Carl Denham (played by the fitting and entertaining Jack Black) who hopes to make the greatest movie ever made. The star of Denham’s film is the lovely Ann Darrow (played by Naomi Watts) who wastes little time getting lost and then captured by the great King Kong. It’s up to you, a now brutal, spear-throwing screenwriter, to rescue Ms. Darrow and return to civilization. Along the way, you realize how far away civilization truly is as you fail to make friends with disgruntled natives, large crabs, and prehistoric dinosaurs that have been waiting quite some time for filet-mignaomi.
The first-person shooter genre is actually a less common approach to film adaptations and it is used during a large portion of King Kong. Instead of searching for hidden rocket launchers, King Kong offers an endless supply of bones and spears within each level to impale various creatures or dinosaurs with. Guns are a bit of rarity (as they should be on any island filled primarily with Barney and his cannibalistic friends) and usually come equipped with an average of two magazines of ammunition, making life that much more “on the edge” for Jack Driscoll. However, you will never see how much ammo you have left or any general information that one might find in a standard first-person shooter. The cinematic feel that Ancel wanted to achieve comes across beautifully with a widescreen approach and a clean, unobstructed view filled only with what is in front of you. Don’t worry about the lack of knowledge about your condition, however. It becomes quite clear as to when damage has been taken when your view becomes a blurry haze of confusion enhanced by angels singing blissfully. You suddenly realize the meaning of life as you find cover.
The most important aspect of any first-person shooter on a console is how well the camera adapts to your ever-sensitive analog sticks (about the only reason to get the mouse-loving PC version). King Kong does surprisingly well with both its cinematic fixed third-person camera and its smooth first-person control. There are only a few moments of dizziness with the camera caused mainly by very narrow hallways or mass confusion. King Kong is short enough (six to seven hours) to where endless spear throwing never really becomes repetitive, which ultimately makes it a solid and memorable first-person experience. However, the first level that tosses a player into the fur of the mighty King Kong renders the rest of the game a distraction as the player constantly wonders, “When do I play as Kong next?”
The second perspective of the game is without a doubt the most entertaining yet exhausting of the two. While Shadow of the Colossus remains the game with the largest pixel monsters to ever live within a PS2, King Kong holds its own for a film adaptation that is able to create a believable setting where you as King Kong fight enormous tyrannosaurus rexes and swing over vast valleys. There are few games that allow gamers to sit on a couch and roar like a giant gorilla while pounding a controller against his/her chest (this should be avoided at all costs on the XBOX 360 due to the new power button on the controller feature).
King Kong is one of the most visually appealing film adaptations to have ever been made (no, it does not look like Rayman-at all). As previously mentioned, the screen is devoid of any distractions such as a health or ammunition meter, which allows the camera and widescreen view to keep a cinematic feel that actually does look and feel like a movie. There are extremely intense sequences where you are expected to fight off the same T-Rexes that King Kong fights while you are the miniscule Jack Driscoll, or as he prefers to be known as on Skull Island, “the ultimate spear-throwing champion.” The camera is a bit too slow at times for you to enjoy every bit of action that takes place around you, but the game makes sure to slow down the intense-o-meter when it wants to show off a stunning sequence. Revealing even one scripted sequence could ruin a fulfilling experience due to the short nature of the game. There are some sequences, however, that feel like most film adaptation games in which the player is only there to watch the game show off its visual beauty rather than interact with the scene at the same time. Some games, such as Indigo Prophecy, have started to change this disconnected relationship between the game and the player in cinematic sequences, but unfortunately, film adaptations are not given the same amount of development time to achieve such immerse gameplay.
King Kong is able to pull off a lot of these sequences with a realistic presentation, an impressive feat considering the development time and hardware restrictions. There are only a few moments where a character model will look extremely out of place amidst dozens of raptors. This can be due to a lack of rendering speed and a frame rate that is sometimes disappointing. The continuous action in King Kong tends to hide most of these flaws allowing the game to shine a good majority of the time.
Last but certainly not least, the beautiful soundtrack that accompanies the film and the highly talented actors who lend their voices to the game. Jack Black, Adrian Brody, and Naomi Watts all brought plenty of entertaining, intense, and dramatic dialogue that helped enhance Michel Ancel’s cinematic beauty. While the lip-synching that goes along with the dialogue is atrocious, there is usually never a chance to notice it. Kong’s soundtrack, by game composer Chance Thomas (X-Men, Lord of the Rings), has a very stylistic and tense feel to it that one might expect from a powerhouse title including Peter Jackson’s name. Overall, the tense musical background blended with the eerie jungle sounds make for a rather involving experience.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong represents everything that a film adaptation should contain: beautiful cinematic sequences, top-notch voice acting from the thespians in the film, well-rounded gameplay for its genre, and an overall memorable experience like that of its film counterpart. King Kong is short and relatively easy for any level of gamer, however, and is worth no more than a two-day rental, which is thankfully time enough to have played through the story and attempted to swing from your upstairs bedroom to the dinner table without breaking more than three bones. Cinematic gameplay has never been so intense and entertaining for a film adaptation, and anyone that enjoys intensity crossed with large gorillas should give King Kong a swing.
The Good: amazing cinematic experience, highly entertaining, intense soundtrack, fulfilling first-person experience, you play as King Kong…
The Bad: slight glitches in character models, very short (which plays well for a Hollywood adaptation in avoiding flaws),
The Word on the Screen: B
I shall see you all in the new year. For those in need of a Christmas list for movies or games:
1. Shadow of the Colossus
2. Resident Evil 4
3. Prince of Persia 3
4. Perfect Dark Zero
1. Batman Begins
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
3. Cinderella Man
4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin