Peter Jackson's King Kong review
Donkey Kong ain't got nothing on this
Ubisoft hitting their stride with a surprisingly great licensed game.
If I had to choose between the 1933 version and the 2005 version of King Kong to watch, I'd choose the 1933 one in a heartbeat. Sure, the visuals have aged about as well as you'd expect a human born in 1933 to, but at least it gets shit done, while the 2005 version, as pretty as it looks, drags like crazy at the beginning and, outside of a few scenes, is pretty boring to watch. The 1933 version, on the other hand, has great dialogue, great pacing and just feels like a lot of fun to watch. In saying that, the movie based on the 2005 version was very, very well made. In fact, the first time through was one of the best experiences I had in a while, and for a game based on a relatively boring movie to do that, it really shows how talented some game developers really are. I mean it's made by Ubisoft, who I reckon made the best games of the sixth generation (Rayman 3, Beyond Good And Evil, the Splinter Cell series, the Sands Of Time trilogy), so it's no surprise that this would be a damn good game too.
The ape wonder of the world.
Carl Denham is a film maker who is in deep shit, as his latest film is about to be canned by the studio. But he gets a brilliant idea - why not take his screenwriter, Jack, and a struggling actress, Ann Darrow (among other people), to the mysterious Skull Island? Maybe he get get a hell of a film from that island! I mean, if your film had realistic dinosaurs, monsters and giant apes, it'd probably get people going! Like Half Life, a lot of the story is told in game instead of through cutscenes, but unlike Half Life, you don't get a whole heap of story. I guess it makes sense, given that there's not much to work with. The story of King Kong isn't exactly a complex one no matter what version you watch. In saying that, it assumes that you've seen the movie... now, it's not just the fact that it's lazy because it's like they couldn't be *bleep*ed adding more story (and the way it's presented is actually no intrusive - shit, if only they played the Half Life games, they'd know how well this style works), but it's also the fact that this released a few weeks before the movie came out. It's a bit silly of Ubisoft to do that, but it's out and has been for years now, so that's at moot point. But assuming you've seen the movie and only giving you a basic outline is lazy. It's a shame, because I liked the way it was told. It was seamless and it kept the action going, which I think more games should try.
Survival of the fittest.
For the most part, you play as Jack in a first person shooter setting, but it's not exactly in the way that you're thinking of. Instead of being an army man decked out with guns out the ass, you're a screenwriter who makes do with what he can find, or rather, what the sea captain drops off of his seaplane. I mean, the structure will seem familiar because you're going along linear pathways (despite being on an island!) and have to fight off some bad guys on the way, but the way you go about it is different. There isn't a whole hell of a lot of ammo laying about, so each shot really needs to count. Same with objects like spears - if you find a pack of three, that's all you'll have on you until you find another pack of three. Oh, and consider this - you can only carry a gun and a spear at once. Even modern first person shooters give you more room than that, but then again, I'd say that this is one of the few instances of realism actually working in its favor instead of just making a simple thing a pain in the ass, because it does force you to strategize. Each encounter is made more interesting due to the fact that you need to conserve your ammo and use your spears to kill enemies - either through impaling them or using fire (if there's any) to scare them away. That, or with the sharp bones that you'll find throughout (which can be used infinitely). Either way, this element of strategy is what gives enemy encounters a lot of steam and feels more satisfying than a generic shooting gallery.
In terms of enemies, you'll mostly encounter 3 different sizes of dinosaur - little raptors that attack in packs, medium raptors that are fast and can kick your ass if you don't kill them quickly, and V-rexs which you can't kill... like, at all. Encountering a V-rex is actually somewhat scary as you feel helpless because you can't lay a scratch on them, but that's when the true face of combat shows. You can distract enemies with the flesh of fallen dinosaurs or scare them off with fire. Being resourceful is the name of the game here. Oh, and V-rexs are fast mother*bleep*ers. It's not just because their legs are huge, but they move fast too, so any encounter with them is like a real life or death situation, and if you can't get them away from you, you're as good as a snack for them. In many ways, this feels like a spiritual successor to the Dino Crisis series, in that dinosaurs can be scary, and that it's all about survival. Actually, if Ubisoft had acquired the rights to the series instead of the King Kong movie and just had you control Jack, this could very well pass itself off as Dino Crisis 4 (or the real Dino Crisis 3 for those who hated that game). Oh yeah, there are other enemies like giant millipedes, giant bats that look more like gargoyles and heaps of other monsters, but their method of attack is fairly similar to how the dinosaurs attack, and you basically just chuck spears or shoot them. It's really the dinosaurs that stand out in this game anyway.
Eventually, you will be able to play as the ape himself, King Kong. These sections play more like a beat em up in which you beat the shit out of other giant animals, especially those bloody V-rexs that Jack couldn't kill. Kong can punch, grab and snap necks, among a couple of combos, so while there isn't a lot to his arsenal, what he does have works well enough, plus there's a decent variety of enemies that really show their colors when you play as Kong, so the combat never gets old. You'll sometimes have moments where you have to mash a button in order to deliver the finishing blow, and while I honestly never liked mashing a button until it becomes unusable just for an attack, the satisfaction left by the actual attack (plus the fact that you aren't mashing like a madman for long anyway) is more than enough to warrant that. You'll also have sections where you swing across vines, and it's handled pretty well as you press the button at the right time to swing, and it becomes a test of your reflexes as these situations can get a bit frenetic. But while those situations can be fun at the best of times, come on, beating big monsters up is way cooler and kicking some V-rex ass is about as satisfying as it gets.
Never knew such a foreboding island could be so beautiful.
This is a very good looking game. One design choice that stands out is a lack of a heads up display, which lets you get a really good view of the island without numbers and vector images getting in the way, and honestly, I don't blame them for doing this. If nothing else, these are easily the best graphics on the PS2. There's a lot of attention to detail in the designs of the island and the models. There are fine details like cracks and other little things you'd expect to find on an island like this, but they're all appropriately used, and when in tandem with the dark yet serene colors, it really immerses you into the world, which adds to the atmosphere that this game is conveying. The models are especially well done, particularly King Kong and his many finely detailed hairs. There's always a sense of scale when it comes to everything, particularly the dinosaurs. The smaller ones feel like small fries and the bigger ones... well, holy shit, they are most certainly big. There's just a lot of detail put into this game's graphics and while there are plenty of better looking games on more powerful consoles, this is the best that you'll find on the PS2 in terms of realistic graphics.
I am King Kong, hear me roar.
The sound design is spot on. Well, maybe not the epic choir that plays when you die - I'm getting eaten by a dinosaur, no need to make it dramatic! Might be amusing the first time but it just gets silly after a while. But beyond that, yeah, these guys really have a good ear for this stuff. The music either sucks you into the atmosphere when you're sightseeing or it really gets you going during combat. It always manages to capture the perfect atmosphere - that everything is a matter of life and death; that there may be a dinosaur lurking around somewhere, waiting for you to slip up so that they can have lunch; and the sense that you'll be kicking some ass. The voice acting is pretty good. The actors from the movie reprise their roles as their characters in the game, and they do a pretty good job of getting their dialogue across while feeling like we're in the movie (and to its credit, it does have good acting, it always feels like I'm in their world). Oh, and the roars of the dinosaurs and Kong himself? It feels intense the first time hearing them, definitely, and that's what adds to the atmosphere when you play as Jack. Overall, this is some pretty damn good sound design we got here.
Head to Skull Island or stay in America?
King Kong is a very, very good game. Maybe a little short - 6 hours is all you need to beat this game - but I feel that it's at the right length. It's replaying it that'll be a bit of a bother because everything here loses their impact the second time around. Ah well, the first time around is that *bleep*ing good that it doesn't matter all that much. Whether it's the fun as hell King Kong sections or the surprisingly immersing survivalist Jack sections that could easily pass itself off as a Dino Crisis sequel, the game is a treat. Never mind that it's a licensed game - it's one of the few that's not just good in light of its pedigree, but is also a legitimately excellent game. Really, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by avoiding this game. Unless you stopped collecting consoles after the Nintendo 64 or simply skipped the sixth generation and didn't get an Xbox 360, you should definitely get this game for your collection and play through it, and even if you do have it, play it again, because it's just *bleep*ing awesome and deserves to be played.
The way it's told is excellent. Now if only it didn't spare some big details, expecting us to watch the movie to find out more.
A great mix of shooting and beating dinosaurs up. The shooting segments feel more like a survival horror than Resident Evil 4 did, while the beat em up sections were a lot of fun.
Although I don't like mashing a button just for a big attack, the controls work out pretty well.
A lot of attention to detail is paid here. The textures look great and the colors work really well.
Excellent sound design. The music really suits the moment and the voice acting is great.
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