Peter Jackson knows movies. And he also knows marketing. To create more buzz for his Lord of the Rings trilogy (as if it needed it), the New Zealand director teamed with Electronic Arts to release The Two Towers and The Return of the King as video games weeks before their movie companions hit the big screen.
That wasn’t the innovative part, since studios have gone that route for years. But what did break ground was the stand-alone quality of those projects. Gamers were amazed that a movie-based game (usually limp companion pieces designed only to expand brand awareness) could actually hold its own against top-selling titles. So when news spread about the King Kong game being even better than Jackson’s previous efforts, fans worldwide began salivating.
Which One’s the Movie?
On a purely visual level, Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie is stunning. Its lush landscapes of raw forests and craggy mountainsides supply a cinematic feel. In fact, at times I felt like I was actually in the movie. It doesn’t hurt that gamemaker Ubisoft gives you the option of playing in a widescreen (16:9) format, and that Jackson decided to do away with the typical onscreen gaming options (health bar, ammo supply, weaponry, etc.).
Kong‘s story begins just like the movie, too. Haven’t seen it yet? Jack Driscoll is a New York playwright who’s been hired by filmmaker Carl Denham for his next project. Carl is banking on Jack’s talents, as well as those of down-on-her-luck actress Ann Darrow, to help save his career. But his reckless plan causes them and a couple of shipmates to crash into the shores of Skull Island, a place most thought didn’t exist. It’s on this mysterious island where the crew encounters strange beasts, a savage tribe and a 25-foot ape with a thing for Ann.
Adding a Unique—and Scary—Twist
With a story as familiar as Kong‘s, Jackson wanted the game to be more than just a walkthrough of the movie’s plot, though. To avoid this, he handed the reins over to game creator Michel Ancel (of Beyond Good & Evil fame), allowing him to create additional material exclusively for the game. The result is a project packed with white-knuckle action sequences and horror movie creatures.
It’s those beasts that continually up the scare factor here, routinely jumping out of nowhere to take a swipe at you. For most of the game, you play as Jack in first-person shooter form, which makes a stab from a giant megapede or a swooping “harpie”-like bat that much more jolting. But sporadically you’re given the opportunity to play as Kong while the story follows his adventure with Ann. In this third-person mode, the game takes on a completely different feel as you swing through the jungle and send opponents flying with your massive forearms. And, of course, there are the “boss fights” as Kong faces an assortment of menacing, meat-eating dinosaurs.
You get the picture, right? Since both Jack and Kong face the task of warding off bloodthirsty attackers, violence plays a key role throughout your adventure. With Jack, your only defense is finding (and using) spears, bones, fire or, if you’re lucky, artillery that’s left behind in crates. And with Kong, it’s all-fury-all-the-time as he grapples in hand-to-throat combat.
There’s surprisingly little gore involved—the only blood shown is the occasional mist caused by Kong’s pummeling of flying creatures, and that on animal carcasses lying around (as scenery to set the eerie mood). Still, the game doesn’t miss the chance to show spears lodging in torsos, or an attacker reeling back from a shotgun blast. It should also be noted that a couple of levels feature Kong bowling over humans, both savages and city folk.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Jackson and Ancel deserve credit for holding back on the gore, especially since they could’ve easily capitalized on it given the game’s assorted cast of grisly creatures and its macabre tone. What they didn’t hesitate to include is profane language. God’s and Christ’s names are repeatedly misused, including a few instances in combination with “d–n.”
Come to think of it, such language is one of the movie’s biggest downfalls, too. On the big screen, Jackson excelled at updating a classic tale with state-of-the-art special effects, a little bit of ingenuity and a whole lot of action. But where he faltered was in showing restraint in terms of violence and language. Looks like his game ends up mirroring the main attraction just a little too closely.