King Kong Xbox 360 Review
Ladies and gentlemen I give you Kong! Well now that we have that almost obligatory intro line out of the way, let’s start talking about what could be classed as a dream collaboration between the world of gaming and the glitzy world of Hollywood. Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (to give it its full title) is the result of a partnership between Peter Jackson (who gets top billing on the games cover) and the fantastic Michel Ancel (whose name appears nowhere on the cover *shakes fist*). In the run up of the release of the movie and with the hype machine in full force, King Kong has been released on so many consoles that it would balance out scales if Kong was sitting on one end and the consoles were on the other, but for this review we will be focusing on the Xbox360 version which is without doubt the best version of the game your money can buy. The big question is just how good is it and is it fun to play?
Everyone knows the basic story of King Kong don’t they? For those that don’t here is a basic summary of how it all begins (don’t worry it wont ruin the game for you). Carl Denham (Jack Black), Jack (Adrien Brody) and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) go to a mysterious island called Skull Island (appealing name for the tourists isn’t it!). Carl needed to go there as a film studio is about to close down his next project (which would be bad!). Anyway, it really doesn’t matter to you how they got to or why they need to go to the island; all we care about is that a person called Jack and a gigantic ape called Kong are on this island, and saints be praised we get to control both of them! The game itself begins with you getting out of a ship and being lowered into a rowboat as you get ready to take your first steps onto Skull Island. Of course it’s not going to be that easy, and would you believe that if some stuff goes wrong, you will end up waking up with your face planted into the sand of a beach on Skull Island. When you come to, you realise that you are in the shoes of Jack.
The first thing that is instantly noticeable when you start moving around in first person perspective is that the game has no HUD whatsoever. Not one graphic appears on screen to tell you where you are, what your next objective is, or how much ammo you have at any point throughout the game. All these important details are given to you in more subtle ways from your comrades or by Jack himself shouting out some info, which usually is about whether he has enough ammo left in his gun or not. Health is kept track of by on-screen cues as the screen flashes red if you are severely hurt.
The Jack portion of the game plays a bit different than most other FPS’s out there. As Jack you have the ability to only hold one gun at a time, which is a nice realistic approach. Ammo pick-ups are also given the realistic treatment as well, as you pick them up from drop crates which are dotted all around the island. Other weapons like bones and spears can be used to fight creatures; these are also dotted around the island and never feel too much out of place. The game also sticks to the realism even more by making you have to throw a spear you may be holding before it lets you take out your gun again. Most of this shooting and tossing of spears is done via the shoulder triggers. This may seem weird at first but can be very intuitive once you get used to the method. When you face a giant T-Rex though, all sense and reason goes straight out the window and you throw absolutely everything at it to try and get to safety.
After a few chapters you will get to control Kong (which is personally my favourite parts of the game). The layout completely changes while in third person, with most of the fighting mechanics being mapped to the face buttons. The face buttons are also context sensitive, meaning you can perform different actions while standing in certain areas. The basic charge attacks, sweeping punches, grabs and throws are all there, but there are also lots of other cool moves possible with Kong. One of these is Fury mode which lets you cause more damage on each enemy you hit (you have to tap Y to go into Fury Mode) but my favourite amongst Kong’s moves have to be his finishing moves where he ends a fight by doing some devastating manoeuvres to whomever he is fighting; almost all of these are downright spectacular and are a great addition to the game.
While Kong is not fighting he has got to navigate through the jungles of Skull Island and he does so with lots of grace using very cinematic camera angles and a Prince of Persia-like control method. While Jumping off cliff walls and grabbing onto tree trunks and ledges to make your way though the levels may look great, it is also a very A to B linear task that can get a bit boring but it looks so fantastically epic you should enjoy most of the tasks that the game sets you. The game also contains a few puzzle elements, which are not really very challenging but are a nice variation on the other tasks the game sets you.
The game is undeniably beautiful, and is perhaps one of the most beautiful games to appear on a TV Screen. This fact is made even more prominent if you have a HDTV running at 720p. From your first look at Skull Island to the glimpse of New York, you will say “wow” at many points throughout the game. Bump-mapping is out in great force bringing great depth to everything you see in the game, especially during the Skull Island parts of the game. Everything about the environments seem like they are alive. The flora and fauna of the jungle all look lush and are a sight to behold.
Lighting is also of a high, or should I say next-gen level and is some of the best I have ever seen in a game. The light bounces off and casts shadows on all terrain realistically, and looks beautiful when it breaks through gaps in the trees above. Fog is used in the game but unlike most games it is not there to hide pop-ups; it is there to add to the feel of the environments and give them a hazy, ominous look. The camera is mostly perfect and has only one or two hiccups while playing in third person with Kong. Finally let me speak about the animation which is in a word fantastic; all of the characters look like they have weight and volume to them and don’t feel like they are just soulless additions to the blossoming environments.
As you would expect, the game draws a lot from the movie in terms of music but incidentally all of the titles music in is created solely for use in the game by composer Chance Thomas. All of the tracks are expertly chosen and set the right tone for specific environments. While walking around, the music is eerie, creepy and has a foreboding feel as you wait for something to happen. While some action is happening on screen, it changes to epic high tempo composition which gets your heart-rate going, ready for a fight. The music is so well done I think it would be impossible for it to be bettered no matter how hard they tried. If you are not interested in the game but still want to get you hands on the music Chance Thomas’ work is available over on the King Kong website free of charge via this link and I would advise you do download it if you have the time.
Finished Downloading? No! Well we you should have but read on anyway. Both the sound effects and the voice action are of an equally high level to the music. Ever wondered how loud of T-Rex roar? Well get reading to find out as it shakes your speakers and tries to lift you out of your seat. Kong is equally as loud as his big green friend as he thumps at his chest and roars a mighty roar from his lungs. To accompany this, other sound effects such as the bumps and crashes of enemies falling down sound great as do all the other little extras which many gamers wont notice but go to great lengths to immerse you in Kong’s world. Like I said before, the voice acting is great with full voice work from the film cast. The words feel like they have meaning to them, and effort is put into each and every line delivered.
The longevity of King Kong is perhaps the game’s one and only down point. While the game contains 33 separate chapters to play through, none of them are very long and the majority of them can be completed in less than 10 minutes. If I were to set an amount of hours on how long the game will take you, I would say it clocks in at around the 6-8 hour mark; of course depending on your own skill you could raise or lower this mark slightly. To make you want to play that little bit more there are a few extra challenges and bonuses to get.
Finally there are also few achievements to attain to improve your Gamerscore. There is in fact an extra 1000 points if you unlock everything. The achievements range from simply completing the game, to performing specifically in gaming task such as using the food-chain system to escape death or getting Kong to destroy the village of the Natives. All in all, the game could have been a bit longer but while sticking so close to the film’s narrative, this would have been a hard task to accomplish.
Although we may all like to criticize film-to-game translations, it has to be said that a lot has been done to rectify this transgression over recent years and King Kong is a huge (pun not intended) step in the right direction. King Kong does very little wrong and the overall experience is entertaining albeit short and linear. It puts the gamer in the shoes (sometimes big and hairy ones) of the film’s two main characters and guides you through the film’s big moments.
King Kong does not think of itself as a game; it feels more like an “on the rails” movie letting you control certain parts of the action but propelling you to a fixed outcome. It is a hugely engrossing game that compels you to keep playing, wanting you to finish it as quick as you can even if you already know how the story pans out. While it is not the best game ever nor is it Michel Ancel’s best, it is a hell of a lot of fun to play especially if you are a fan of the film. I only wish there were more Kong levels in the game as they are undoubtedly the most fun to play.
8.5 out of 10