Peter Jackson should have the nickname 'Midas' because he is getting the reputation, anything he touches turns to gold. Lord of the Rings for instance, while some people didn't like his alterations to Tolkien's classic fantasy tale, the films were a rip-roaring success.
Enter Jackson in collaboration with Ubisoft and you have a recipe for a good solid game, based on his up-and-coming big Gorilla movie: King Kong, another classic tale retold with Jackson's meticulous attention to directing detail. With the full support of Weta and the cast of the movie Ubisoft is going for the jugular on the Xbox 360 with their launch title.
The Kong game mirrors the story in the movie and gives two unique viewpoints in terms of gameplay elements. To begin with you play the role of Jack Driscoll a friend of a particularly lunatic directory, Carl Denham. Denham drags Jack, himself and a whole host of other people including the lovely Ann Darrow to the remote Skull Island in search of the best location for his new movie.
While on route to the island things go horribly wrong and that's where the adventure kicks off for real.
Kong attempts to do things a lot differently from your average run and gun shooter game, by combining two distinct styles of play together seamlessly. At first you'll play in the role of Jack, this provides the FPS style gameplay and secondly at key points in the story you'll be able to let go as Kong himself, putting all kinds of Big Monkey hurt on your opponents.
The best way to describe both sections of the gameplay are intense, the FPS element gives you only a few moments to breathe before it throws you into near-impossible odds and expects you to survive, but realistically that's what has happened to Jack and the others, they're stuck on a dangerous monster laden island with no way off. Fortunately Captain Englehorn has access to a Seaplane, so you'll spot him zooming around the island dropping off supplies for Jack.
Kong brings to the fore a new gameplay dynamic that I can see being used in a lot more games, there is no HUD and there's no crosshair. That's right; all the things that we are used to seeing in a FPS are gone. A quick tap of the B button and Jack will let you know how much ammo he has.
If you get hit, the screen will flash red and you'll hear Jack's heartbeat increase - the more you get hit, the worse this becomes until of course you're in serious trouble and shuffle off the mortal coil. The game tracks your progress through fairly forgiving save points so you don't have to tread old ground too often.
Jack can pick up bones from piles littered around the area, using them as makeshift spears when he's out of ammo for a weapon. There are also spears that Jack can use, these can be lit on fire from various sources and several of the game's puzzles require you to do just that to progress any further.
Jack's sections require you to think before you shoot and conserve ammo, they are extremely atmospheric and some of them border on the downright difficult - the sense of achievement is however worth it if you persevere with the section and beat the odds. You can also target characters like Hayes, requesting their weapon or giving them one of your own if you want a different one.
As for the weapons, you have a pistol, there's the obligatory shotgun and of course later on a sniper rifle and Tommy gun make up the arsenal of possible weapons.
Jack can carry only one gun at a time and this makes for a much more tactical gameplay experience.
Kong has several un-lockable achievements that can be tracked via Xbox LIVE or offline. They will add to your overall gamer score and prove to the world just how cool you are.
When you take on the role of Kong you enter a third person exploration/battle game that is quite reminiscent of the Prince of Persia series. You can climb, shimmy and leap around to your hearts content and the puzzles become more acrobatic. Kong's sheer strength and martial prowess are tested in a variety of ways, again with no HUD or indication of health meters. The screen performs the same way and flashes red if Kong takes too many hits from the game's enemies.
As Kong you are given access to a simplified but still well designed battle system, allowing for grabs, slams and a whole range of Big Monkey hurt. Including a few taps of the Y button to enter a rage mode where Kong can inflict more damage and cause more pain than normal. Some enemies can be picked up and thrown, used as a club or generally beaten around until they submit and it's this sense of power that makes these sections fulfilling.
But its not all smash and bash, there are sections where Kong has to navigate the overgrown jungle environment, one part has you chasing down the fleeing Ann, who rather than submitting to Big Monkey adoration would run off and prefer to act as chow for the various dangerous inhabitants of Skull Island.
Expect to do some protecting as well as both Jack and Kong are saddled with people that just won't find a place to hide, Carl Denham, Hayes and crew are all particularly good at getting themselves into trouble. Ann seems to have the edge on all these adventurous men since as I played she managed to kill more monsters than me, with just a stick.
Ok. I exaggerate but not that much.
Kong will go toe-to-toe with the great Tyrannosaurus Rex and other Dinosaurs, and for this particular game Ubisoft have spared no expense in getting the WWE feel of Big Monkey vs. Monster battles from the old films, down to a 'T'. Kong has some bone-crushing slams, and some brutal jaw-breaks and back-breaking moves in these battles and they are extremely exhilarating, better one could say than watching 'The Rock' perform the 'People's Elbow' for the millionth time.
We're into the next generation of consoles and there's no Jean Luc in sight. But is Kong on the 360 a step above its other console incarnations, such as Kong on the Xbox? The answer to this is a resounding yes, there are noticeable graphical improvements on the 360 version of the game and they're not just a tiny bit better either. Its obvious from the outset that Kong on the 360 has been Ubisoft's baby and they've put a lot of work into getting the graphics as sharp and atmospheric as they could using the game engine.
The lighting and graphical effects on the 360 version of the game are top notch, with a great amount of detail in the environments and the special effects. The water is gorgeous and in a battle versus two T-Rexes, Kong was thrown into a pool by a vicious tail swipe, the water blasted up and showered towards the screen.
The game looks great on a standard TV and even better on a HDTV as we would expect from Microsoft's new console.
With a step up the polygon ladder Kong swings into the forefront over the normal Xbox version once more. You can see the attention to detail on these models, the humans and the weapons look extremely good but it's the monsters themselves that almost leap out of the screen at you. Kong is gorgeously modelled and textured, with layers of bump mapping and other trickery. The same can be said for the various adversaries that range from tiny spiders to massive angry slavering Tyrannosaurs, the attention to detail is something worth seeing.
I could have used the word levels but in this case I feel environments is more suited to the game, the Jungle and later on the City area has been brought to life with a great attention to detail and each rock, tree, building or incidental element is rendered up in jaw-dropping clarity. The game's environments are linear and this isn't a bad thing because it's not billed as a go-anywhere do-anything kind of game but they are laid out in such a way as to give you a great sense of space when its needed and tiny claustrophobic passages make some really great ambush spots for the odd monster or two.
With good looking graphics and atmospheric environments you need something to bring the characters to life, Kong has fine animations and the game brims with nice touches in that department. The human characters are animated very well, with realistic movements and motions but the monsters steal the show as far as I'm concerned with the big bad boy himself Kong being at the top of the animation tree.
King Kong himself is beautifully animated with lifelike motions and a broad range of moves, facial expressions and features that bring him to life. Next to Kong the Tyrannosaurs and other Dinosaurs are superbly brought to life with the same detail in their animations, the combat between the heroic Gorilla and his adversaries makes good use of the animation system and delivers a thrilling experience.
The human AI is passable; I have seen it get stuck at times especially near to the start of the game when Carl Denham became attached to a wall, refused to move and the game ground to a halt. I was fortunately able to poke him a little and get things moving again. Your companions aren't too bad in a fight, though most of the time it is Ann that will rack up the kills when confronted by monsters, she has a mean vicious streak and is a fine shot with a spear.
Allies will pick up weapons from around the environment, grabbing spears and lengths of bone to use as weapons. If you give them a gun, they'll do their very best not to waste the ammunition.
The various monsters have differing levels of intelligence and AI, the Tyrannosaurus is a killing machine when you're playing as Jack, unstoppable and deadly but when you play as Kong you must still keep your wits about you, since if there's more than one they'll work as a team to bring you down hard.
If you're attacked by a pack of Dinosaurs then you're in for a fun time as either Jack or Kong, since again the game's AI adapts based on your actions. If you're beating the strongest then they'll run off to regroup or try and flank you to get a better position. In Kong's sections they'll try and bring you down by leaping on your back and harassing you, fortunately Kong can really dish out the hurt against the smaller Dinosaurs and this will give you a break to rethink your strategy.
It is worth remembering that the island functions on a 'food chain' and you can exploit this by using the AI against itself, as Jack. Shoot a strange bat creature and the big T-Rex intent on making you a toothpick, might just stop to chew on that instead.
Kong has great sound; the atmospherics of the Jungle are a great counterpoint to the crack of a gun, or the roar of King Kong himself as he battles, snarling and fierce monsters in the depths of his homeland. It takes advantage of Dolby 5.1 and is replete with a library of sounds drawn directly from the movie source or created especially for the game.
An evocative and ever-changing score that once more has been mastered for the game, drawn from the movie and isn't intrusive or loud. It provides a subtle background to the action and adventure.
Love him or loathe him, this game has Jack Black in it and the rest of the cast of the movie. There's no much you can say except that the movie cast does a good job of making their game alter-egos come alive.
Kong is LIVE aware and joins the rest of the new library of games, that Microsoft promises are all LIVE aware, allowing for updates, scoreboards and other features. There is no multiplayer or split-screen component to the game.
No Multiplayer capacity
Learning curve can be quite steep
Kong is one of the first generation of new console games that uses a small percentage of the Xbox 360's power. It looks a lot better than the Xbox incarnation of the game and the 360 version is slightly harder in places than the others.