Survive Skull Island in Michel Ancel's take on King Kong.
Since it was released three weeks before the movie, I was afraid that Ubisoft's King Kong would spoil most of the film's big scenes. However, now that I've seen the new movie, it turns out that the story in the game has a significantly different sequence of events, with fewer characters. The film's actors have also brought their talents to the game adaptation with plenty of unique dialogue.
From the start, the game places you in the first-person perspective of screenwriter Jack Driscoll (played by Adrien Brody) riding to the shore of Skull Island to make Carl Denham's film. The life boat is shared by actress Ann Darrow, Denham, and Venture crew member Hayes, who are the main characters that will journey with you off and on throughout the majority of the game. The intense pace of the game paired with the wealth of voice acting gives the game the feel of a Universal Studios theme park ride; it's a sense supported by the art galleries that you unlock, which are also navigated in first-person, with concept art painted on cave-like walls and character models on display.
One of the first things players will recognize is that while the models and textures are some of the best seen on GameCube, the animation falls short. There are incredible vistas that bring the film's concept art to life, and the textures for the actors' faces aren't too bad. However, one of the first scenes in the game is a close up of Ann, and it's just hard to believe anyone even attempted to match her lips to the dialogue. Animation is a bit stiff throughout the game, and Kong's fur looks mottled. Who knew Kong had started to gray so young? Altogether, the game's graphics are a mixed experience, leaving you in awe one minute and grimacing the next.
Gameplay switches between Driscoll and Kong. Jack's first-person levels take most of the spotlight, with Kong getting increasing exposure towards the end of the game. The first-person levels have a survival feel to them, with some simple puzzles and strategies. While you're given guns from time to time, your ammunition is very limited, leaving you to find and throw spears and sharp bones, saving your gun as back-up for when enemies are coming too quickly. Spears can be used several times before they break, and they actually tend to be more effective than most firearms. There are a couple of other strategies you can use against the dinos and giant bugs. You can light a spear on fire to burn dry brush that enemies might be hiding in. Sometimes there are non-threatening creatures that can be used as bait to lure in the enemies, so you can toss one baited spear into the brush, then grab another spear to light on fire and start your barbecue.
The game doesn't have any visible life bar. Instead, when you've taken damage, the screen will get red and blurry while the sound becomes distant. If you take too much damage in this condition, you'll die, but if you can get out of the way for a while, you'll make a full recovery. At times, you'll have to fight frantically as you watch an animal grab your leg and start dragging you away. You'll also have to protect your crewmates if they're under attack, and you'll lose if one of them dies.
The most intense moments in the game come during Jack's levels. Since you are so vulnerable, each enemy encounter has a sense of danger to it, but there also moments when you might need to "lure" a V-Rex away from your comrades or even fend two of them off as you race down river. There's also a huge stampede of giant long-necked sauropods that you'll have to run through just to find a burning fire to light your spear and burn away obstacles. You'll also watch Ann be offered up to Kong from Jack's view, tied to a stake and unable to do anything but struggle against your bonds.
Kong's levels are played in third-person and are a mix of platforming and brawler mechanics. Usually, you'll need to chase dinosaurs that have snatched Ann by swinging through trees, running along walls, and climbing vines. Then when you catch up to her, you'll have a showdown with either some V-Rexes or larger winged creatures. Kong can pretty much just slap away the smaller animals or work himself up into a frenzy that will slow down time to give you more power and accuracy. The larger animals will require you to use a more powerful dash technique, as well as cool finishing moves that allow you to snap a spine, wing, or jaw of the creature you're fighting. While the battles are kind of cool, the significance is lost in repetition after Ann gets snatched away again and you go through the same simple strategies to take out yet another group of V-Rexes.
More interesting are the moments when you actually cooperate with Ann. Some passages you come across are blocked with brush, so you'll set Ann down long enough for her to grab a spear and burn a path while you fend off attacking enemies. Then you pick her up again and move on. Of course, what's really fun is getting to smash things. You'll have a couple of chances to bust up structures the Skull Islanders are attacking from, and Kong has all of New York to himself to throw cars, climb buildings, and swat down planes.
Overall, King Kong is a pretty fun game, although it does feel a bit dragged out and repetitive once in a while. There isn't an auto-save either, so you'll need to remember to save frequently, which can be done from the pause menu. Once you've completed the game, a new scoring system will encourage you to replay the levels in order to unlock all the bonuses and "Save Kong".