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Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (Xbox 360)
MSRP: $59.99
Number of Players: 1
Developer: Ubisoft France/Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Growing up, one of my favorite movie monsters of all-time was King Kong. From the original 1933 version to the 1976 remake, there was always something about the big ape that captured my imagination. Director Peter Jackson's 2005 version met some resistance from some people who felt that there's only so many ways you can tell a story about a giant ape who falls in love with a blonde actress. In a sense, they're probably right, but it didn't stop the movie from being a lot of fun.

Jackson is supposedly a big videogame fan. So, when the inevitable merchandising tie-ins included a videogame version of his film, he handpicked developer Michel Ancel, who was responsible for the criminally over-looked Beyond Good and Evil, to develop the game. The result is a mostly good, but sometimes frustrating, visit to Skull Island and, for a few minutes, New York City.

You begin the game as Jack Driscoll, the scriptwriter hired by Carl Denham to plot his latest film. Your first "mission" is to get to Skull Island in one piece via a lifeboat from the S.S. Venture, the ship that brings you to the island. This is merely a way to introduce you to some of the controls of the game. Once you set foot on the island, you're eventually given the task of rescuing actress Ann Darrow from the clutches of Kong, the island's ape "god." As Jack, you'll run through jungles, caves, swamps, and some ancient ruins trying to overcome the island's many dangers. From dinosaurs and giant bats to prehistoric crocodiles and Skull Island natives, you're always trying to escape from something while attempting to solve the game's not-so-difficult puzzles. Most of the time, you'll be trying to figure out a way to burn some underbrush or searching for levers to open gates that block your progress to the next objective.

The game tries to keep everything as atmospheric as possible. One of the first things you'll notice is that, even though this is mostly a first-person adventure, there is no onscreen health meter, aiming reticule or an ammunition counter. If you want to know how much ammo you're currently carrying, pressing the B button will cause Jack (in the voice of actor Adrien Brody) to tell you how much you've got left. If you're injured, the screen will pulse red and you'll need to get away from danger until it returns to normal. If you're injured again in this impaired state, you'll die. Aiming isn't much of a concern because the game never really requires you to be too precise with your shots. The game even tries to rationalize the small amounts of ammuntion and weapons that are scattered across the island by explaining that Captain Englehorn is circling the island in a seaplane and dropping them to aid you in your mission.

Although most of the game is played as Jack, a few levels allow you to play as King Kong himself. Mainly, these Kong interludes serve to break up the stress of the Jack levels, which can be somewhat tense. The Kong levels are simplistic button-mash fests that require Kong to run through levels chasing after giant bats or fighting a number of dinosaur foes while solving extremely basic puzzles. Tapping the Y button during a fight will cause Kong to go into Fury Mode, which causes him to deal out damage at an increased rate and hurl enemies around in a sort-of Matrix-like bullet time. It's quite impressive and a lot of fun to lay the smack down as Kong for a few minutes before returning to the jungle-slogging and dinosaur-avoiding as Jack.

While most of the levels are fun and pretty intuitive, there are a few problems with some of them. Basically, the combination of limited ammunition, the sheer number of enemies you'll face and the character interactions sometimes mean you'll be ready to chuck your Xbox 360 out the window in frustration. Usually the problem levels are those the require you to make sure the members of the crew make it from one area to another in one piece. The limited ammunition means that you'll likely end up resorting to throwing spears at the monsters. After throwing one, you'll find yourself groping around in the heat of the moment trying to find another spear, bone fragment or something else to use as a weapon and, inevitably, someone dies before you can find something suitable to use. My advice is use the spears when you can and save your ammunition for larger enemies.

Another problem involves some of the game's scripted elements. Finishing some levels will require a computer-controlled character to complete an action and, sometimes, they just don't do what they're supposed to do. Several times, I had to replay a level because certain required actions did not take place at the right time or didn't take place at all, rendering me unable to complete an objective or, in one case, finish a level. (In that instance, I waited for Jimmy, the crew's youngest member, to get into Captain Englehorn's seaplane after I'd fought off wave after wave of monsters to get us there. Jimmy just stood on the beach, swatting mosquitoes, and looking into the sky as if waiting for me to do something. After 10 minutes of searching for some hidden objective that I could never find, I restarted the level from a save point and, after I fought the dinosaurs a second time, Jimmy got into the plane without any hesitation.)

All problems aside, Peter Jackson's King Kong is entertaining, especially if you're a fan of the movie and the ape himself. There's a lot of fun to be had tromping around Skull Island and trying to escape the jaws of a V-Rex while searching for Kong's Lair. The game is a multiplatform port and, although the Xbox 360 version is more pleasing to the eye than, say, the PlayStation 2 version, there's not as much of a difference as the $10 higher price tag might logically dictate. If you don't own an Xbox 360, King Kong is not a game that's going to make you run out and buy one. If you're not a fan of the movie, you may want to rent the game as it might not be as captivating to someone who isn't as attached to the subject matter as I am.

I had a blast playing King Kong and, even though it is a relatively short game at roughly seven hours to complete (with all of the acheivements unlocked), it provided me with a good time that complemented the movie experience. I can't name any other movie tie-in games that I've been able to say that about. In that sense, King Kong is probably the best movie tie-in game I've ever played. Considering that so many movie games have been complete crap, that's probably not a statement that's going to win any fans for the game. So, I'll say this: Peter Jackson's King Kong is an above-average action adventure game with a few minor glitches that keep it from being superlative.

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