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Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie

For: PSP   Also on: DS, GameBoy

"Play as Man. Play as Kong," says the back of the game box. "Don't bother," say we.

Product: Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie | Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier | Publisher: Ubisoft | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, Adventure, Film/ TV tie- in | Players: 1
Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie PSP, thumbnail 1
If everything you ever saw, everything you ever read, and everything you ever played was Titanic, Revenge of the Sith or had been produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the entertainment industry would not exist. If it did, it would only be as a result of exceptional creative input doing an admirable job of maintaining tension and interest within absurd constraints, which in itself creates a rather interesting dynamic.

But to return to reality, the bottom line is that life isn't a lot of fun if you already know how everything turns out. This is one of the key problems with movie to game tie-ins.

Peter Jackson's King Kong, as it turns out, isn't a lot of fun either, but that's actually nothing to do with the fact you know the end before you start, so we can lose that higher level of discussion entirely. Kong's problem is a lot more closer to ground: it's just not a particularly good game.

The action follows the movie closely (the clue's in the absurdly long title) and sees you taking it in turn to control both New York actor Jack Driscoll and the eponymous hairy ape through the game's 15 levels. You begin on Skull Island in suitably dramatic style, having washed up onto one of its delightful rocky beaches after a boulder the size of Manhattan falls on the landing party. You are alone, unarmed, seemingly unharmed, and soon getting to grips with the controls: the analogue stick handles movement, the four main buttons deal with aiming, while fire becomes a combination of the L and R shoulder buttons.

Sadly, the controls serve as yet another reminder that first person shooter games don't tend to feel particularly well integrated into the PSP's control options. There is the option to swap movement and aiming around, but that feels even less natural than having to use buttons to aim.

Before you fire anything requiring gunpowder, however, you'll have to make do with the spears you'll find thoughtfully scattered around. And before that happens, you have to work out where to go.

It's possible the game's developer was trying to induce a sense of disorientation following your awakening on a rock after another landed on your head, and if so the intention is well and truly realised. A less generous – and, one suspects, more accurate – assessment would be that the use of a colour palette that only seems to consist of various shades of grey (and subsequently green and, occasionally, brown before things finally improve once you get to New York) is probably responsible. The resultant visual mush proves confusing, though at least the refreshing lack of icons cluttering up the screen makes it easier to regain your bearings.

Besides, being lost gives you something to do. Sure, there are puzzles (if you can call picking up a lever from one area of a level and inserting it into a wooden pole located elsewhere so as to open a door a puzzle) but most of the time you wander around very lifeless environments with no interaction other than with the odd over-sized, prehistoric creature that requires shooting or spearing. It's as if the game has been rushed out to coincide with the release of the film on which it is licensed, an assumption that would certainly explain why you'll also experience an uncommon number of audio/visual glitches along your lackluster journey.

Things liven up during the Kong levels, though. Played out in thirdperson, the control issues experienced in Jack's stages are removed, and the ape's athletic abilities (climbing walls, swinging off tree stumps) combined with a simple control method results in satisfyingly flowing sections. Also more enjoyable are the action set-pieces, with Kong's fighting prowess easily outgunning Jack's clumsy shooting in terms of rewarding gameplay. Still, incarnating a 25-foot gorilla to face off decently animated dinosaurs in hand-to-claw combat or to pick up cars and toss them around like pebbles – even in the disappointingly barren streets of New York – was always likely to overshadow stepping into the shoes of a scrawny human with a range of puny pre-WWII weapons at his disposal.

And let's maintain some perspective. The Kong levels stand out because their Jack counterparts are mostly soulless, clunky affairs. And yet the game's worst feature is its length, or rather the lack of it. Most players will finish it quicker than the time it would take a five-year-old to read its title. In fact, the credits sequence feels longer than the actual game experience which, without exaggeration, can be completed in one sitting.

Now, ingeniously, you're then allowed to play any of the levels for points, and this proves more compelling than you might imagine. But unless you've recently been hit on the head by an enormous lump of island, ultimately it's nowhere near enough to make you forget the dull disorientation, the awkward controls and the hugely disappointing experience that is King Kong.

King Kong is on sale now.
Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie
Reviewer photo
Joao Diniz Sanches | 16 December 2005
A brave attempt at mixing adventure and shooting, but one which severely falls short of its ambition, it wouldn't be fit to be associated with the local zoo's chimp, let alone the greatest of great apes.
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