Navigate a dangerous lost island in pursuit of your leading lady.
PC Release: November 21, 2005
By Ian Coppock
One of the oldest truths in the world of video games is that game adaptations of movies are absolute shit. You see it all the time these days; movie studios commission what must be a team of monkeys to shit out a sub-par tie-in to a major motion picture, to capitalize on the movie’s hype without actually putting in any effort. 1982’s video game adaptation of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial is the most infamous example of this trend. Released on the Atari 2600, the game was absolute garbage, but sold like hotcakes because of the popular movie it was advertising.
Today, however, I wish to challenge this truth with a video game movie tie-in that is actually (gasp) quite good, or at least far superior to what we usually see in this genre. Peter Jackson’s King Kong: the Official Game of the Movie (or King Kong for short) is that game.
Because this game is no longer available for digital download and remaining CD copies are priced at a small fortune, this review will be less a consumer-focused advocacy plan and more a critical analysis of how to make a movie tie-in video game good. Peter Jackson’s Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of Peter Jackson’s Movie, by Peter Jackson, is a video game retelling of Jackson’s own 2005 retelling of the classic King Kong film.
Just like in the movie, a 1930s-era film crew led by Carl Denham (Jack Black) arrives at a forgotten island to shoot a movie, only to find that the island is inhabited by savage natives, hungry dinosaurs and the titular ape-monster himself. Kong takes a liking to actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), and spirits her away. As screenwriter-turned-guerrilla fighter (or gorilla fighter, ba-dum-psh) Jack Driscoll, it’s up to you to save Ann and escape the island’s prehistoric horrors.
Jack’s levels are the classic FPS setup; first-person with lots of guns and a few environmental weapons to lob around. As in the Call of Cthulhu game I reviewed a few weeks ago, the game goes for a minimal heads-up display, with no health or ammo bars. Unlike Cthulhu, King Kong actually implements them well, with lots of clearly defined sounds indicating where you’re at with both resources. The successful implementation of this system makes the game more atmospheric, without sacrificing playability.
As King Kong‘s marketing material was quick to parade, you also spend a few levels playing as Kong himself. These levels are in third-person and typically comprise big brawls with other animals, including a thrilling recreation of the V-Rex battle from the film. As Kong, players also spend time destroying buildings a la Godzilla, and running tree-swinging obstacle courses through the jungle.
Playing as Kong was the best part of the game; the developers managed to capture the experience of being a giant angry gorilla with every shaking screen and every mighty wallop. It’s a shame that these levels were so few and far between; most of the game is Jack running around in the jungle shooting dinosaurs.
Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing on its own, but it does become monotonous. You fight through endless mazes of jungles and ruins for most of the game’s 10-hour length. If you run out of ammo, there’s always a conveniently placed pile of bones to draw rib spears from.
Though King Kong‘s visuals are a bit blocky by modern standards, they were cutting-edge at the time. Even today I can appreciate the effort that went into the game’s lighting and weather effects. Playing as both Jack and Kong is not an innovative experience, but it is remarkably smooth, especially for a movie game.
Now that I’ve given you the basic idea of how the game looks and plays, what makes it an especially good movie game? Lots of games at least attempt mechanics like the ones I’ve described here, but what makes the game truly jump out from its mediocre genre?
Well, firstly, the game’s voice cast is the actual cast from the film. Everyone from the movie signed on to voice their video game adaptations, meaning that the voice acting was almost universally decent, another rarity for movie tie-ins. It also made the game feel much more like the film; most games like this only manage to capture a shallow facsimile of their host movie’s look and feel. Not this one.
Another crucial element to this game’s quality is changing the story to suit a video game format. Too many movie games try to stretch five-minute scenes into hour-long levels, with disastrous results. Even worse is when random plot elements or enemies are shoehorned in to inflate game time, but only accomplish making the game feel that much cheaper and more ridiculous. King Kong‘s story was written by Peter Jackson, the same dude who did the movie, and he was helped in rewriting the story by, of all people, Michel Ancel, who directed Rayman and Beyond Good & Evil. Together, Jackson and Ancel created a new story that, while similar to the film’s, is altered to suit the structure of a video game. I’ve never seen another movie adaptation of a film do this, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why they’re all terrible.
The third and perhaps most obvious reason why the game was a success is because it had more money poured into it. Studios get a bit cutthroat when merchandising their movies, and that’s why we see so many shitty movie games. But, Jackson was apparently content with investing enough cash to actually make a quality game. It just goes to show that the more you put into something, the more you get out of it.
So yeah. The key ingredients to a good movie game are: actually putting some goddamn money into the project; rewriting the story to suit a video game format; and bringing in at least some of the movie cast to ensure quality voice acting and increase the feeling of immersion.
In the world of movie games, King Kong is a flower growing from a pile of cow feces, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great video game in and of itself. Most levels are very linear and heavily scripted, and the game itself is a bit long for my liking. Jack’s shooting is rather generic and the game’s color palette seems to consist almost exclusively of gray-green patterns.
But, Kong’s gameplay was quite innovative for its time, and if I haven’t said it enough already, King Kong is one of the rarest things in the world: a game adaptation of a movie that doesn’t suck shit harder than the Northern Metropolitan Sewer System.
Like I said up top, there are no official digital downloads for this game. I’m sure there are a few floating around on forums and torrent sites, but I haven’t bothered to find one. My CD copy doesn’t work on current systems, so I wouldn’t recommend getting the game that way either, especially with how outrageously priced it can be.
I reviewed this game not necessarily to recommend it to you as a purchase, but because I found the game to be pretty decent and wanted to dissect how it successfully pulled off emulating a movie. With that said, next week we’re diving back into more classic games and more serious recommendations. I might go watch King Kong now, or perhaps Jurassic Park.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.