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Not-so-great ape
Peter Jackson’s King Kong has a long title, a big monkey and not much else

"I just hope the movie is better than this game. That will be the thought of anyone who plays Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie before seeing the movie. The game’s not horrible, it’s just that we’ve all come to expect so much more from anything labeled "Peter Jackson." And though the movie Kong may be the film he really wanted to make, the game, save for the too-brief moments when you play as the beast himself, is basically Turok with scarier monsters and slightly better graphics.

The majority of the action takes place on Skull Island, whose cliffs and rocks look an awful lot like those in the Middle Earth of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Before you can play as the monkey, you have to play as Jack, a writer hired by Hollywood hack Carl Denham (Jack Black in full-on "Two Kings" mode). For the first few stages, all you’re doing is running around in first-person shooter mode as the AI characters catch you up to speed. It’s a little boring at times, but the backgrounds are so detailed, particularly on the 360 version (I loved the giant skulls carved out of the cliffs), that this can be forgiven.

Then he arrives. In one of two thrilling sequences that do a truly fine job of showcasing the brilliant set design, you’re tied to a stake while tribal drums start beating. A woman screams; you look up and see Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) being lowered on a scarily huge drawbridge. The trees ahead of you start moving, and out of the mist comes Kong, all 25 feet of him.

Unfortunately, there’s still some running around left to be done before you can take over as the giant ape — which opportunity all but saves this title from an overall feeling of "meh," even if the play-as-Kong feature isn’t as open-ended as you’d like. The camera switches to third-person (or ape) view and you get a feel for the size of Kong, as trees and stone columns become instruments with which to swat the tiny humans and not-so-tiny dinosaurs. This is also where the game switches from a first-person shooter/puzzle solver to a rousing beat-’em-up, complete with devastating combos and finishes like the T-Rex Jaw Break — a move you know is going to look 10 times cooler on film.

And that’s perhaps the most aggravating thing about Peter Jackson’s King Kong, aside from its short gameplay time (six hours, only twice as long as the film). All the best sequences are ripped entirely from the movie. It’s not as if there were anything to spoil as far as the Ape-meets-girl, Ape-loses-girl, Ape-falls-off-the-Empire-State-Building plot line, but the game is simply a walk through the film, and you don’t get to caress Naomi Watts or snap Jack Black in two.

Gamers were told back in January that Ubisoft was pulling out the big guns for this project, employing its Beyond Good and Evil development squad and working closely with Jackson. What we actually got is great to look at and decent to play but doesn’t live up to the hype.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Issue Date: December 16 - 22, 2005
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