Previews

Peter Jackson's King Kong

After a brief search on Google Earth, we've finally accepted that Skull Island doesn't really exist

After a brief search on Google Earth, I've finally accepted that Skull Island doesn't exist and that giant apes and prehistoric lizards will forever be confined to movies, games and some of my stranger dreams. And after playing Peter Jackson's King Kong, my disappointment with the non-existence of the isle is also met with some relief. Skull Island is a terrifying place - valleys dotted with ruins of ancient and forgotten civilisations, seemingly bottomless chasms spanned by rickety old rope bridges, and of course, the improbable abundance of supposedly extinct T-Rexes - and one absolutely massive monkey.

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ON SAFARI
I'm in the waterlogged safari suit of Jack Driscoll, trying to keep up with my expeditionary chums as we wander through a dull green valley bordered by sheer stone faces on either side. The lack of any sort of on-screen information is as apparent as a missing front tooth, there's no ammo count or health readouts, no compass or map. It's a far more literal take on a first-person viewpoint, complemented by the sort of bobbing, stumbling and jerking movements you'd expect as you traverse the vine-smothered floors of an ancient ravine. It's not an entirely innovative feature, but I struggle to think of a time I've felt as immediately drawn into in-game surroundings.

The rain continues to pound the scenery as we exit the narrow valley and spy some of our comrades sprinting hastily across a bridge far above our heads. They've seen some sort of monster, they inform us, but they don't know where it's gone now... And like some connoisseur of dramatic and predictable timing the colossal figure of a T-Rex emerges from behind them, decimating the fragile bridge and tearing people to shreds in a scripted flurry of teeth and limbs. Just like in the movies.

Every stomp of the tyrannical lizard's massive feet shakes the world around it, and every subtle nuance of his animation conveys his intent. Far be it from me to explain the psychology behind instinctive interactions between two species that have never co-existed, but when the prehistoric beast looks at you, you know what he's thinking (usually something along the lines of "I want to eat that scrawny, annoying thing"). The fear of being faced with a T-Rex is also strangely primal, jamming your fight or flee instinct firmly into the 'flee' position. Opening his giant gob to reveal a mouth that looks not entirely unlike a fleshy dagger shop, he lets out a roar that's as close to deafening as the limits of my headphones allow. In the game I'm visually shaken, and the world blurs as the noise reverberates about my cavernous surroundings. As my associates attempt to find an escape route, I'm left holding the short straw, or rather the long bamboo spear, as the monumental creature lumbers towards me with worrying speed. Like rock legends Abba once said, "I'm up shit creek without a paddle, Fernando."

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MONKEY ACT
There are a number of reasons why Kong's hairy arse won't sit comfortably in the FPS chair. Its sequences and set-pieces, the invisible interface, the cinematic presentation and the fact that there are entire sections in which you play as the eponymous King from a third-person perspective. These sections have you chasing Fay Wray (or Naomi Watts at least), protecting her from danger, leaping about Skull Island with surprising acrobatic grace for such a big ape, and getting into bloody scraps with the local wildlife. The combat controls are simple: left-click to swing Kong's tree trunk arms about, shattering the bones of anything they come into contact with, and right-click to grab - a move which opens a few more combat options such as throwing and slamming.

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