The last time I was planning major monkey coverage in PC ZONE, I was phoning a zoo asking if we could dress up one of their simian inmates in gangster clothing and pose alongside them with a copy of the magazine. Interestingly, the clothing wasn't an issue for the lady monkey wrangler. It was more the fact that apparently, chimps can be unpredictably violent, with a tendency to bite your face off - obviously a disadvantage if you're the editor of Britain's best PC games rag.
Which brings us to King Kong - another aggressive ape, that again I imagine would be difficult to get into a sharp suit and force to smoke a cigar. Ubisoft's game is a film tie-in featuring Peter 'The Lord Of The Rings' Jackson's latest spectacular and stars one of Hollywood's most famous monster icons.
A videogame based on a movie is usually something to be extremely wary of, but this is no ordinary title, being a genuine creative collaboration between Michel Ancel (Beyond Good & Evil), Peter Jackson and his talented special FX crew Weta. The result is a short but extremely polished rollercoaster-ride of a game packed with genuine awe-inspiring moments of fear and wonder. And a f***-off big monkey (surely that should be ape? Pedantic C&VG Ed).
Set in the 1930s, King Kong tells the story of film-maker Carl Denham (played by Jack Black - all of the movie's actors voice characters in the game), searching for the mythical Skull Island to make the epic that will save his career. In the game, he's accompanied by the Venture ship's Captain Hayes, struggling actress Ann Darrow, young sailor Jimmy and New York screenwriter Jack Driscoll, who you play in first-person.
Right from the opening sequence, when you're being lowered in a rickety rowing boat onto an angry ocean, King Kong plunges you into the action - the intensity of the sea sickness-inducing dash for the shore is actually reminiscent of the Omaha Beach landing in WWII games such as Medal Of Honor. Your AI-controlled compadres join you at certain points in the adventure and really contribute to the atmosphere and immersion of the game, even helping out in scraps with the local prehistoric wildlife, shooting enemies with spears and firearms and dragging injured parties to safety.
Each of the four characters has a distinct personality, ranging from Carl Denham's heartless wisecracks ("We desperately need to find the others - they'll have three cans of film with them!"), to Hayes' doom-mongering ("Had your fill of real-life yet?"). They also bicker between each other, shout and scream when they're in trouble and give you hints of how to solve puzzles and progress in the game. As always though, keep an eye out for their welfare, as a death results in a restart from the last save point. Gameplay is straightforward and linear, guiding you through the dense jungle as you progress by finding wooden levers to insert into vertical wooden poles, then turned by you and a team-mate to open gates.
HEAR THEM ROAR
Fire is a major element (ahem) too, and is used to clear harsh, spiky foliage from your path, as well as scare off or burn to death any carnivorous predators - of which there
are a fair few lurking in the bushes and long grass of the island. These include bitey insects, bitey giant bats and bitey dinosaurs, which are without doubt, the most impressive in-game prehistoric lizards yet seen in a videogame - they make Turok's look like household pets. The T-Rex has to be seen to be believed - a hulking meat-eating killer, wonderfully animated with saliva dripping from its jaws and a terrifying roar that physically distorts everything in its vicinity.