In 2010, it's... passable.
I think Peter Jackson makes some pretty good films. I was interested in the fact that he, as someone who liked video games himself, promised to make his King Kong tie-in video game better than the heap of poorly designed games that we were used to seeing. I was also intrigued by Michel Ancel working with the Ubisoft studios to help develop the game. I had never played Beyond Good and Evil, but I knew that something worth playing was there. Ultimately, I chose to forego the game until I saw it for anextremely inexpensive price in April 2010. I figured now was as good a time as any to figure out what the game was like (and yes, easy achievements don't hurt either, but they were not the sole factor in deciding to procure this game).
One of the things that Peter Jackson's King Kong attempts to do is being minimal in terms of the amount of directions it gives you. While playing as Jack Driscoll, most directions are simple and are given by the crew accompanying you through Skull Island. Much of the time, you will also be alone as Jack and will have no directions at all. This seems to exemplify how the developers wanted to make instructions as short as possible so as to maximize immersion, similarly to story-driven first-person shooters such as the Half-Life series and the first Deus Ex.
Unfortunately , the puzzles come in three basic flavors with some small variation throughout the player's time controlling Jack. The first an d most common is transferring fire from point A to point B through lighting a blunt object and taking it elsewhere to set som e grass or other foliage on fire, usually to clear a path. Almost as common is the process of finding a small, smooth stick that acts as a key to turn various pillars throughout Skull Island; turning these pillars opens gates. Players will also use sticks and bones to skewer bugs and grubs, then use these as bait to distract spiders and smaller dinosaurs. These puzzles comprise the bulk of the time playing as Jack, and they are usually not compelling enough to be excited and motivated about doing t hem. Additionally, the puzzles themselves are sometimes made more confusing by the lack of direction.
Another aspect of Peter Jackson's King Kong in which the developers attempted to involve more minimalism and more immersion for the player is the heads-up display. Originally, the player did not have an ammo counter or crosshairs, and would press a button to have Jack declare how much ammo he has left (and this is the button's sole purpose). Overall, it is somewhat silly to have to listen to this every time one needs to see the amount of ammunition remaining (and it is unspecific at times; above a certain threshold, he will simply say he has “enough magazines.”) Luckily, there is the option to simply have a standard ammo counter available, which eliminates this problem. There is also the lack of crosshairs, which is a bearable handicap to play with, but I still found it simpler to simply enable the crosshairs. The game does have reddened vision while the player regenerates health, which is to my knowledge one of the earlier instances in which a game does this.
The back of the box emphasizes controlling the squad, but there is not much control to be had here. For the most part, they have foolish AI and in some cases they can die to one enemy if left unchecked, and if the player wanders too far ahead, he will often be punished with the image of one of his crewmates collapsing in a blank black screen.
Playing as Kong is somewhat simpler and somewhat more fun because of it. There is basic third-person platforming and brawling, interspersed with chases by climbing along viny walls and jumping across tree branches. The combat is somewhat too basic at times; all larger enemies are executed by pinning it down and mashing a button to break some vital point in its body. At some points, solving the puzzles can be annoying because it is unclear where to go, or because the unruly tribesmen are throwing stuff at Kong as he is trying to lift debris.
Overall, the game is at its best in the last few chapters. As both Jack and Kong, the game at that point eliminates most of the puzzle-solving in favor of more fast-paced running and combat, and this feels brisk and exciting despite the somewhat simple nature of the gameplay. If the rest of the game had this sort of gameplay, with a seemingly self-aware sense of the player's desire to just have some basic, action-packed fighting, it may well have been better off for it.
The game is almost a launch title for the 360, and was also released on the previous generation of consoles, so it is of course not as good visually as what we are used to today. Although the game comes up short compared to contemporary titles in terms of most of the terrain and foliage, most of the character models are fairly good, even by today's standards. There are some exceptions, such as in a few of the characters' facial expressions, and Jack's blocky shoulders, which players will inevitably view while they turn the many pillars throughout the game.
The music is decent, though not really memorable months after playing it – perhaps even weeks or days, as well. Similarly, almost all of the voice actors in the film performed as their characters for this game, but the streamlined plot does not give these good actors the ability to show off their abilities.
Speaking of the plot, it is mostly forgettable and boils down to giving the characters reasons to do things, which is decent enough given the gameplay surrounding it. Most of the complexity and dynamicism of the characters shown in the film is lost in the game, which is unfortunate.
In 2005, this game certainly had its bright spots; most of the actions it does to increase immersion work, even if the “human ammo counter” aspect of it can become silly after a while; the reddened vision to signify low health was a novel effect at the time. Despite the game's shortcomings, the strong finish would likely leave most players satisfied. In 2010, the same is mostly true, but because we have seen most of the interesting gameplay elements in the game significantly improved upon by the likes of the Half-Life episodes, the Gears of War series, and the Modern Warfare games, most of the game feels weak in comparison. Still, for someone who can be tolerant of its less compelling parts, it's a passable bargain-bin pickup.