I’m a total sucker for theme parks. When I was fifteen, my family went on holiday to Florida, home of a thousand theme parks, and I made sure we saw every single one of them. But the thing I love about theme parks isn’t so much the rides themselves but the atmosphere created around each ride. For example, when you’re queuing for the ‘Jaws’ ride in Universal, the queue takes you through Quint’s boathouse. This is a perfectly realised model of the boathouse from the movie, with hundreds of incidental details dotted around the to help convince you that you are actually in a movie.
Also in Universal Studios is a ride loosely based on Dino De Laurentiis’ unsuccessful 1976 remake of King Kong. The audience rides in a cable car around New York being terrorised by the giant monkey, in a series of spectacular set-pieces. Kong appears, shakes the car and yells a bit, and scares the audience. But it’s starting to show its age now, and the animatronics can’t really fool today’s more effects-savvy audience. If you listen carefully, you can hear the hydrolics and steam motors driving every inch of your experience throughout the ride.
Ubisoft’s game of Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a worthy replacement for Universal’s aging King Kong ride.
Following the ‘classic’ Kong story, the game also uses a series of cinematic set-pieces to drive the action forward. These range from rafting downstream while being terrorised by the natives of Skull Island to battling dinosaurs in the middle of a brontosaurus stampede. And when these succeed, they are marvellous, memorable pieces of gaming. One of the most spectacular moments comes when the action shifts – one minute the player is controlling Jack, who has no choice but to run from the larger beasts on Skull Island (a luger and a spear will not trouble a T-Rex). The next minute, the player controls Kong, who can swat these monsters away in a tremendous show of power.
The story is mostly told by the bits in between the set-pieces. Through some fantastic voice-acting by the cast of the movie, we are presented with personalities that are as three-dimensional as their graphical representations.
But it’s in the atmosphere the game creates that it really succeeds. The island, dense with terrifying creatures, feels like an actual living, breathing place. There are hundreds of incidental details littering the environment to heighten the player’s experience and convince them they’re in a movie. Or on a ride. This is also helped by the lack of a heads-up-display – there’s no bar to tell you how much health your character has, or how many bullets are in his gun. This is all done through brilliantly-implemented visual and aural clues. There’s a wonderful moment in the 4 minute clip of King Kong movie where you get to see Skull Island from Kong’s Mountain. And I thought “Y’know, from this angle, this place is beautiful. Down there, it’s horrific”, as if I’d actually been there.
And this atmosphere isn’t confined to within the game itself. Along the way, you unlock ‘extras’ within the game. These mainly consist of ‘galleries’ of WETA artwork for the movie. But instead of presenting these as flat image files, we get to experience them as though we were walking through an exhibit in a museum. And this is so perfectly (yet simply) realised that you can almost smell the dust in the air.
There’s a lot to praise about this game, which is made even more stunning by the fact that it takes roughly 10 hours of average playing to complete. Now, there’s a whole other post about value for money with games you can finish over the course of a weekend. But for this one, I’ll just say yes, it is definitely worth it.