Radio Drama
Science Faction

Volume #1, Issue #3
"Stand By For Mars!"
March 2006

The Thunder Child: Computer Games
Peter Jackson's King Kong: Crabs, Spiders and Scorpions, Oh MY
Review by Ryan Brennan

Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie is, in many ways, as different from Jackson's movie as his movie is different from the original 1933 film.

The game skips the material in the first hour or so of the movie. Games don't need all that character build-up and story foundation. The characters will develop as the game plays out and we already know the basic story of this one.

The game does have an introduction, though. As first-person Jack Driscoll, standing in a row boat about to set out for Skull Island, it is necessary to orient the game controller.

After that the boat leaves the Venture on a storm-tossed sea, passing near huge faces carved in stone as the weather erodes the rock, huge chunks breaking off and plunging into the ocean around the small craft.

Although the player has no control over events at this point, you are free to take in the entire 360 degree, totally immersive visuals, howling winds and waves breaking over you as you look around and concentrate on the details of interest to you. Finally, a stone arch collapses and you are knocked unconscious.

When Jack awakens he is staring into the face of Ann Darrow urging him to get up and follow. Although the Ann of the movie was pretty plucky, this game version Ann is kicked up a notch, really knows how to take care of herself and is often in the lead. When Jack fully awakens he is on the Skull Island beach, a bleak, rocky and desolate place. He follows Ann, Hayes and camera-toting Carl Denham up and around a rocky precipice to a dark cave entrance. Captain Englehorn flies a pontooned bi-plane overhead and throughout the game parachutes cargo cases to you with pistols, sniper rifles or machine guns. Thank goodness, because you'll need 'em.

Here is the first of many desiccated wooden double doors to be found on the island. They are opened by gripping the wooden handles stuck into telephone pole-size timbers that act as gears when pushed by Jack and one other expedition member. And you must always find the wooden handle. This one is easy but they become more difficult to find as the game progresses. But before Jack and Hayes can do that, enormous crabs emerge from the sea and must be shot or speared. Fortunately, a spear is never far from reach. It is recommended that in addition to whatever firearm you may have at the moment you carry a spear at all times. You'll be glad you did.

From here on you travel through the wonders of Skull Island, walking through caves, low tunnels, and ancient, crumbling chambers and ruins overgrown with vegetation that indicate a once magnificent civilization existed here before - before what? You will see much more of this civilization than appeared in the movie and the question that should arise is who are the people who built these temples, terraces, stairways and tunnels inside, through and over the island? Who ferried the huge stones to the mountain reaches? Whoever the architects and builders were, they certainly were industrious for the island is covered with their handiwork.

But now it' modern times, it's 1933 for Pete's sake, and the current visitors plunge forward into the jungle realm. In the movie, there is only one scene with oversize centipedes. In the game they are everywhere, especially if it is wet and damp. Most of the time they will warn you with an odd hiss like a rattlesnake. Sometimes you see them first, other times they simply loom up in front of you, administering potentially death dealing stings. When they do the screen goes red and Jack slows down, his heart pounding and a weird chorus indicating that he is losing his bearings and his life. Act quickly, it's not too late. The centipede can still be killed and Jack will recover momentarily.

Besides the centipedes, look for crabs, spiders and scorpions to make a strong appearance in the game. Almost every time that high grass or brush is encountered one or more of these threats will make themselves known. Someone has thoughtfully kept the lamps lit throughout most of the island and you will frequently encounter their small, cupped flames on walls and in other locations. Use these to burn away the undergrowth and several of the insects and other creatures lurking there. That handy spear you should have with you makes a great torch for setting a grass fire.

There are also a lot of bat creatures -- or mutant pteradons, if you will -- waiting to attack you. At one point Carl Denham is snatched away by such a creature. Spear it, shoot it, you cannot stop it. It spirits Denham to its lair, which you must first find before you can save the intrepid showman, but not without a fight. Most can be killed with a single spear or a shot to the head. Later, a different, sturdier type of flying creature that more closely resembles a fat bat appears and requires a bit more effort to dispatch.

Instead of the brontosaurus stampede of the movie, you will encounter a more sedate migration of the giant creatures. They move through a wide expanse lined with ancient constructions, small temples placed periodically along the pathway. It will be necessary to find some fire to progress further and only by wandering down this dinosaur pathway will any be found. Look out! A bronto might step on you! And, the velociraptors, as in the movie, are on the move, too, so finding fire means finding a raptor on your heels. Literally. If one happens to grab you the last thing seen is a red screen with your boot in its mouth. Sometimes the raptors can be distracted by shooting down a pteradon or spearing the slug-like larvae that are provided as appetizers.

Eventually, you get to play in Kong mode. Frankly, these moments are a letdown. Sure, it's fun to swing through the jungle for awhile but most of the time his battles against raptor, T-Rexes and pteradons/bats consist merely of pressing a button repeatedly until you've done it enough to kill your adversary.

Sometimes you have to work in tandem with Ann who must fetch a torch and burn away some brush before you can move forward. But even the jungle scenes are better than the New York City levels.

Once Kong escapes its just a mad run of flinging automobiles at police cars, searchlights and other gun emplacements. And once Kong is atop the Empire State Building what can you really do? Yes, you can swat down all the planes, but in the end- well, we can't change a legend, can we? Almost all of the non-Kong stuff, though, is rather creepy, particularly if you don't like insects. And there is a genuine feeling of vertigo when crossing some of the rickety planks of wood that span frighteningly deep canyons and crevasses. I didn't notice any points accruing as I played through the first time. On the second go round, though, there is the opportunity to amass points in order to unlock a further five or so levels. Getting through the levels (about 41 with interconnecting story segments) isn't particularly difficult the first time. The second time around is even easier since you already know what to expect. And there aren't increasingly difficult game modes to replay. This means many game players may not hold onto this game once it's been played.

The graphics are good. The characters are recognizable from the movie and the actors' voices are used. Carl Denham is even colder in the game than the film. His concerns focus solely on his camera and getting great shots. Jack is less in charge, capable of action but more of a follower. Hayes figures more prominently in the game and causes regret that the character didn't last longer in the movie. The sound effects are effective and sound great turned up loud. And the music is actually better than that used in the movie. Once you have reached a certain level in the game you earn the option to use the "Cinema Mode" which, basically, changes the picture from full color to sepia tone. All in all it's a fun ride but not one likely to be made several times by anyone.

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