• : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/gturner/public_html/content/themes/tng_v4/comment.tpl.php on line 31.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/gturner/public_html/content/themes/tng_v4/comment.tpl.php on line 31.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/gturner/public_html/content/themes/tng_v4/comment.tpl.php on line 31.

King Kong & the Merits of Character Interplay

March 17, 2006 By Glenn Turner

Games involving groups of characters often thrust the player in a position of leadership, to guide and protect the clutch of people from harm, regardless of the surrounding circumstances. Consequently the game becomes a giant escort mission that completely fails to take into account the personalities of those in the group, or if they do, these non-playable characters come across like scared kittens: too frightened to move of their own accord and too inexperienced to know any better.

Michel Ancel's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie* could have trod the same path, as it predominantly deals with the perils of a small group, stranded on an island. And not just any island but Skull Island, home to not just a mythical giant ape but also gigantic bats, horribly oversized millipedes and dinosaurs - lots and lots of dinosaurs. It'd be all too easy to plunk screenwriter Jack Driscoll down and force him to single-handedly to fend off these majestically dangerous creatures while protecting deranged director Carl Denham, future starlet Ann Darrow and all of the sundry shipmates. However, instead of having you bark directions through Jack's mouth, Ancel places us in the shoes of a man guided by his fellow crew members as much as he leads them.

There's no one glorified leader in this crew, everyone just pitches in when they can. Ann will prompt you to follow her to take a certain route instead of getting lost. Hayes often be by your side, helping you pick off approaching Venatosauruses, and occasionally tossing you an extra gun (only if you ask first though). Even Carl will occasionally put his camera down to lift a hand in combat or help you open a door. And they aren't mute either - these crew members communicate with you, be it Ann attempting to get your attention with a simple 'Over here Jack!' or one of Carl's many slackjawed declarations about the wonders of the island, all of the characters address you directly. This combined with the perfect voice acting (performed by the respective actors & actresses from the film) and emotive facial expressions make you feel as if you are a member of the team. It reaffirms that this is not just Jack's adventure, that he's not supposed to solely lead everyone to salvation. However, unlike the rest of the crew, Jack is surprisingly non-expressive. Apart from a few murmurs here and there, he is so quiet that his own personality rarely shines through. Couple this with the first-person perspective that prevents you from making out Jack's body language (apart from hand movements) and it's difficult to discern character traits without grafting your own onto him.

The crew does have larger problems apart from Jack's laconism and the throngs of dinosaurs: occasionally it's crystal clear that you're dealing with computer-controlled constructs. For example, on one of a several wilderness treks with Ann you're hunting for fire to burn down dead brush blocking an essential doorway. You follow Ann down a winding cave until you reach an enclosed area housing a nice, bustling fire. It's up to you to leave Ann behind and walk through a waterfall to fetch and light a spear. Then, using your newly lit torch, you burn the brush blocking you from exiting the area, allowing you to avoid the waterfall and bring the fire back to camp.

Instead of following that route I elected to save a bit of time and, from a distance, threw the lit spear at the brush in hopes that the land would be scorched by the time I walked over to it. Unfortunately my aim was a tad off, so the lit spear went flying off in Ann's direction, ultimately falling right next to her. Much to my surprise, instead of ignoring the fiery spear, Ann bent over and picked up the freshly tossed torch! Surprise unfortunately gave way to puzzlement and sadness as she stoically stood there, lit spear in hand, completely failing to 1) burn the brush blocking my route or 2) head back to the crew and start burning down the rest of the dry brush.

While playing as Jack certainly does provide for some enjoyable team-building exercises, there are moment in the game when you're treated to the antithetical experience of controlling mighty Kong, the eighth wonder of the world. Instead of the first-person adventuring as Jack, via third-person perspective take Kong on a rampage through the forest to defend Ann from the many hostile creatures of the island. While Kong often ends up escorting Ann from danger, thanks to the brawler nature of these sections her survival typically ends up being ancillary to Kong's own self-preservation. In fact, you're often better off letting Ann scurry out from Kong's grip so she can hide in some local foliage.

This leaves Kong all alone to battle the forces of the island, as we presume he often is. While tussling with these oversized creatures you can invoke Kong's Fury mode, which causes the camera to swing upwards to look down on Kong as he beats his swelled chest and yells towards the sky. While Fury mode greatly powers-up Kong and allows him to quickly dispatch of those niggling V-Rexs, when he roars you can practically hear the desolation in his voice. It's amazingly emotive and poignant, and sends home the message that while Kong is a fighter, he, unlike Jack, has very little to hang onto on this island.

There is one time where Kong appears to be at peace, and it coalesces with a moment when Jack has been separated from the crew. While wading through a cave, you (as Jack) come upon Kong sleeping soundly while Ann sits in the palm of his hand, sunbeams raining down on the two of them. You immediately feel as if you're intruding their tranquility and shattering the one moment of serenity Kong has been alloted. Even though Kong is deeply slumbering, his peaceful disposition exudes content with his new-found companionship, the very same type of companionship that Jack has shared this entire adventure. Sadly, the poignant moment is quickly ruined when sea monsters crash the party, leaving Jack & Ann reunited but Kong is left alone to defend himself, yet again.

It is this character interplay that King Kong: The Official Movie of the Game excels at. The reactions Ann, Hayes, Carl and other members of the crew have when they interact with you infuses the title with personality that is widely lacking in many action games. The game itself is hardly perfect, but these character nuances and co-operative interplay go a long way towards overcoming the monotony of that comes over the title's later hours. Ancel then uses the comfortable cooperation of the film crew to underscore Kong's isolation, producing two very different playing experiences. While it can't quite wash over all of the game's flaws, it is this kind of attention to detail that is sorely lacking in many games. Certainly many games may boast high-resolution textures and 60 frames per second frame rates, but their non-playable characters are silent and vacant, they're characters who fail to effectively communicate and resonate with the player. King Kong: The Official Movie of the Game fleshes out their characters by giving their interaction nuance which, in turn, gives the game the kind of depth and interactivity that keeps the player emotionally vested. If there's any reason to soldier through Skull Island until the very end, it's purely because of the crew.

*This article concerns the Xbox version of King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie and has been written without viewing the source material, Peter Jackson's King Kong.

Digg this article Save to del.icio.us Filled under:

3 comments for ‘King Kong & the Merits of Character Interplay’

#1 KillerTeddy Mar 17, 2006 03:13pm

Interesting...just one thing...

Should I rent this game, or buy it?

#2 Glenn Turner Mar 17, 2006 04:15pm

Well, it depends. After reflecting and writing about it some, I'm actually getting the craving to purchase it and experience a few bits of it again, however I'd say shelling out any more than $20 or $30 would be a bit much. Most people are probably happy enough blowing through the game in about eight hours (approximately) and never picking it up again.

Also, as I alluded a bit in the write-up, the game grows tedious about 2/3rds of the way through. Too many of the same type of missions, and it often just feels like you're randomly ambling around the island and are no closer to getting out of there than you were when you first crashed. Consequently, even though it's a pretty short game, I actually would have preferred it to be shorter, as I grew bored with repeating the same fetch-fire quests.

#3 w3a2 Mar 20, 2006 07:09am

it's interesting to see what you've said about the NPCs.

i only played the demo of this which didn't really give me a chance to see all that.