A beauty of a beast

When New Zealand director Peter Jackson - the genius behind The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy - was nine years old, he saw the 1933 original version of King Kong for the first time.

king kong disk 88 (photo credit: )
king kong disk 88
(photo credit: )
When New Zealand director Peter Jackson - the genius behind The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy - was nine years old, he saw the 1933 original version of King Kong for the first time. Jackson made a mental note that when he grew up, he would produce a remake of that sci-fi classic film - and he did. As the movie debuts in cinemas around the world, the computer game based on the film has also been released, and its developers in Ubisoft's Montpellier branch display the same determination to produce an excellent product as little Peter. Although most movie spinoffs in video-game form are just excuses to make more money, this one has a raison d'etre of its own. The storyline of both the new film version and the game begins with an American filmmaker named Carl Denham, whose next film has been canceled. Determined to recapture the limelight, he takes a film team to gloomy Skull Island, a faraway and forbidding place that was rumored to have been the home to a lost civilization. He drags along blonde, unemployed Vaudeville actress Ann Darrow, screenwriter Jack Driscoll, first mate Hayes and others on a perilous ship's voyage in a raging sea to the island, which is teeming with horrific and ferocious predators. Although a member of the crew is killed by falling rocks even before the first rowboat reaches the island, Denham has only the film on his mind and is given some funny lines. "Do you think the island is inhabited?" asked one of his staff, just before giant, crab-like monsters appear and threaten their lives. "Excellent! We need some extras in this movie," roars the oblivious filmmaker. When, while dragging his manually operated movie camera, he is knocked down by a huge scorpion and asks Ann whether anything is broken, Denham stresses that he means his film equipment rather than his own skeleton. The game's graphics engine and the sound are outstanding. All the giant centipedes, scorpions, Archeopteryx-like bats, dinosaurs with the fictional name Venatosaurus and King Kong himself are absolutely convincing, and the most tense scenes are highlighted by the island explorers' accelerated heartbeats and breathing. Fortunately, it is realistic without the need for even a drop of blood gushing from stabbed or shot attackers. The voiceover acting by some of the film's actors, who let out blood-chilling primal screams, is excellent. Unusual for first-person shooter games, this one has mercifully and cleverly done away with heads-up displays of health meters and ammunition inventories on the screen. Instead, icons pop up to tell you that extra rounds of bullets have been flown in and dropped for your convenience, and if you've been seriously wounded, the screen turns bright red (although for a bit too long, as it prevents you from seeing what's going on). Weapons at your disposal include shotguns, sniper rifles, machine guns and spears, and if you've run out of ammo for a while, just throw a stick at one of the burning torches on a wall to make it drop and set fields of bramble on fire to kill your pursuers. Bonuses can be unlocked by earning a set number of points; if you haven't earned enough by the end of each level, you can always replay that section again to improve your score. Through nearly 80 percent of the game, you defend the crew against attackers and tour the island, but for the remainder, you play as King Kong, the giant gorilla who goes on rampages through the jungle and Manhattan. While attacking monsters and pounding its chest, the smitten simian - who has fallen in love with Ann - protects her while holding her in his giant paw. The New York phase of the game depicts a beautifully recreated urban jungle with 1930s cars and fashions. King Kong's main shortcoming is that it can be finished in just about five or six hours, with too little justification for a replay. With no multiplayer mode, the game just isn't long enough, and it may have players disappointed by its premature ending, pounding their chests in protest.