It's been a bad year for Planet of the Apes. First, Tim Burton's highly anticipated "reimagining" turned out to be a big bust that floundered after its strong opening weekend at the box office. Now, Ubi Soft has released an interactive version of the classic 1968 film and the 1963 French novel that inspired it, which reimagines Planet of the Apes as an ugly, boring Tomb Raider clone.
The game has nothing to do with Burton's remake. Instead, it features its own reworking of the story that's somewhat closer to the source material. The plot is a cross between Planet of the Apes and its first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. You play as Ulysses, a crash-landed astronaut who, like Taylor in the first film, is captured and must initially attempt to figure out where he is and what's happened to him. Like Taylor, he's got Charlton Heston's physique and wears nothing but an itty-bitty loincloth. He also has a girlfriend called Nova. Only instead of being a mute cavewoman in a fur bikini, she's a feisty, independent, loudmouthed go-getter in a fur bikini who's just as likely to sass an ape as lay it out with one punch.
And so forth. Whatever interest the thin story might have inspired in anyone is counteracted by the game's clumsy dialogue and monotone acting style. Across the board, the voice work is reminiscent of the bad old days of gaming when the programmers and their friends played all the major roles.
All of which could be forgiven if Planet of the Apes had managed to be a decent or even halfway-decent Tomb Raider clone. Unfortunately, it fails at each of the three elements that can make this type of game enjoyable: exploration, combat, and puzzle-solving.
The game's environments are uniformly drab. Nondescript caves are followed by bland castle corridors that lead to twisty mine tunnels that open up into slightly larger subway tunnels--which all eventually become more or less indistinguishable from one another. Not since the original Quake has so much gray been put in the service of so many shades of brown. You'll never be inspired to continue playing for the simple reward of discovering what interesting level lies next.
Though there are a few enemies in each level, fighting doesn't play a huge role. Combat is simplistic and generally pretty easy. Fighting involves either walking up to an enemy and pressing the attack button until you beat it to death with either your fists or a melee weapon or standing back with a gun and pressing the attack button while whatever you're trying to kill runs straight at you. During the first quarter of the game, your main foe is a breed of giant rat that requires a slightly modified combat strategy: standing next to them while pressing the attack button to kick them to death.
Even though they can talk and maintain a primitive government, the apes are not especially good at tactics. Upon spotting you, they'll run straight at you, making no attempt to maneuver around any intervening obstacles, on which they will almost inevitably get stuck. For instance, one level features a set piece battle against three mandrills, who are the karate-using ninjas of ape society and ostensibly tough opponents. However, instead of leveraging any actual fighting skill against them, you can simply run back and forth until all three of them become stuck behind some piece of the environment, at which point you can shoot them at your leisure.
The puzzles are mostly of the "find the key" variety, in which the "key" is some object that "unlocks" the next part of the level. In many cases, Planet of the Apes takes the literal route and makes the key object an actual key. Occasionally, the key is simply walking over the right spot to trigger a cutscene that will move the game forward, a type of puzzle made especially tedious by the invariably boring environments.
Most levels consist of fighting a few enemies while running obvious item-fetching errands. A few levels feature some minigames, like one in which you must climb a wall while viewing yourself from the gun sight of the sniper who's shooting at you. Due to the lack of a save-anywhere feature, these sudden changes in gameplay can be particularly frustrating--if you die, you'll have to redo five minutes' worth of chore puzzles.
Ultimately, most computer games consist of a series of joblike tasks made palatable by gripping visuals, exciting reflex tests, or a requirement for some kind of enjoyable strategic planning. Planet of the Apes has no compelling action, no puzzling adventure, and no interesting places to explore. It is gaming stripped of virtually everything that separates games from work.