King Kong E3 2005 Hands-On

Ubisoft is giving gamers a demo of this movie-licensed action game at its E3 2005 booth. We were there to see the gigantic gorilla ourselves, and even took the demo for a spin.

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[UPDATE] By now, everyone's probably heard that Peter Jackson, the man behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is remaking King Kong. It's also not news that Ubisoft is putting out a game based on the film, produced by Rayman and Beyond Good & Evil creator Michel Ancel. What might be surprising to you is that the game looks really, really good. At E3 2005, Ubisoft is displaying a lengthy demo inside a massive theater that features the game being played in real time by a developer. We sat in on one of these demo sessions, and were duly impressed with what was shown (later, we even got to play through the demo, to corroborate that what we were seeing was indeed very much playable). Just be aware though that we don't know at this point how many of these sequences are going to be in the movie, and how accurate they are to the actual film experience. We asked, but the folks running the demo weren't terribly forthcoming. So, if you want to avoid any possible movie spoilers of any kind, you might want to just skip to the last paragraph, in which we also explain more specifics about our hands-on experience. Anyone else, read on.

The demo started out with a brief making-of sequence where Jackson and Ancel talk up their collaboration on the project, as well as how you'll do things like use the environments for survival purposes, and how creatures that didn't make it into the movie will be in the game. But enough about that...it's the actual demo you care about. Basically, King Kong looks to be a combination of third-person and first-person action. You go into third person when playing as Jack Driscoll, one of the main characters in the film, and you hit third person when… Well, we'll get to that in a bit. Anyway, back to our friend Driscoll. The demo of the game opened up with a sequence featuring you, as a delirious Driscoll, seemingly tied up on the edge of a large cliff. A fiery pit sits below you, and another cliff is above you, and above that, a big wooden contraption that seems to have a woman tied to it. The contraption begins to lower, which results in a lot of screaming from the tied-up woman. Suddenly, the sounds of thrashing and stomping come from the distant woods. Yep, it's Kong alright. He comes lumbering in, sniffs around for a moment, beats his chest, and lets out a punishing roar. He then snaps up the woman and runs off into the jungle.

From here, you hear a voice off to the side. Two men, dressed in explorer gear, run up, untie you, and usher you away from the cliff. Just then, large, flaming spears come launching down at you from the native village that sits behind you. You and your cohorts begin to run, and at one point, you even catch one of the spears and toss it back toward the village. From there, you escape into the jungle and follow the mighty Kong. Finally you spot him off in the distance, and one of your cohorts, who has been carrying an old-timey video camera the whole time, sets it up and begins to film.

The next sequence is another action-oriented one. You and your teammates are attacked by a large dinosaur (which resembles some sort of velociraptor) and what looks like a giant centipede. You and your friends fight them off by repeatedly with sharp sticks--from a pile of them off to the side of the environment--and chucking them at these beasts. You take heavy damage at one point, at which time a specialized damage effect appears, featuring distorted visuals, echoic audio, and a red tint to everything. Bottom line is it looks like you got hit really hard. Finally you recover and finish off the beasts.

The demo then cuts to a new sequence where you're at a gate that must be opened. In order for it to open, your two friends have to turn a pair of cranks several revolutions. Of course, before you can accomplish this task, danger arrives in the form of a massive Tyrannosaurus rex. This thing is big, and when it roars, it gets all up in your face, both audibly and visually. We can't think of many other games that put you face to face with a gigantic dinosaur quite this intimately. You're armed with a tommy gun, and while pumping lead into the constantly advancing T-rex does a bit to slow it down, it certainly won't kill it. Instead, you end up running around, trying to lead the T-rex away from your friends while they open the gate. Once they get it open, you hightail it out of there.

The next sequence features advancing T-rexes too, but this time, you're riding down some violent rapids on a log. Two T-rexes follow you down the river, angrily nipping at your heels. At one point, a pterodactyl-looking creature bore down on the log, but it only took a few well-placed shots from your pistol to take it down. Once you finish it off, one of the T-rexes stops long enough to chow down on the corpse. Later, another T-rex starts to get dangerously close, so to stop it, you light a torch and toss it at a patch of grass, which sets it ablaze, causing the T-rex to reel back with an angry roar. Finally, it looks like you're OK, until you realize that another T-rex waits for you right at the end. Suddenly, as if he were some kind of primate angel, King Kong drops in, looking generally pissed off. This is where things get interesting.

Now, you get to play as King Kong. Nice. The camera shifts to sort of a cinematic, third-person view, and you are straight up fighting a T-rex as King Kong. As you might expect, a fight between a dinosaur and a giant gorilla involves a lot of big punches, a lot of ground slams, and a lot of biting--and this was very much the case here. After a fierce, brutal battle, the massive gorilla wins the day. But during his fight, he forgot about the lady that he once held onto. During the fight, she had run off, only to run into a pair of awaiting T-rexes. Kong to the rescue! Here, we got to see some of the crazy platforming mechanics found in the game. As Kong, you can swing from stone protrusions, from cliffs, climb on vine-covered cliff walls, and generally just jump around like a gigantic ape would. Upon reaching the woman in danger, Kong goes to work, punching the living hell out of those T-rexes, and even doing a fat fist-slam move that sends your opponents to the ground. Finally, Kong pounces on the last, prostrate T-rex, and grabs it by the jaw, quite literally opening it up and ripping it apart. Not supergross, but brutal, nonetheless.

And thus concludes our recounting of one of the better demos we saw at this year's E3. The game itself looks impressive. The demo was running on Xbox hardware, but the game will also be for all other current-generation consoles, PC, the Xbox 360 and PS3, and all current handheld devices. As good as the Xbox build looked, Ubisoft reps confirmed that the PS2 version is going to be the reference point, so expect it to be impressive as well. When we finally got to play the demo, we were able to easily pick up on the controls, and enjoyed the differences between playing a first-person and third-person viewpoints. The first-person action felt fine. We were able to pick up and throw spears with deadly accuracy without any trouble. It was also cool being able to interact with the other characters, getting them to toss us new weapons and such. We even noticed some open-endedness to the action, such as the ability to set spears on fire and then throw them into the brush, causing the fire to spread. It's interesting that the game has literally no onscreen interface whatsoever, to help draw you into the experience--we're curious to see how well the game is able to give important feedback without any such information onscreen, though. At any rate, King Kong is looking good, and is clearly suggestive of how movie-licensed games really ought to be worth getting excited about rather than apprehensive about. We'll be sure to bring you more coverage of the game before its fall release.

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