King Kong Hands-On

We explore a pocket-sized version of Skull Island as we check out a work-in-progress build of King Kong for the PSP.

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Like its PC and home console counterparts, the PSP version of King Kong is a first-person shooter first and foremost, in which you explore Skull Island as Jack Driscoll--the character played by Adrien Brody in Peter Jackson's movie. You'll also get to play as Kong during a number of the game's 15 levels, which will afford you a very different perspective on the prehistoric creatures that inhabit the island. We recently had an opportunity to play through a work-in-progress version of King Kong for the PSP and were pleasantly surprised by just how closely its single-player content resembles the console games already in stores.

One of the first things we noticed after being shipwrecked on Skull Island at the start of the game is that the PSP version of King Kong uses the same HUD-free system for giving you feedback on your current health, ammo supplies, and such. If you use the bulk of your ammo during the first encounter with giant beetles, for example, you might hear Jack lamenting the fact that he has only one ammo clip left. If you sustain damage during the encounter, on the other hand, you'll first hear Jack's breathing get heavy, and then if you continue to take damage, you'll notice the screen flashing red.

When playing as Jack, you'll be doing a lot of your fighting with the spears and bones that litter Skull Island. You'll be able to carry only one at a time, though, and since supplies are limited you'll want to make sure that each one you throw hits its target. With the exception of the sniper rifle, none of the weapons in King Kong come with an aiming reticle, which isn't nearly as much of an inconvenience as you might think since you'll always aim for whatever is in the center of the screen. You'll need to allow for gravity by aiming high above your target if you're attempting to throw a spear or a bone any great distance, but the presence of a crosshair really wouldn't make that any less challenging.

All of the weapons in the PSP version of King Kong are used in much the same way--you'll hold down the left trigger button to ready and aim your weapon and then press the right trigger to fire or throw it. Pushing up on the D pad will let you steady your aim or zoom in on your target, and pushing right on the D pad will reload whichever firearm you're using. The PSP handheld's lack of a second analog stick makes it necessary for you to use the four face buttons to look around and aim weapons. The system isn't ideal by any means, but its implementation in our work-in-progress version of King Kong is good enough that we had no difficulty whatsoever with the controls.

It helps, of course, that many of the prehistoric enemies in the game make for large targets and that you'll generally have at least a couple of seconds to target them before they become a danger because you see them coming from a distance. On the few occasions when you don't see enemies long before they get close enough to attack you, you'll invariably be alerted to the fact that danger is on the way by a dramatic change in the game's orchestral music. Furthermore, when you hear the music settle down you'll know that the last of the enemies you were facing have either been killed or chosen to flee.

At least in our work-in-progress version of King Kong, there are rarely more than a couple of enemies onscreen simultaneously, and there are significantly fewer to contend with in total than there are in other versions of the game. We still found some of the encounters to be quite challenging, but the game's quite innovative food-chain mechanic (which lets you kill smaller creatures so that larger ones will get distracted while they eat them) is rarely useful in the game at this point. Along with many of the enemies from other versions of King Kong, the other human characters that you might have interacted with or fought alongside on your PC or console are nowhere to be found on Skull Island. The only non-player character that we got to see on Skull Island was the actress Ann Darrow, who spent the entire game in Kong's clutches and couldn't be interacted with in any way, even when we were playing as Kong.

The Kong levels in the game are very different from those in which you play as Jack, which is hardly surprising given that you're moving from one end of the Skull Island food chain to the other. When playing as Kong, you'll be spending your time jumping between trees and vine-covered walls from which it's impossible for Kong to fall, or fighting with dinosaurs and giant insects. Fighting as Kong is a somewhat simplistic but viscerally satisfying experience that rarely requires you to do much more than mash one of two attack buttons or a third that sees Kong beating his chest to power up temporarily. Kong and his prehistoric adversaries look quite impressive on the PSP, although the frame rate in our work-in-progress version of the game occasionally struggled to keep up with the giant ape's antics.

In addition to the story-driven, single-player game, the PSP version of King Kong boasts exclusive multiplayer content that purports to let you play through any level in the game either competitively or cooperatively. The differences between the competitive and cooperative gameplay modes aren't really apparent in our version of the game, since they basically task you with playing through the level on your own and trying to score more points than the other player. Furthermore, our version of King Kong never lets you see the other player--only the player's current score alongside your own. Even in its clearly unfinished state, the multiplayer component of King Kong certainly adds some replay value to the game, and we're looking forward to getting our hands on a more complete version. We'll bring you more information on the PSP version of King Kong as its December 20 release date closes in.

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