Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is a new game that's following in the footsteps of games like Heavy Rain and Telltale's The Walking Dead, but it's also blazing its own path by doing things very differently. I had a chance to sit down and play a bit of the title at PAX West 2017 and speak to the team behind the game, and while it will certainly feel familiar to anybody who's played an episodic adventure game, Last Frontier does a lot that's very new and different from the current formula. First and foremost, the game never puts you in direct control of a character, leaving you to only make decisions regarding the story. Imaginati Studios founder Martin Alltimes explained to me why they made this call. He felt that a lot of the wandering, picking up items, and the pointless conversation was a waste of time in many adventure games, and by cutting it out, they gained something else, a cohesive story with more decision-making done faster. According to Alltimes...
What we gain is the pace of the game is much much faster than any of these other games, and that's because you don't have to wander around aimlessly, so we've got as many choices probably as an eight to ten hour experience but it's compressed into two and a half, three hours. The pace at which you're making choices is faster. The story's told at a much faster pace but also, for me, two or three hours is great because it means I can get a complete story in one sitting I can sit down like watching a movie...and I can get a complete story arc.
While Martin Alltimes admits that the term "interactive movie" is one that most in the game industry don't like to use, he believes that games like those from companies like Quantic Dream and Telltale are exactly that. The problem with them, however, is that often they're filled with aimless wandering looking for the right item or long chains of dialogue that don't actually advance the story in any way.
Having played Planet of the Apes: Last Froniter, as well as many Telltale games, I can say that Last Frontier feels much more like a cinematic experience than the games that currently dominate the genre. You don't feel like you have any less control then you do in those games, as the decision-making is still the focus, but you don't find yourself wandering a map looking for the right item or making sure you've heard all the dialogue. This change means that you can get much more engrossed in the story.
However, there's an entirely separate benefit for taking control away from the player, which is the fact that now, there can be more than one player. Martin Alltimes went on to talk about the biggest change to the formula in Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier.
The really, really big thing that came out of that was, once I knew you weren't controlling the character directly, more than one person could vote on that choice.
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is designed to be a social game. While it can be played solo, it can also be played by up to four people. As choices come up, the players all pick the option they want, and the majority rules. This can push the game into entirely new directions that a single player might never go. It gets really interesting, however, when a party can't agree. A tie between choices can be resolved in a couple of different ways. First off, votes can always be changed, which means the players are encouraged to debate and discuss the choice in the room while the game is going on, perhaps leading to somebody changing their mind. If no accord can be reached, then each player has the ability to force a decision to go their way. However, once a player chooses the nuclear option, they lose the ability to do it again until every other player has used the ability themselves.
But what happens after you've played the three-hour experience? Is the game over? Not quite. The faster pace actually aides with that issue as well. While few people probably replay five episodic games over again to see how the story might change, the fast pace of Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier makes replaying the game easy.
One of the other big problems with these sort of games is, most people don't replay them...By compressing the time scale, you're much more likely to go back in and replay it because it's like watching a movie again, you'll come back in two, three weeks and you'll be able to see a different ending and it won't be a huge time sink.
We all like to watch our favorite movies over and over again, and Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier has the potential to be like our favorite film, with the added benefit that it won't tell exactly the same story every time. If the story is as good as the recent Planet of the Apes movies, they could be on to something.