For whatever reason, our culture has decided that the movie is the ultimate expression of storytelling. Every TV show, book, and video game seems destined to have a film adaptation made of it. At the same time, in the world of video games, it seems the goal for many is to make every game as "cinematic" as possible.
In many ways, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier may, in fact, be, the most cinematic video game ever made. It does its absolute best to recreate the experience of watching one of the recent Planet of the Apes films. To some degree, it succeeds. However, at the same time, the game highlights the difficulty that comes with trying to make a cinematic experience and a video game at the same time.
Bryn is the middle son of three ape brothers following their father as the chief of a tribe that are living on a mountain, previously having split off from Caesar, the character played by Andy Serkis in the films. Winter is coming and the apes need food, but it's difficult to find on the mountain, forcing the apes closer to where people live. At the same time, Jess is the new leader of a fortified town of humans. As the story opens, the previous leader, her husband, is being laid to rest. Jess is far from certain that she's the best person to lead, a sentiment shared by others in town, but she's dedicated to doing the best she can.
From that setup the player makes a series of choices to direct each faction closer toward each other. The closest game comparison is obviously to something produced by Telltale, as each decision has an impact on the overall story, leading the plot in any number of different directions.
What separates this game from a Telltale game is the way the game focuses entirely on these decisions. At no point do you so much as take control of a character to walk from point A to point B. Decisions are made and actions are taken, or not taken, by pressing the right button, and beyond that the result simply plays out based on the choice made. It certainly has the intended effect of making the story flow smoother and faster than any other game I can think of. There's no wandering around to converse with multiple NPCs just to see what they have to say, there are no side quests, there's just the story. Of course, this makes th interaction fairly minimal, and it might be too little for those looking for a Planet of the Apes video game. This is a Planet of the Apes Choose Your Own Adventure book, with graphics.
As such, to keep you invested the decisions come a lot faster than they do in Telltale titles, which isn't to say you have any more control. I spent the entire prologue telling my elder brother ape that I didn't want to go into the plains to hunt food, making every possible decision to support that argument, and yet, guess where we ended up?
Adding a bit of spice to the proceedings is the ability for up to four players to get involved in the decision making. This can be done via either a standard controller or a smartphone app. Majority rules, though in the case of a tie, there's an opportunity to either try to convince other players to go your way, or force the issue with an override. This option is limited, and so must be used somewhat strategically, which is an interesting idea. It ends up being the most "game" thing about Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier.
On a technical level, Last Frontier is solid but uneven. All the character animations were created using Andy Serkis' motion capture studio and they look great. The atmosphere and surrounding world are not as well done. I found a lot of texture pop-in taking place, especially when showing off the large landscapes, which made them much less impressive than they were designed to be.
The entire story of Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier can be completed in about three hours, making it feel like an overlong movie. There's no ability to go back and pick up the game from any point beyond the last autosave, so if you want to try different gameplay paths to get different endings it will mean playing the entire game again. While doing so would certainly be easier than playing through four or five episodes of a Telltale game, it's still a significant time commitment.If the story and the characters were particularly engaging, that would be one thing, but they're not that engaging. If you're going to watch a three-hour movie over and over again, it's got to be a pretty damn good movie. This one's fine, it's not great.
I'm interested in seeing a different ending, mostly because one decision I made near the end of my first playthrough that didn't pan out as I expected and almost certainly changed my entire ending. I would love to go back and change that decision, but I'm not sure I care enough about the characters to do it all again. Still, fans of the Planet of the Apes movies will find something to enjoy here and this is clearly a step in the right direction for interactive fiction fans. I enjoyed the experience, it's just not one I expect to ever have again.
This review was done with a PlayStation 4 version of the game provided by the developer.