Games are a fairly new medium. What originally started in the early 70s is now a multi-million dollar market, yet we still don’t really know what the future holds for gaming. It’s constantly evolving and changing. The way artists create games, the way we ingest those creations, and the way we pay for ingesting is now a hot button issue. With all of these things evolving in the game space, it’s hard to catch the shifts in the industry. One such shift is the marriage between movies and games. This new adventure in the mix of the mediums is spearheaded by The Imaginarium, a studio led largely by actor and director Andy Serkis. With huge titles in both games and movies, the studio boasts an impressive resume. Movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avengers: Age of Ultron are just two of the many blockbusters they’ve worked with. Their experience in gaming is no small feat either, as they’ve worked on Battlefield 1, the amazing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and of course, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier.
But what they are chasing here is something more ambitious, something which sees gaming transforming into just as big a storytelling medium as movies. Instead of having insane gameplay mechanics and a loop to make us addicted, Imaginarium’s new game, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier, offers a more laid back and story-focused campaign. The story begins like it often does in the Planet of the Apes franchise. A group of surviving humans (Jess and her motley crew of ranch hands) live minutes away from their primal friends (a group of apes that split from the civil war between Koba and Caesar). By the end of the second chapter, conflict sparks and the two groups collide on several occasions.
Last Frontier takes this now common plot in the Apes movies and places it within a roughly six hour choose your own adventure story. The key here: This game plays almost like a movie. It is basically one gigantic cutscene, and every now and then you will make choices both on the side of the apes and on the side of the humans. Other than these choices that are liberally sprinkled within the story, you do nothing. It felt much more like a movie than a video game, and since its story is canon (taking place between the second and third films), I even found myself having to watch some summary videos for the movies on YouTube. I highly suggest lying down in bed and popping some popcorn before playing Last Frontier.
The good thing about this movie-like take is that cinematic style is on full display. Every couple of minutes, I saw shots I could barely believe were running on my base version of PS4. These shots were made even prettier by the thematic choices in setting and scene composition. The symmetry of these scenes reminded me of a diligently directed M. Night Shyamalan film, complete with foreshadowing in the background and stunningly simple subject matter. But this beautiful style is cut short by many flaws within the game itself. A terribly rendered world, a sloppy story, and a meaningless choice system meant that I felt like I was watching a longer version of a crappy animated film of the Planet of the Apes series instead of watching a multi-million dollar blockbuster.
With great power comes larger room to mess things up. While Last Frontier might’ve had some beautifully crafted scenes, its technical blunders ripped me from the experience. Pop in and stuttering between these scenes was all too common. In a story that places emphasis on compassion for the “non-human”, it’s hard to do so when the apes look like half-finished clay sculptures until the game fully renders them in. That being said, those few inconsistencies in Last Frontier were kind of worth the graphical fidelity we got in the end. Something I couldn’t deal with though was the lack of originality and, most off all, interesting conflict within Last Frontier’s story.
Within minutes the whole plot and character development shrank to a predictable alignment of all too common tropes found in the Apes movies. An ape group collides with the human group, conflict ensues, and we learn that there are bad and good in both species. That’s it. There are a few good scenes and moments of dialogue here and there, but for the most part the story was intensely boring. Dramatic performances were probably the only thing done right, and even then the writing becomes so copy and paste that 10 or 20 minutes without watching means little because the same events happened over and over again. It was sad, really, that the element I was most looking forward to in the game was one of the weakest. But it wasn’t just the story that let me down. The whole premise of a movie structure couldn’t fit within the confines of a video game.
Much of the game took place within one huge cutscene, a cutscene that introduced a choice every now and then to lead the story. One fatal flaw: Those choices rarely meant anything. Like the story, these choices were very repetitive, ranging from “this guy is wrong” to “this girl is right” and very little in between. If the uninteresting story wasn’t bad enough, the choices I made did little to keep me enthralled in the paths of my very different dual protagonists. The choices I picked had very little to no impact as you can tell the different results of these choices led up to the same story anyway. There were one or two moments of genuine choice that still only gave way to two predictable paths. In searching for something more than a video game, the creators of Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier blundered the video game aspect. This wouldn’t be so bad if there was an amazing story to back up the lackluster choice system, but under the weight of both narrative and gameplay mistakes, the game ultimately fell where it mattered most.
A lot of people are disappointed in Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier. This is because it was supposed to be a proof of concept. Something made to prove a point: That games could exist in a way that values writing and performance more than shooting zombies in the head. But that very important tenet of games, which would be gameplay, cannot be left behind for what Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier gave us. A mediocre Apes story that led to zero moments of shock or dramatic spectacle. Though its amazingly directed and produced visuals impressed me, the rest of the game was a huge fumble.
Developer: The Imaginati Studios
Publisher: FOXNEXT Games
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: 21st November 2017