Planet of the apes
We’ve gibbon it a try
You’ll find plenty of damn dirty apes in our preview. And loads of quite pleasant ones too.
The night sky in the Appalachian mountains is a blanket of silvery grey and charcoal black – perfect camouflage for our troop of grey-black apes as we prepare to raid a human farm for horses. We take a hard line, commending rugged Tola for discovering the settlement and berating meek little Juno for struggling with his nerves, before heading forth. The social decisions we make here may seem minor but, we’re told, will affect how our story plays out, for better or worse. The choice-driven narrative is something gamers are well acquainted with, to the extent that you could label it the ‘Telltale trope’: you make tough, morally grey decisions, you pick sides, you try to keep people alive. In Planet Of The Apes: Last Frontier, you’re doing this from two opposing perspectives: that of an enclave of people trying to survive after most of humanity’s been wiped out, and a protectionist tribe of apes looking to do likewise. That, along with a clever multiplayer component and complete lack of navigational control, makes Last Frontier more cinematic, and yet more social, than its peers.
We speak with the head of Imaginati Studios, Martin Alltimes, about the challenges of working in the interactive drama genre, and how to work around the problem of the illusion of choice – how will Last Frontier make player decisions feel truly meaningful?
“You can’t have infinite choices. When you control a character, there are only certain choices that make sense for that specific character to do,” Alltimes tells us. “As human beings we all have our own core feelings on a situation, which means that not every choice would feel legitimate for us.” In Last Frontier, players control two leaders – the ape Bryn (an approximation of Caesar from the movies), and weird-eyed but level-headed human Jess. Each conundrum you face (at least in our hands-on) pertains to the good of the group. As Bryn, we had to decide whether to attack the farm before nabbing the humans’ horses, or whether we should try to steal the horses stealthily. In this instance, either decision leads to the same set of events – you get spotted, and a shootout unfolds. At the end, however, you have about two seconds to shoot one of the humans – or not. Decisions like this, Alltimes says, will have repercussions. Last Frontier is only two to three hours long, and is designed to be played
through in a single evening (perfect for couch multiplayer sessions, whereby each player has a controller and can vote on which decision to make). Alltimes says this encourages players to replay the game. “It’s designed to be played in one sitting. If the game was 10 to 15 hours long, you’d probably not go back and replay it, whereas we want you to replay it,” he stresses. “That’s the motivation for making the game shorter, and increasing the density of choices”.
Licence to thrill
Even 10 years ago, movie tie-ins would slot into the hot genre of the day rather than the game being tailored to suit the license; think of the Alien 2D platformers in the ’90s, Evil Dead’s rip-off of Resident Evil in 2000, or the 2001 POTA game – an abomination of a third-person brawler based on the Tim Burton movie. Alltimes bemoans those dark days: “In some of the prehistoric movie license times, you had platform games added to games where the movie’s about an 80-year-old!”
Today, things have improved, and Alltimes attributes this to the success of Telltale Games’ narrative titles. “No publisher would ever have greenlit The Walking Dead as an adventure game,” he says. “What its success showed was that you could take something which, as a game, has an obvious action-adventure hook, and turn it into a hit based all around narrative choices. This genre allows us to create something which is much more sympathetic to the source material.”
Yet despite Alltimes’ gratitude, Last Frontier will need to find a way to make choices matter, which wasn’t exhibited in our hands-on as much as the pretty simian facial animations and multiplayer component. During our session, playing as the humans, we convinced the group to stop torturing an orangutan, and declined to take an assault rifle for self-defence. While we don’t necessarily expect this to mean that a grateful ginger ape will rescue our unarmed selves later, we hope to see a palpable cause-andeffect (other than the several alternate endings). With players more attuned than ever to the tricks of interactive dramas, the sense of choice will need to be stronger than ever.
“this genre allows us to create something which is much more sympathetic to the source material”
Stealing horses, shooting humans, and torturing apes are just some of the monkey business we get up to in our hands-on.
The facial animations (which you can see here in their full static glory) are done by Imaginarium, Andy Serkis’ mo-cap company. Andy plays Caesar in the films, and previously mo-capped King Kong for Peter Jackson’s film – so he knows his apes.
There’s plenty of action in Last Frontier, but all you’ll need to do is tap the right buttons at the right time.
You might not expect much personality from mo-capped monkeys, but each simian character feels like a real person.