Developer: The Imaginati Studios
Publisher: FOXNEXT Games, The Imaginarium, Creative England
Format(s): Playstation 4
Following the release of the latest Planet of the Apes movie, gamers are now finally able to get in on the action themselves with Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier – a narrative-driven video game from a studio headed by Andy Serkis (the mo-cap genius who’s a part of the movies).
Whilst it would’ve been easy to imagine an action title featuring battles between the humans and the apes (or even one another at times), this is instead a cinematic experience in the style of Telltale’s episodic releases – you dictate how a story plays out through your choices. It takes a very hands-off approach with its gameplay though, which makes for an experience that might not necessarily be for everyone.
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier sees you taking part in a small adventure that occurs just after the events of the second movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. You don’t just control one character though; instead, you take control of both an ape and a human. However, both the apes and the humans are at odds with one another following a tragic event, so you have to deal with the aftermath and the seemingly never-ending friction between the two groups.
With the humans, you take control of Jess – a woman who finds herself leading the settlement following the death of her Mayor husband. With the apes, you take control of Bryn – the son of the Tribe leader. No matter which role you take on at the time, you’re always juggling with different responsibilities and trying to find a way to keep everyone around you happy, all whilst trying to stop a war from breaking out between the humans and the apes. Or perhaps you’ll want a war – I mean, this is a game driven by choice, so you can do as you please.
I don’t want to spoil any of the story because it’s there for the player to discover themselves. It’s certainly an enjoyable little tale though and, as a fan of the movie franchise, I appreciated all of the little nods to the events that have taken place before it. That’s not to say that it’s compulsory to have seen the movies to enjoy Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier though; it’s a stand-alone tale and does enough with its narrative to be enjoyed by just about anyone.
One interesting aspect of the story is that it doesn’t define either of the races as being the good guys or the bad guys; it’s much like the movies, with both the humans and the apes having legitimate reasons for the things they do, even if they do have a couple of bad eggs amongst their ranks. This means that there’s nothing to influence the choices you make, but also that there’s plenty of options in place to act how you please. Every choice you make is dictated by your terms and what you want, even if some events in the storyline play out the same way regardless of how you decide to act.
One thing that Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier does very differently to other narrative adventures such as Life is Strange or Telltale’s The Walking Dead is that it eliminates all player interactions outside of their choices. You won’t be walking around each area or taking part in QTEs, but instead simply making the decisions as to what your characters say or do.
It means you’re going to get a much different experience to what players are used to, but it has its pros and cons. Players will certainly find it a much more streamlined experience, with no unnecessary gameplay segments put in just to prolong it – you just make your choices and enjoy seeing the repercussions of your actions. On the flipside, it also means you don’t really do much. Playing Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is effectively the same as watching a film, with no real need for the player to think too much outside of the box or have to react quickly in any way.
If I’m being honest, I missed some of the more interactive gameplay elements. Whilst QTEs aren’t necessarily one of gaming’s best features, their presence in the aforementioned titles helped give the player a little something extra to do. It’s the same with puzzle solving – the fact that Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier has none of this weakens it more than anything, even if the narrative itself is of a high quality.
That being said, whilst actual gameplay isn’t necessarily at the forefront, the choices you make can be meaningful and justify at least two playthroughs. You’ll be controlling events from both human and ape perspectives, so a lot of the choices you make will prove significant in how your story will end. This is another area in which Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier changes up from other choice-based narrative games though; you’re not controlling just one character, but instead two that are facing off against each other. You’re in complete control of how EVERYTHING plays out, and not just what one person does. It’s a system that works and feels different to the norm, making for a more intriguing experience where you really feel like you’re having an incredibly deep influence on events – at the same time though, it makes your input less personal given that you’re in control of both factions, so maybe too much control could also be seen as a bad thing…
The focus on offering more of a narrative-driven experience as opposed to a gameplay one tells in the overall presentation of Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier, with the game almost being presented like a movie.
Visually, everything looks really impressive, especially with the apes – that’s something to expect though given that the studio behind the mo-cap for them in the movies is involved with the game. The humans themselves don’t have the same attention to detail, but they still manage to look the part and fit in well with the great landscapes. The acting by both the humans and apes is absolutely on point too, with everything coming together nicely to make Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier one of the most well-presented cinematic experiences I’ve played in quite some time.
One of the big hooks of Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is the PlayLink integration, with the game allowing up to four players to influence the decisions made with their smart phone. Now I’ve been a fan of PlayLink so far, especially in the party game That’s You!, but I didn’t enjoy its implementation so much in a narrative-driven experience like this.
For starters, you’ve really got to focus on what’s going on in the story and what’s being said – anyone who has seen the Planet of the Apes movies will know there are a lot of subtitles to read when the apes are in dialogue with one another, and it’s the same case here. It felt less like an experience that I wanted to share with friends and more one that I’d want to see play out on my own.
Also, there’s the fact that there are going to be plenty of stalemates as far as decisions are concerned. It’s natural, especially with only four players being able to get in on the action at any one time. When there is stalemate, you’ll either have to decide amongst you who’s going to change their mind or instead have someone take their turn in overriding a decision. Now whilst this technically works, it also made it feel like your vote was a little meaningless when it’d simply be overridden in a scenario where it gets tied for votes. It just slowed the whole process down and left the action at a standstill at times, which is pretty frustrating for a cinematic experience. I think a good idea for future PlayLink games would be to include a third choice that you can’t choose, but is put into motion if players find themselves tied when deciding which action they go for – take a note on that, developers!
As a fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise, there was a lot that I liked about Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier, with the on-going conflict between the humans and the apes, and the way that you can influence it, making for another gripping tale.
However, from a gameplay perspective it was a little lacking. I can appreciate that the developers were going for a narrative and cinematic-focused experience, but I ended up missing the explorative and puzzling elements found in similar releases. Maybe if I wasn’t such a big fan of Telltale Games’ releases it wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but simply making choices alone wasn’t always enough.
Still, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is by no means a bad game and I’m sure those who enjoy the movies or just narrative-driven games in general will enjoy what it offers. It’s certainly a different take on the whole ‘narrative adventure’ genre, and whilst it didn’t always hit the mark for me, I was certainly able to appreciate what the developers were going for.