The Planet of the Apes franchise would seem to be one that is absolutely ripe for adaptation into the realms of point and click adventuring, and yet, developer Imaginati Studios has instead elected to bring the IP to digital life as a PlayLink title instead. As it is, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is a handsomely made and enjoyable experience, but the short length and lack of player agency mean that this is one piece of monkey business that only fans of the movie franchise will truly appreciate.
Get ready for some PlayLink monkey business
Produced by Andy Serkis (the mad genius who provided the motion capture performance and voice for the primary protagonist, Caesar, in the most recent Planet of the Apes movie series), Last Frontier is a canonical work which takes place a year after the events depicted in the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the second film in the rebooted movie trilogy.
Routinely switching perspective from ape to human, Last Frontier primarily revolves around a splinter group of apes that followed the treacherous ape Koba, and the story details their struggle to survive in addition to highlighting the sizable rifts in ideology that have opened up between the primates since Koba’s fall. Viewed predominantly from the perspective of Bryn, the middle son of tribe leader Khan, players must balance the wellbeing of the tribe alongside that of keeping the peace between Tola and Juno, his disruptive older and younger brothers respectively.
When the action switches to the goings on in Human Town (I made that up, but you get the idea), players get to control Jess, the widower of the late town mayor who must care for the few humans that she provides shelter for, all the while debating the need for more proactive violence against the apes with some of the town’s more hard-line inhabitants. Naturally, the brown stuff hits the fan when the apes, which are desperate for food, are forced to lay siege to the human-owned farm and from here the player controls each side of the story.
It’s here in the conflict between ape and man that Last Frontier poses players a raft of moral dilemmas that form the crux of its decision-making narrative. Do you as the apes, shoot as many humans as you can while you rob a farm for precious food, or, do you try and cause as few casualties as possible in order to prevent all-out war? In either case these decisions can result in the life or death of characters within the story and can ultimately be used to control the path that the story takes to one of the game’s three different endings.
Now, when I say ‘control’ I do mean that in the loosest of loose terms. You see, rather than a point and click effort in the vein of Telltale Games output, the player can only make choice based decisions in the Last Frontier and is unable to walk, explore, talk or otherwise interact with any aspect of the game world. On the one side, like other PlayLink efforts such as the recently released Hidden Agenda, this lends Last Frontier an accessible cinematic quality, and it’s this which will serve as the most compelling aspect of the game for those non-gaming folks who found themselves enamoured with the recent Planet of the Apes silver screen outings.
PlayLink keeps things interesting for multiplayer
For everyone else however, the almost total lack of freewheeling player interaction can prove stifling and overly reductive, hinting at the ambitious promise of an action adventure setting that Last Frontier never fully realises. All the same, while the Last Frontier might not challenge more seasoned gamers as robustly as they’d like, the game does neatly leverage Sony’s PlayLink technology to create some pretty entertaining multiplayer sessions which do succeed in keeping things interesting.
As with other PlayLink titles all that is required is a phone and a willingness to play, which means that everybody from your great grandad down to your ten year old little brother or sister can get stuck right in without the need for a potentially painful bout of joypad orientation. Here, players vote for choices using their phone and then once everyone has made their choice, their decisions will appear on the screen next to their name with only a unanimous vote on a particular course of action being able to push the story onward.
Given that deadlocks in decision-making are quite frequent, Last Frontier resolves such situations through the use of a dictatorial vote of sorts, allowing players each a chance to override a tie with their own choice before passing the power onto the next player in line. It’s a good system in all fairness, as it prevents proceedings from grinding to a halt and can result in some spirited arguments among friends whenever a course of action is being forced through (something I suspect the developers of Last Frontier were counting on).
Away from the limited trappings of the game, itself it should come as little surprise that given the Hollywood style production values behind the game (Andy Serkis is involved after all) mean that that Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier absolutely looks and sounds just like the property that it is based on; looking like a CG movie that has sprung to life, the attention to detail is simply staggering.
It’s the apes themselves who are the most bountiful recipients of this technical wizardry, as the most subtle facial expressions and physical mannerisms all manifest to make them look like they’ve just been pulled straight off the films and onto your television screen. Certainly, it’s a testament to the quality of the character models that when the apes communicate using their version of sign language (as seen in the movies) that all the movements look totally authentic; once more reinforcing the fact that Last Frontier was borne from the same studio production values as the movies and not conceived in isolation as some sort of separate entity.
With a look that slavishly apes (sorry) the movies that it is so clearly based on, fans of the Planet of the Apes movies and those who have yet to pick up a controller in their lifetime will discover that Last Frontier offers a good deal of fun. Others looking for a more robust challenge however, might do well to look elsewhere.