Planet of the Apes - Last Frontier
Last Frontier marks the first Planet of the Apes game since 2003, and the first based within the new era of Apes movies, which makes it all the more frustrating that it’s painful to slog through. Come inside for my full thoughts.
When Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier was first announced, I was pretty excited. Coupling with Andy Serkis’ own Motion Capture studio, Last Frontier, promised (and mostly delivers) stunning visual effects to bring the apes to life much like they are on the big screen. It’s a neat idea, but the end result is far from engaging.
The premise of the game is simple, as you play through a story that takes place/fills the gap between Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes. You’ll “play” (I use the term loosely) on both the ape and human side. The Apes are a splinter tribe that left Caesar’s group after the fallout of Koba, while the humans are struggling to survive on a settlement on the outskirts of a mountain.
Though unaware of the larger conflict brewing between Apes and Humans, the coming of winter (and scarcity of food) inevitably finds these two stories converging. The idea is solid, and the character work isn’t bad, though nowhere near the emotional level of the movies, but the overall execution of the game is pretty awful.
While it’s visually impressive, there isn’t much else to enjoy about it. The entirety of the game is about making choices, and in that way it's similar to a Telltale game, but manages to be even less interactive. Pretty much all you do is flick the joystick/D-pad to the right or left in order to choose the dialog option you want. That's all you get, two choices; there's no dialog tree, or branching narratives, so all you're doing is picking the cutscene you're going to see next.
Later on in the game, you get the slightly more interactive action button, but that serves the same purpose, and you're still limited to two choices. You can either hit the button to trigger an action, or you don't. The only difference is this pair of choices comes with a timer. Essentially, what you're getting is a (roughly) 3-hour choose your own adventure movie. I've never been a fan of these kinds of games, but even Telltale games feel more like a traditional game than what you're presented with in Last Frontier. What you're given is the bare minimum of input on the story.
Even with the focus being entirely on your decision, the choices you make rarely feel like they have any significant impact. The game's conclusion ultimately comes down to one of three options. The apes win, the humans win, they find a way to co-exist. That's about it, and in regards to the ending you ultimately get, it feels clear only a handful of choices affect this outcome. The rest of the choices you're faced with feel like they're only in place to provide a break to feel like you're doing something other than watching a movie.
This wouldn't be so terrible if the story involved was a bit more interesting. I'm a pretty big fan of Planet of the Apes, and have been almost as long as I've been a Star Wars fan (though not to the same degree), but even I found it difficult to stay engaged with the story. Ultimately, you're just bored most of the time, and with your only real interaction being limited to picking between two basic options, there isn't much reason to slog through it.
If this wasn't bad enough, the game suffers from some technical issues as well. The Apes look good for the most part (some of the background ones look horrible), but the human animations are stiff and wonky. When scenes shift, or even cut to another angle, there's often a stutter/jump that throws everything off. It's slight, and only last for a second, but it's enough to kill any sort of immersion you may have. Another odd glitch is that the tutorial text that told me how to make my choices at the beginning of the game (moving the joystick side-to-side) never went away. They remained perpetually on the bottom of the screen all the way till the end.