Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is an ambitious narrative experience, that much has to be said, but as a game in the sense of traditional play, it unfortunately falls short of the mark on a lot of its fronts. The game first released last year for the PlayStation 4 to a relatively mixed reception, and now that it’s finally on Xbox One, will the outcome be any different? Well, I cant predict the future but I can wholeheartedly tell you that it’s not done much to impress me; mostly due to its lack of evolving functionality and its optimization issues.
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is set between Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes. Players control both humans and apes in the all out conquest for domination, making for a short bite-sized story that’s littered with aspects of betrayal and survival. That, is pretty much the base limit of your involvement here. You see, this isn’t really a game per se, but more of an interactive journey that puts you at the center of many of its decisions and movements. If that appeals to you, then you may pull more from this than me.
The game can be run through in about two-to-three hours, but there is some replay value to Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier. The game has a total of three major outcomes and has nineteen alternate ways of triggering these conclusions. That pushes roughly fifteen hours of content if you want to enjoy and witness everything on offer. There’s also four player local multiplayer within and mixer integration through voting support. Like I said, there’s ambitious design choices and mechanics flowing through the game. I’ll credit it with that.
The game starts off in the footsteps of the apes, in which the core plot follows an ape known as Bryn – son of the tribe’s leader Khan. Taken to a mountain to escape the threat of the humans, apes are doing all that they can to survive the coming winter. However with food and supplies running low, the apes are faced with a much deadlier threat, hunger. With that danger firmly in mind, the apes set off to find replenishment and that’s where their journey begins within. In contrast, there’s a much darker tone to the premise of the human’s story.
The plot follows (recently appointed) leader, Jess. Jess is in the process of burying her husband and now under the weight of her newfound responsibility, it falls to her to look after the town and all of its people. However, when two of her men are attacked and there’s reports of nearby apes, as well as the arrival of two strangers, it’s time to come up with a plan. Now, I don’t want to dive any deeper into the plot than that, because the plot is the very driving force of the experience that unfolds. You’re simply the proverbial man behind the curtain.
That means that as far as hands-on gameplay is concerned, there’s very little to go on. You simple watch the story play out and will need to select dialogue choices throughout. Picture watching a six chapter movie, but having the ability to dictate and determine the choices. These choices are what reflect the overall outcome and, indeed, the different ways to trigger each outcome as outlined above. Though, I’ll admit, after completing it two times in a row, it became really boring and felt far from compelled to dive in and run it through once again.
In regards to the visuals and the animation, I’m on the fence here. The game showcases some good work as far as animation and voice acting is concerned, and each ape looks well detailed up-close, however, when you’re looking at a group of them, they look like aliens. The same level of criticism can be shared with the human characters, which look a bit off. Some extra time on the drawing board would have helped, just to elevate the visuals to current gen standards. It’s a good looking game, don’t get me wrong, but it’s far from greatness.
Now, I don’t usually pick on the visuals of a game too much, because, let’s face it, epic visuals do not equate to an epic game. Though with that being said, when the visuals are pretty much the only thing that this game has going for it, lack of detail hits harder than it would elsewhere. I also couldn’t quite wrap my head around why most of the apes use sign language to communicate, despite that most of them have the ability to talk. Furthermore, when the characters within do talk, there’s some audio issues that persist throughout the entirety of play.
Mostly, this falls to a slight echo that you can hear when each voice actor has voiced their lines, almost as though each actor recorded their work in a large open hall. On top of that, the audio cues are absent. I mean, where the hell is the sound? The game sports some great scenes, but I found myself not being immersed due to the lack of ambiance. What I will say in defense of the story is that it is entertaining when it wants to be, and even somewhat emotional. It’s just a shame that its lack of polish (framerate galore) and poor production hinders the overall package.
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier’s core functionality relays little more than a choice-driven interactive experience. We’ve seen this formula many times this gen, and although it can indeed work when effort has not been spared, here, it just doesn’t add up. Indeed, Last Frontier offers a decent multi-branching plot, but its hands-off approach and its poor production value holds it back, tremendously.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.