Preview: ‘Planet of the Apes’ game is the interactive movie evolved

By Gieson Cacho | East Bay Times (TNS)

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Genre: Interactive fiction, adventure
Publisher: FoxNext Games
Developer: Imaginati Studios
ESRB: RP, for rating pending

“Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier” is an odd bird. Despite giving players the agency to affect the world and story, it’s not a traditional video game, and with its hyper-realistic visuals, it’s not a movie. The interactive experience straddles the line between the two art forms.

Like Telltale Games such as “The Walking Dead,” it lets players make choices that shape the narrative, but those decisions are done without exploration. Players don’t control a main character. Instead, “Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier” acts like a movie shifting from scene to scene. The developers, Imaginati Studios, lets players watch Hideo Kojima-length cut scenes and peppers the experience with choices.

The most interesting part of the experience is the addition of multiplayer. On the PlayStation 4, up to four players can join via their smartphones. They just have to download an app. When viewers reach a decision point, they can all vote on what to do. In one instance, I could scold a young ape or I could try to calm him down. In another scene, I had a chance to halt a brutal interrogation or continue it to uncover vital information to protect my people.

Martin Alltimes, owner of Imaginati Studios, says the decision to remove exploration allows the team to increase the number of game-changing choices. They have enough turning points for an 8- to 10-hour game, but that’s packed into a three-hour experience. With the smartphone support, the PlayStation 4 seems to be a perfect vehicle for a group experience.

“Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier” is a spinoff to the recent “Planet of the Apes” films. It follows a splinter group of simians who migrate 800 miles northeast of the Bay Area. They arrive in the mountains in spring when food is scarce. Players will focus on both sides of the conflict. The apes are looking for sustenance to survive while humans see the apes’ encroachment as a threat.

The interactive experience features three endings: one where the apes win, one where the humans come out victorious and another where the two find peace. On top of that, decisions made throughout the narrative can decide the fates of several characters so there are nuances to those outcomes.

Alltimes compares the multiplayer experience to a conversation after a group of friends sees a movie, but the big difference is that because players have the power to influence the narrative, the discussions that would have happened afterward occur in real time. He expects players to debate actions and deliberate almost like a jury before everyone votes with their smartphone in what’s essentially a secret ballot.

Being that there’s four-player support. The group can experience ties, but each player has an overrule action that they can activate. Once it’s used up though, the ability doesn’t return until everyone else has used their overrule action.

The concept is an intriguing one. It’s more accessible than a normal video game, but I’m curious to see how the decision-making impacts the flow of the narrative. If players are constantly faced with choices every five minutes, then the experience can wear on them. It’ll be a fine line, but I can see “Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier” being an intriguing way to entertain guests at a dinner party. The replay value obviously isn’t great.

“Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier” is scheduled for release later this year on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.