As one of the longest-lived sci-fi franchises out there, Planet of the Apes has managed to remain relevant through the past four decades. Its tale of apes rising up and taking the world from humanity continues to strike a chord with cinemagoers, and with the recent trilogy of films its popularity is undeniable. Despite all that, Last Frontier is the first Apes game for many years, and the franchise has never been given the treatment it deserves. Imaginati Studios – co-founded by actor Andy Serkis and film producer Jonathan Cavendish – is looking to change all that though, offering up a cinematic narrative adventure set between Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and this year’s War for the Planet of the Apes, where players will have to make some tough decisions, whether together or apart.
If Andy Serkis and the team at Imaginati were trying to make Telltale’s catalogue of narrative games look like old hat, they’ve certainly achieved that. Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier boasts production values that many AAA games would kill for, with central character animation that’s amongst the best we’ve seen. It is clear that this isn’t a project from a publisher with infinitely deep pockets mind you, as there are still some flat textures and less convincing background characters to find if you look hard enough, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a very handsome game.
The story follows the events that occur when a tribe of apes that live on a mountain come into contact with the townspeople of nearby Millerton. Anyone who is a fan of the franchise can probably guess that things aren’t going to go well – for anybody – with distrust, hidden agendas and lies on both sides amping up the tension to dangerous levels. While it feels as though there’s a certain sense of inevitability to the game’s outcome, it still makes for an engaging tale, and taking control of both sides at different points helps to emphasise just how heartbreaking any conflict is when they are fundamentally so similar.
Thanks in part to PlayLink, Last Frontier isn’t just a solo experience either, with up to four players being able to take control of the narrative. The majority choice make the decisions and this adds in a new layer to playing together, particularly when you disagree. No matter which way it goes, it remains an interesting and engaging ride.
Rather than potential slanders from choosing something different to your spouse the biggest problem was in connecting via PlayLink. One day it simply didn’t work, the next day it did, but there’s no appearance of fallback connectivity as found in other PlayLink games. Then again, you can just play with a controller, which will be the only option when the game eventually comes to platforms other than PlayStation 4. It’s hardly going to cause you too much confusion as you only need the left and right analog stick and one lonely button to interact with the onscreen action.
I wondered recently while reviewing Telltale’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy whether I’d enjoy a narrative adventure with all of the extraneous – and mostly dull – puzzling sections removed and Last Frontier answers that. This is in essence a choose your own adventure game, with binary decisions regularly available to you which dictate the story’s progress. Unlike in Telltale’s offerings there’s generally no timer that forces you to make a decision, with the story freezing until you’ve chosen. The pause doesn’t do the narrative any favours, but it makes sense in terms of what they’re trying to achieve. Your best bet is not to be too conflicted over your choices, though that’s unlikely when the series itself thrives on the ambiguity of character’s actions.
There are still action sequences, though the game’s multiplayer bent means that things might not go the way you want as it takes all players pressing the X button within a time limit in order to trigger the action. Of course if you’re playing solo it’s all just on you, and while it’s not quite the same reaction based test that Telltale ask of you, you still have to pay attention to what’s going on if you want things to go your way. It’s still only a binary choice between acting and not acting though which begins to feel a little limiting. I understand why this is the case, but in future offerings it would be nice to see your options expanded.
The biggest question you’ll likely have by the end is just how interactive a piece of software needs to be to be labelled as a game. Narratively, and production wise, this is an involving and attractive adventure that fans of the recent Apes films will love – the soundtrack is also wonderfully atmospheric too – but you may feel as though your own input didn’t really influence the actual direction of events. It’s clear at times that it allows you to perform your choice, but simply runs through the alternative as well, angling you where the story needs to go. It’s not something I’ve ever been so aware of in Telltale games, despite the fact it does have to be that way, but here it’s often quite blatant in how little your influence can actually mean.
Given how good the production values are overall, it’s a further shame that there are some technical issues which take the shine off things. The most obvious problem are textures which are too slow to load, leading to ugly pop-in that detracts from both the quality of the imagery and the overall atmosphere, while hitches in transitions also cheapen the experience.
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is an exciting narrative adventure that fans of the recent film trilogy will love. Its biggest drawback is perhaps how little interaction you actually have with it and that some of your choices make no difference to the game’s direction, but as a fantastic-looking, branching story in a loved world, there’s nothing else quite like it.
Version Tested: PS4 Pro