As you can see in our impressions video, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is like a Telltale game, but stripped down to its bare parts. It’s a story game in which I make my way through narrative scenes, making choices along the way. But there’s no walking around or puzzle-solving, as in Telltale’s series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. It’s just a series of recorded scenes interconnected by binary choices. Telltale games tend to offer up to four choices.
Most of the choices are dialog-driven. Should I agree with the prevailing winds of opinion, or should I take a moral stand? Some are action-based. Should I shoot the gun, or not? They tend to happen about once every 20- or 30-seconds.
So it’s an interactive movie, a somewhat loaded tag in gaming circles. But it’s not like those terrible interactive movies of yore, plagued by awful acting and absurd plots. I played the game recently and was struck by the depth of the moral choices I was being asked to make.
More intriguing is its multiplayer option. Up to four people can play at once, using cell phones to vote for their favored choice. Tie-breaks are taken in turn. I think this may make the game more than the sum of its parts. It gives me some pleasure to imagine the arguments in my family home, once we huddle to play this. The narrative choices go to the heart of major issues, like whether or not torture is ever justified, or how far hunger ought to be a mitigating factor in executing crimes. As always in Planet of the Apes, the issue of division and tolerance are never far from the surface.
The game is being created by Imaginati, a London-based game studio, and published by Andy Serkis’ company Imaginarium Productions. Serkis played the motion-captured part of Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes movies.
Last Frontier takes place in a time frame between the last two Planet of the Apes movies in the recent series. It features a whole new set of ape and human characters, and takes place in the American heartland. A tribe of apes and a human settlement compete for scarce resources.
I play on both sides. Some of the time, I’m an ape who has to balance the hotheads in my party with those who are more cautious. At others, I’m a woman who finds herself leading the humans, who are dominated by men, many of whom resent my status.
In both cases, I must balance various responsibilities like food, shelter and safety. But I must also work my way through political problems that could lead to disaster, as well as moral issues.
In the video above, a captured ape is tortured for information. The humans are facing a very real possibility of annihilation. They need information in order to defend themselves. It’s not even clear if the ape can talk. In any case, my natural inclination is against torture. But the people I’m supposed to be leading have no such scruples. They are angry men, whose primary concern is staying alive, no matter what the cost.
It’s not an easy choice. Of course, as the game goes on, the choices all come together to create an ending, which could be defeat for either side, or an uneasy compromise. As you (and your co-players) make your way through the story, it may be that different people desire different endings.
There are some issues with Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier. The eyes betray that uncanny valley look, which is exacerbated by the movie-like environment of the scenes. The teeth have that weird, shiny thing going on. But if you’re interested in games that ask difficult questions, and offer uncomfortable outcomes, this looks like it has something to offer.
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is due out in the fall on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.