Beginning in 1968, the Planet of the Apes series dealt with serious social and political issues through subtle and not so subtle analogies and metaphors all wrapped into entertaining films, novels, comics, television series, and now video games. Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is the latest entry in the surprisingly successful rebooted trilogy of Apes films starting with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and most recently with the newest film War for the Planet of the Apes. Following the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Last Frontier centers on two characters; Bryn, a chimpanzee struggling to survive with his tribe on a remote mountain, and Jess, a farmer living in the fall out of the Simian Flu epidemic with her son and a small community of other humans.
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier opens with a brief summary of how a tribe of apes got separated from Caesar's tribe and had to make a new home on a mountain devoid of any food or livestock. Because of this lack of food, the tribe of apes are slowly starving to death and must act quickly if they hope to avoid this fate. Khan, the chimpanzee leader of the tribe, instructs his sons Bryn, Tola, and Juno that they must go out on a last-ditch effort to hunt for food. However, Khan and his adviser Clarence, an orangutan, warn the brothers not to hunt outside of the mountain because if the humans know of the ape presence in the mountains, it will put the entire tribe in danger. Tola disregards this warning due to the knowledge of there being no food on the mountain and convinces Bryn and Juno to hunt with him on the plains below.
Then we are introduced to Jess, her son Mark, and her friend Rainy as they bury her husband who has succumb to an unknown illness. Jess' husband was the leader of a small town of humans, and with his death, the position of leader has fallen onto her. Without much time to grieve, Jess' first decision as leader comes when two drifters claiming to be hunters approach the main gates of the town. One of the men is wounded from an apparent hunting accident, so the two men request entry into the town to tend to his wound in exchange for work around the town.
We cut back to the three ape brothers as they spot a small farm with cattle guarded by two humans. Tola recommends that they kill the humans so they can get the cattle without witnesses, but Juno advises that they should either turn back or find a way to gather the cattle without harming the humans. Regardless of who Bryn sides with, one human ends up dead and the other wounded. The wounded human is able to reach Jess' town and explain to her and the town's folk that apes attacked, killed his brother, and stole cattle. This is where the human characters' story begins to intersect with the apes' story. Anything beyond this would be a spoiling the plot of the game.
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier's story is well told and surprisingly engaging. The average run time of the game is about 3 hours, and I knew about this ahead of time so I was worried that wouldn't be enough time to become attached to any characters, but it seems that 3 hours was just enough time needed to like or dislike certain characters. Although the developers have claimed that Last Frontier's characters would be morally ambiguous with no clear cut hero or villain, this isn't necessarily true. While the motives behind the villains may be for the greater good, the characters themselves come off as cookie-cutter bad guys.
The choices themselves don't seem to make much of an impact outside of smaller, more inconsequential ones either. No matter what you pick, Bryn will go with Tola to steal the cattle. No matter who you side with, the human farmers will be attacked and will alert Jess to the apes living on the mountain. It seems to me that outside of the possible endings, the choices dictate more of who will like you rather than where the story will go.
You may have noticed that I spent much more time looking at the story than I would normally. This wasn't by accident. That is because Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is a purely narrative driven experience. And I do mean "purely narrative."
The term "interactive movie" is thrown around quite often with games such as The Last of Us and Telltale's The Walking Dead series seemingly falling into this category. Whether or not you agree with that sentiment is irrelevant because Last Frontier takes that term to a whole new level. The extent of the gameplay found in Last Frontier boils down to occasionally choosing between one of two narrative choices and pressing a single button during quick timed events. There are no sections where the player can walk around an environment and study the locations like in Telltale's episodic games. Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier walks a now thin line between video game and movie.
While I've defended games that have been falsely labeled "interactive movies" in the past, this is one instance where I can not because the label adequately defines Last Frontier. With the lack of any sections where you can actually control and move your character around, your time spent with Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier can be similarly experienced by watching War for the Planet of the Apes and pausing the film for 10 seconds every time a character is contemplating a decision. So Last Frontier ultimately begs the question of: Why did this have to be a video game? With the underwhelming performance of the latest film at the box office, it is still uncertain of whether or not there will be a fourth film in the rebooted franchise, and seeing as how the scope of this game is nowhere near as large as any of the films, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier would have worked much better as a short film or as a television mini-series.
The visuals and graphics of Last Frontier are absolutely amazing. The dreary, depressing world is perfectly executed with proper lighting and appropriate color palette that matches the same tone set by the films. Although you can tell when Last Frontier switches between in-game graphics and pre-rendered, the apes themselves look incredible and almost rival Weta Digital's work on the ape CGI in the films. That is with the exception of the gorilla. While the chimpanzees and orangutan look lifelike, the gorilla looks heavily stylized and even like a cartoon, at times. The humans are also hit or miss. Maria and Willits look like they came straight out of real life and into this game, but Jess and Rainy are often stiff, poorly animated, and their lack of most eye contact could almost lead you to believe that they were blind. Despite this, the beautifully detailed and animated apes are the real star of the show, and Last Frontier succeeds in that department.
With a fantastic story, but devoid of any actual gameplay, it's difficult to recommend Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier to anyone. Especially with a price tag of $29.99 USD for a 3 hours experience. However, I understand that this is the type of experience some players are looking for, and for them this is exactly what you want. But for those of us that prefer to play a video game rather than watch one, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier may only be worth your time once the price drops significantly, if only to experience the story.