Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is set between Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes – the two most recent movies in the franchise.
With the power of PlayLink, up to four players can decide the fate of humans and apes alike, as we take control of Jess, the head of a human settlement, and Bryn, an ape in a mountain tribe. If playing along with the PlayLink app isn’t cutting it for you, fortunately you can also use multiple DualShock 4 controllers. In fact, playing this way is preferable, as you’re not threatened by connection problems if your wi-fi isn’t behaving. Still, the option for PlayLink is there should you need it.
Of course, playing may be a bit of a grandiose term for the experience Last Frontier provides; for an interactive drama, this game is very passive. There's no opportunity to explore the surroundings at all; you don’t even get to manoeuvre the characters. Your role as a player is limited to choosing dialogue options and deciding whether or not to do certain actions, such as shooting a gun or engaging in a fight.
After a shaky start, the plot of Last Frontier develops well, as you’d hope for a narrative-driven game. Apes fans will love all of the nods to the movies and the continuing theme of empathy and the running test of where loyalties lie. As with the movies, the human and ape "sides" are both portrayed as morally grey, so there’s a lot of room for interpretation of character actions which may lead you to make different choices throughout. However, there do seem to be a lot of points where you’re given a decision to make and the game drives the story in a different direction; it seems to be more a game about how many people you make enemies of while following a linear plot rather than carving out your own story through the choices you make.
Last Frontier also has the benefit of having a really cinematic feel to it. From the wide panning shots to the impressive backdrops (some rendering issues aside), the visuals are pretty solid. The eerie soundtrack creates a tense feeling throughout the game which helps give the illusion that these characters are in your hands.
The multiplayer aspect of Last Frontier, which seems to be its main selling point, is weak. Asking your friends to sit around and make decisions on whether you beat an ape to death or let your community starve isn’t the most compelling evening's entertainment. The game is far too serious in its tone to be remotely considered a party game, and demands too much attention from its players to really work as a multiplayer title. Large portions of the ape sections are subtitled without dialogue, meaning you have to concentrate all of the time to avoid missing out on any key information or plot points in the lead-up to making the next decision. This is bad news if you wanted to play along with friends and have a social evening, and is even a struggle if playing alone.
Decisions are made in multiplayer on a "majority rules" basis. If it’s a draw, then the game waits until one player has changed their mind and turned the tides before progressing, or leaves it in the hands of the players who each have the power to override stalemates. Again, this is something that doesn’t quite gel. You can have up to four players making a decision, but you have to act with a collective conscious. Having to revisit decisions until a consensus is reached means it can bring the pace of the game grinding to a halt.
Ultimately, a lot of aspects of Last Frontier just don’t work. The whole story begins with a cold opening, which is extremely brave and ultimately a risk that doesn’t quite pay off. From the offset you’re expected to make decisions about characters you don’t know anything about and situations you haven’t grasped yet.
While this game is a good addition to the existing lore of the Planet of the Apes franchise, it offers little in terms of actual gameplay. The plot of the game is strong, but it's just not enough to totally carry the experience. Final Frontier feels like a valiant attempt at storytelling in a new environment, but it just doesn't quite stick the landing.