There’s no confusing Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier with a Telltale-style adventure game. There is no exploration, no dialogue trees or puzzles to solve. It’s a three-hour movie peppered with simple A or B choices that influence how events play out. It’s about as basic as interactive fiction gets.
Set a year after the events of the 2014 film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Last Frontier tells the story of conflict between a renegade tribe of primates and a human settlement in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains in America. While the apes, a splinter group that once followed Caesar’s renegade lieutenant Koba, initially stay out of human territory, the onset of winter causes them to strike out further from their mountain sanctuary in search of food, bringing them into direct conflict with humans.
The humans are a small, ragtag group, huddled together for safety in a small town. It’s run by Jess, the widow of the recently-deceased mayor. It’s a town of folks unaware of the ape aggression sweeping the country. If not for a pair of “ape hunters” seeking refuge in the early moments of the game, the primate forces would have taken them completely by surprise.
The story jumps back and forth between the human and ape settlements. As the apes send out a hunting party destined to stray too close to human territory, the people in the town cautiously welcome the aforementioned ape hunters into their walls. While the humans deal with the aftermath of an initial attack that leaves one of their own dead, the ape leader questions his sons about where the food from their successful hunt came from, since they were forbidden to leave the mountain and stray into human lands.
During key moments during the story, the player (or players—up to four people can play using a PlayLink app that turns their phones into controllers) is presented with a choice.
If only one player is participating, they make the choice and the narrative continues. If multiple players are involved, the choice is resolved as a vote. In the event of a tie, players can opt to activate a limited-use tie breaker, forcing their decision to pass.
Will you accept the Ape Hunters’ help? Your choices are two different flavours of yes.
Sometimes these choices feel like the have some weight to them. When human leader Jess has to decide between fortifying the town walls or sending out parties to hunt the enemy, it’s a heavy decision that seems to influence how the game progresses and ultimately ends. While there are only three main outcomes to the game—apes win, humans win or neither—who lives and dies to see these outcomes can be up to player-made decisions.
There are other choices, however, that feel like they’re in place just to make sure the player stays awake during long, drawn-out bits of narrative. It’s not easy, especially while watching extended sequences of apes using sign language to communicate.
There is action here, but it’s not very interactive. During certain sequences the players will be asked to make “action choices,” such as deciding whether or not to fire a weapon during a battle. It’s basically a regular choice, only with a timer.
Last Frontier is a bit messy. After my first action choice, the tooltip explaining how the mechanic works stayed on my screen for the rest of the game. You’ll see it in several screenshots. Textures pop in and out, and jumping from one camera angle to the next is often accompanied by a jarring bit of screen jump.
It’s also jarring jumping between scenes featuring apes and those focused on humans. The apes look pretty damn amazing, as they should.
Comparatively, many of the humans look like hot garbage, with only the most central characters rising above that level.
The main problem with Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is I find it terribly boring. It’s a three-hour-long unskippable cutscene that occasionally asks me to press left or right. I tried playing with my wife, but aside from the odd argument over which choice to make, we were two bored people instead of one.
Were I more invested in the film franchise, maybe Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier would be more entertaining. Someone more into the lore and the background of the rapidly-evolved primates might find this conflict between two scattered groups in the remote wilderness compelling, maybe even exciting. Instead, it’s an interactive movie I’d much rather sleep through than swipe through.