In the game, the player assumes the roles of both New York scriptwriter Jack Driscoll and the giant gorilla, King Kong, as they struggle to survive the threats of Skull Island in 1933.
Human levels are controlled from a first person perspective. The game de-emphasizes the role of a heads-up display: it lacks a life bar, aiming reticle, and ammunition readout (the ammo readout and aiming reticule can be turned on and off at the player's will, but is disabled by default), further adding to the challenge and encouraging the player to find alternate weapons and techniques.
Interspersed with human adventure are levels in which the player controls Kong himself, traversing Skull Island's unique geography, battling various giant monsters while defending Ann. The Kong levels take place in a third-person view, as the player directs Kong to punch, grab and use objects/corpses as weapons. He can also bite, climb, charge, hurl enemies and even pound his chest to go into fury mode. When Kong is sent into fury mode, the sky becomes tinted with a golden hue and Kong becomes more powerful and less vulnerable to attack. Many of the Kong sequences fulfill the role of boss fights, as the giant ape is able to effectively battle the gigantic creatures that Jack's weapons cannot harm.
The game features an alternate ending where Kong can be saved during the Empire State Building shootout and safely returned to Skull Island. The ending was approved by Peter Jackson. To unlock the alternate ending, players must complete the entire game and then go back and play through various maps and earn a total of 250,000 points. It can also be accessed by using the cheat codes.