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Kingpin

As a result of recent events, violence has once again made its way to the front row of public conciousness. With attacks on the media's portrayal of violence, and the violence we see in all forms of entertainment- be it movies, music, and yes, even games- most people have made great efforts to avoid the subject. Kingpins' developers, Xatrix, seem to have taken the opposite stance, and run headlong into the world of violence. Kingpin: Life of Crime is sure to upset some parents, but not without ample warning. Before the shrinkwrap is even removed, you are confronted with a large sticker warning of the impending violence and profane language you are about to experience. Parents need not fear too much, though.

Kingpin was wisely loaded with a low-violence version. This version removes the gratuitous blood splattering, and gory details of your beaten victims. It also censors the language in the typically annoying censorship style of covering the vulgar language with loud beeps. Unfortunately, the large majority of this game, even without vulgar language and blood, is violent. The first thing you must do to get started is beat people with a lead pipe to get money, so that, in turn, you can start beating people with a crowbar. The low-violence version is a nice addition, but with a game that is so totally consumed with violence, it's hard to edit it out in a truly effective manner. This shows a lack of caring for the low-violence game players. It would have been just as easy to replace the words with PG rated language, and give the player a teenager-safe version of the game that does not just seem to be an afterthought.

The world of Kingpin is that of typical film noir - seedy, shifty characters living in a world of filth and darkness where evil breeds and evil rules. Buildings loom over you in a neverending night. Xatrix claims that the world of Kingpin lies "Somewhere in a past that never crossed paths with the future." This is not evident in the game. The only items that would be native to some alternate retro world would be the slightly odd looking telephones, televisions, and radios. Otherwise this looks nothing more than a dark world of run-down projects run by violent gangs, which some would claim mirrors the real world. Upon starting a game of Kingpin, you are introduced to the Kingpin, who is going through the nightly routine of counting his money from drugs and prostitution. Talking to one of his accomplices, he asks where another one of his boys, Nicki, is, to which the henchman replies that he's taking care of "personal business". You are then immediately whisked away to your current situation, which is your character getting beaten up by Nicki, with one of his bodyguards standing over him. They walk off, and you immediately swear revenge on everyone. The reason you were run down by the mob is completely unknown, and never revealed.

This is the extent of the storyline in Kingpin. For unknown reasons, you, a no-name "punk", are going after the leader and members of an unknown gang. There is also very little that ties the movement from one location to another. Your character seems to know exactly where he is headed, though it would be nice if he would tell the player. Gameplay in Kingpin is that of every other first person shooter- you get weapons, and you kill what doesn't kill you first.

There are a few occasions, however, where you benefit from not killing, but helping or paying (and then killing) other characters in the game. Such things include giving liquor to a drunk for information, or stealing already stolen property in exchange for keys or other items. Some of the mini-quests seem to come out of nowhere, and you are not given any incentive to do them. One such mission is rescuing a girl's brother from the local sweatshop. In a normal world your character would be the type to help this individual, but he is a street punk out for revenge, and playing Superman is not exactly in his character. This superhero ethic does not mix well with his dominating thug mentality. But for, unknown reasons, he is obligated to carry out these tasks. Also of note is the ability to hire goons to help you out on your mission. These mercenaries can be hired off the streets, or in any of the several bars that exist in the different cities. This is an excellent idea, but it's not pulled off with that same excellence. Your goons have the intelligence of a deer crossing the road. As soon as they are confronted by an enemy, they stand still and start firing off rounds. The enemy, however, does not stay still for them. They prance around easily picking off your very expensive hired help. Enemy AI is not much more advanced, although they do have a tendency to run off for a few seconds, only to run straight back to you. This gives you ample time to hide around a corner and pop them off with a shotgun blow to the head.

Kingpin is truly a hard game, but only when on one of the middle or higher difficulty levels. On the easiest level, you can go around taking out everyone in the first section of the game in less than five minutes, and you can do it hastily and still survive. On the harder settings, enemies deliver higher damage, and are tougher to kill. They also have a faster rate-of-fire, in some cases too fast. The enemies tend to out-power you with either bigger guns, or the ability to get in more shots than you. Dodging bullets in Kingpin is nearly a lost cause. Strafing from one side to another does little to help when the enemy is firing a tommy gun, though dodging pistol shots is a bit easier. In addition to the outnumbering and out- powering, you tend to run on a constant low amount of health. Having your health sit at anywhere from 30% to 60% was typical, and with health powerups being far apart in many areas, it could make any game difficult.

The Kingpin interface is, for the most part, generic. There is one twist to that, which is the ability to go into pawn shops, all of which are called Pawn-o-Matic, and select from a menu of items to buy. The ability to buy ammo, health, and armor was a big help. You are limited in what you can get, though. In the entire game, I never found the opportunity to buy a weapon that I did not already have, since you can only buy certain weapons as you progress in the game. Another plus was modifications you could purchase, though almost entirely for the pistol. You could get reloading modifications to make it faster to reload. You could purchase a slightly faster rate-of-fire modification. Most important was the Magnum modification which increased the damage your pistol delivered. There was also a silencer modification, which I mysteriously lost mid-game, but it was practically useless.

Weapons were also your typical FPS staple. The melee weapon alternated between your initial lead pipe, and later a purchased crowbar. The typical pistol and shot gun, along with a tommy gun (machine gun), were your basic ranged weapons. The higher level weapons were grenade launchers, bazookas, flame throwers, and the highly powerful, heavy machine gun. The heavy machine gun was the most balanced weapon. It shot three rounds of high speed ammunition, which usually killed in one or two bursts, but was counterbalanced by a slow reload speed. The bazooka was the most disappointing weapons. It delivered little damage to others, but could quickly kill you if you fired at too close a range. The flame thrower was also disappointing. If you managed to keep from setting yourself on fire, you would catch your enemies on fire. Unfortunately they wouldn't stay on fire and the flames would suddenly go out, with them instantly continuing the shoot at you. This was best if used on a one-on-one basis where you could easy re-ignite them without having to worry about others shooting you.

The best part of Kingpin was its graphics. It was almost assured graphical success by basing itself on the Quake II engine. Kingpin did take it a step further and place you in a visually stunning macabre world of crime, violence, and uncertainty. Though the explosions for barrels of flammable liquid and the bazooka were not very believable, they were very appealing to the eye. Most appealing was the realism in which the character stood, walked, ran, and fought. On the downside, looking closely at a character revealed an annoying ripple effect that raged all across the characters' bodies when they moved. One of the touted features of the game, that of being able to see entry and exit wounds, either did not make it into the game, or was so poorly implemented that it was not noticeable. The cut-scenes were handled by the graphics engine, and were quite nice. These short, surrealistic scenes ,complemented by odd camera angles, stay to the point of conveying what was going on at that moment.

Another high mark for the game is its use of varying locales. The level design is rather standard, with a few areas standing out as either remarkable or horrible. Location, as many business people say, is everything. With locations such as slums, sewers, train yards, and shipyards, Kingpin has the market on location. The Trainyard scenario actually starts far from the trainyard itself. It begins with the derailment of a train you catch a ride on, and continues as you journey through the gang infested tunnels that lead to the again gang infested train yard. Probably the best level was Steel Town. It made me think of what a post apocalyptic Pittsburgh would be, with its dirty streets and steel mill dominating the town. Another original level was the Shipyard, a once busy seaport gone bad with drug smuggling and infested with old pirates.

Multiplayer left a bit to be desired. There was an interesting twist on the Capture the Flag idea in which two teams had their own safes in which they kept and deposited money found or stolen from victims, and defended it from the other team's attempts to rob it. The standard deathmatch had a slightly off-balance feel. If you were joining a game already in progress, it was hard to rise to the top unless you got lucky and spawned in near a good weapon. Otherwise you were history. Also on the downside was the bad handling of latency. All games tend to have a degree of lag, but Kingpin seemed to have more than usual. The lag also had an unfortunate annoying effect. Whenever lag struck, you would freeze in place, the sounds and music would constantly repeat, and would not stop until the latency slacked off. This could last for several long, annoying seconds.

The jerking of motion was not limited to multiplayer action. It was also present in single player mode. Whenever a level finished loading, a game was saved, or a game was loaded, this same jerking of motion and sound occurred for anywhere from three to ten seconds depending on the size of the level. Another irritation was the incredibly long load time between levels. It could take any where from thirty seconds to a minute for a level to load. This was the most annoying when making the transition between sections of one location, such as from the streets into the bar. It was also frustrating to have the long load times at the end of a level when it loaded a very short movie sequence, and then another wait while it loaded the next level.

The soundtrack was irritating as well. Selective tracks were taken from Cypress Hill's "Cypress Hill IV" album and implemented as the game soundtrack. Although the music selection was done well, small sections of the songs were selected to be continually looped. The music had gotten tiresome before the first level was completed.

The sound effects in general were very well done. There was some 3D positional sound, though it sometimes did not seem to shift accurately. If there was any A3D or EAX support, it did not show. The only environmentally altered sounds were whenever you were in a closed area, and the echo effect was done relatively poorly. There were very few ambient sounds other than occasional chatter between other characters, and trains passing overhead in some areas. Despite the claims of some gang members that there was a gang war, there was no gunfire heard that wasn't directed at you. The weapons did sound realistic, and have heavy bass sound when it was appropriate. Only the bazooka was the exception. It didn't sound like a rocket taking off, and had a high treble sound, instead of a low booming take-off. The explosions were the same from a distance, but when closer they sounded loud and deep.

Kingpin was a wonderful visual ride, but as a game it did not do so well. Despite its lack of gameplay, as the game progressed, I became increasingly paranoid that I would die from some unseen enemy. It got to a point where I was saving my game every few minutes, something that hasn't happened to me in a long time. The horrible and sometimes non-existent storyline kept it from flowing logically. The serious unbalance of the enemy versus the player was so bad at times that it seemed completely hopeless that you could pass certain areas. I also saved the game as often as I did because of the long load times. In tough areas, one could get killed three or four times before getting past that area. If saving my game would allow me to bypass one extra level load, I would save it. The glitches in the game that caused it to jerk were also horrible. Kingpin would do well as a 3D movie,- if they could find the story- but fares not so well as a game.

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REVIEW STATS

Author: Dead Regime
July 7th, 1999
Review Feedback

Reviewer's System:
P2 450
256 MB RAM
Diamond Viper 550 (Riva TNT)
Diamond Monster Sound MX300
Cable modem
2x DVD-ROM
10.2 GB HD

System Requirements: P2 233 min / P2 300 rec
64 MB RAM min / 128 MB rec
GLide / OpenGL video
DirectX compatible sound
28.8 modem for multiplayer
4x CD-ROM min
570 MB HD min

GW Rating
Sound: 7 - Effects were good, soundtrack annoying
Graphics: 9 - Beautifully rendered, yet dark and gloomy
Gameplay: 4 - Very hard, but not fun
Bugginess: 7 - A few very annoying glitches
Overall 6.75 - At $45, it's not worth the disappointment

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