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by Planet Moon and Interplay

Giants: Citizen Kabuto has been in development for a long time, and even though we saw it at the last couple E3s, we could never quite figure out exactly what the game was about. These guys from Planet Moon would show us the game in action, and there were lots of bright colors and weird goings-on, but why this stuff was going on or how it was supposed to constitute a game was something we didn’t snap to. The occasional screenshot or trailer was no help, either—all we knew up until Kabuto’s release was that it looked really great, like nothing else we’d ever seen before, and in one of those astonishing leaps of logic that we’re well-known for we assumed it would also play like nothing else we’d ever seen before.

We were half-right. So far as gameplay goes, Giants: Citizen Kabuto is an all-out third-person action shooter with a dash of resource management and base building thrown in, and it plays about like a lot of other good games. But if Giant’s gameplay is fairly standard, its graphics, sound, setting, dialogue, story and attitude are as engaging and original as anything we’ve seen this year. Even if you find Giant’s gameplay repetitive, you’ll keep playing just to get to the next cool weapon or cut scene or map. Or joke. If you’re a fan of British humor, you’re in for a special treat.

Giants begins when representatives from one of the game’s three races, the Meccaryns, crash land on the Island whilst on their way to some R&R on swingin’ Planet Majorca.  At first all they want to do is repair their spaceship and get on with the trip to Majorca, but they quickly become entangled in a conflict between the Smarties, bubble-headed residents of the Island, and the Sea Reapers, led by the evil Queen Sappho. Sappho also has a problem with Kabuto, a giant monster the Sea Reapers originally created to protect the Island, but who eventually turned against the Reapers and chased them from the Island. Add to this the complication that Sappho’s daughter Delphi doesn’t approve of her mom’s way of doing things and has a bit of a crush on the Meccaryn’s leader, and you’ve got the background for the consistently engaging storyline that develops throughout the game’s single-player campaign.  

In the first part of the campaign, you’ll take the role of the Meccaryns. The Meccs are a bunch of space suited limey yobs who appreciate technology, and are thus armed with an arsenal of hardcore firepower. Though they’ll start with a mere handgun, as the campaign progresses the Meccs will receive such weapons as machine guns, sniper rifles, RPGs, and mortars. The Meccs are also equipped with a backpack, and upgrades allow it to be used as a jetpack, a portable camouflage bush, and a repair tool--or just to tote around bombs and portable turrets. The Meccs also get a very handy (though fragile) gyrocopter to tool around in. As the Meccaryn campaign progresses, your scattered mates will join up with you, and in the later missions you’ll be commanding up to four other Meccs. Throughout the campaign, you’ll be forced to fight against not only evil Sea Reapers and Kabuto, but also indigenous life forms like the Rippers.

The Sea Reaper campaign finds you taking the role of Sappho’s rebellious daughter Delphi. Sea Reapers like magic, not technology, and Delphi’s main weapons are a collection of very wicked bows that fire a variety of very nasty arrows. The nastiest of these is the power-up bow, which fires multiple homing arrows and can take out a half-dozen enemies with one shot. But Delphi’s real power lies in her magic spells, which are innovative and dazzling.  You can cast hailstorms and firewalls on enemies, and an utterly cool tornado spell will sweep your opponents into the skies. While Delphi has a very nice turbo move and a teleport spell, she’s also equipped with a Reaperski, which is (more on this later) sort of a mixed blessing.

In the Kabuto campaign you finally get to play the giant monster, and this guy doesn’t need weapons or magic. He’s just a brute force of nature, and while you can pick up enemies and throw them as a ranged attack or use a gemstone as a magnifying glass to roast opponents, most of the time you’ll use various hand-to-hand moves, like the elbow drop or the butt flop, to crush your enemies.

While the campaign is long and has plenty of action-packed gameplay, it’s also surprisingly easy to beat. Mostly this is because you can win almost every mission by using long-range weapons of mass destruction to obliterate the enemy--as Delphi, you can win most missions without ever using your spells.  The fact that enemy AI is a little spotty doesn't exactly raise the difficulty bar either, and since there's only one difficulty level, the campaign game doesn't have a ton of replay value. And while most missions have an amusing premise, most of them also play out in very much the same way—either you work your way across the map while killing everything in sight, or you build a base and defend it from swarms of enemies. The only real exceptions to these mission types are the reaperski races you’ll find in the Delphi section of the campaign. They’re fun at first, but there are a few too many of them, and they wear out their welcome pretty quickly.

But Giants has several qualities that make up for its fairly ordinary gameplay. Chief amongst these is its graphics, which are beautiful. Giants takes place on lush islands, and they look by god lush; trees sway in the breeze, sunlight ripples off the waves, the skies are bright and shimmering, brilliant lens-flare effects abound. The whole color palette evokes the sort of tropical-paradise effect you get from tourist brochures. Sound is excellent, from the curiously orchestral soundtrack to the superb voice acting, and the game’s got a great sense of humor, too. Like No One Lives Forever, the (often bawdy) cut scenes in Giants are one of the best parts of the game. The combination of innovative setting, great sight and sound, and generally wacky ambience probably would have been enough to overcome my reservations about the game’s fun-but-repetitive gameplay, but a few other ugly problems keep this one out of the five-star range.

Here’s the first of them: there’s no in-mission save. While the missions are generally pretty easy to beat and engaging, it’s still a pain in the ass to work your way through an entire mission, only to get fragged at the end and have to do the whole thing over again. People play games for fun, and the sort of tedium induced by replaying missions is way too much like real life to be fun. It doesn’t help any that Giants is also a little buggy. Screwing up and having to play a mission over is a drag, but hey, you’ve got nobody but yourself to blame. On the other hand, when a game crashes to your desktop and you have to replay a mission—as happens too often in Giants—it’s grounds for some serious finger-pointing.

Giants’ multiplayer is also sloppily implemented. The game contains just a few maps, and there are no dedicated servers. While I was able to play several games through Gamespy, good low-ping connections were hard to come by. This is especially disappointing because the few multiplayer games that had decent pings were a blast. Here’s hoping a major multiplayer patch is in the works.

But overall Giants is a beautiful and fun game, and well worth any action gamer’s time. Just be prepared for some occasional frustration.  

Rick Fehrenbacher

Snapshot

Ups: Beautiful graphics, funnier than anything on television, action-packed gameplay, loads of atmosphere, great sound.

Downs: No in-mission save, buggy, poorly implemented multiplayer.

System Reqs: PII 350, 64 MB RAM, 8MB 3D card

 

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