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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004


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by Interplay

Ups: Amazing graphics,  well-designed levels.
Downs: Lame narrative, repetitive, high system reqs.
System Reqs: Pentium 233, 64 megs of RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 3D card.
Usually when you write a game review there are standard questions about the game that readers want answered. You know, quotidian stuff like is it fun or how are the graphics or how much of a machine does it take to run. So it’s odd to be writing a review of Kingpin, a game which—due to Interplay’s marketing and the "current political climate," has instead provoked questions like: "Can the youth of America survive such a violent, profane shooter?" or "Will my children kill me in my sleep if I let them play this game?" or "Is this the end of the world as we know it?" The answers: yes, probably not, and when has it not been?.

Yes, Kingpin is violent and profane, but it’s no more violent than any other shooter out there. As far as profanity, there’s nothing you’ll hear in Kingpin that you haven’t heard if you’ve worked construction or served in the army or survived seventh grade. So here’s the scoop. If you think Quake II was too violent or if you don’t want to hear a lot of f*ckin’ talk about f*ckin’ motherf*ckers, then you should probably not indulge in a rousing game of Kingpin. Otherwise, you’re cleared for takeoff.  Oh, and you can set the game on "low violence," which will nix gibbage and bleep out swearing, but it’s not a happy compromise.

Now that that’s taken care of, let’s get to the boring stuff. Kingpin’s a fine game with some nagging faults. Its strengths include drop-dead graphics and excellent level design—but these strengths are cut into by the lack of a coherent narrative, some spotty AI, and an insidious repetitiveness. Too often in Kingpin, as in life, you’ll find yourself doing pretty much the same things you did earlier, without really knowing why you’re doing them.

Kingpin’s graphics are, in a word, astonishing. Xatrix has worked a miracle with the Quake II engine. The world of Kingpin is that of some urban nightmare that’s never existed—just about everyone you meet is either a thug or a wino, and just about every building either a bar, a gunshop, or a warehouse—but this ugly world is absolutely beautiful. If you’ve got the machine to handle it—and I’m running a 400 with 128 megs of RAM and a Viper 770—playing Kingpin is like playing in a painting. Kingpin’s gritty environments include steel mills, warehouses, ship’s holds, subway stations, and the obligatory sewer--and urban decay never looked so good. Characters are nicely rendered as well, and a wide selection of skins makes for some welcome variety.

Level design is very sharp, especially if you’re in the market for a pure shoot’em up. On the more difficult settings, you’ll find just enough health and ammo to keep you going, and the levels present one knotty problem after the other. Unfortunately, they aren’t very cerebral puzzles; they tend to be a little too action-oriented, and if Kingpin falls short in any one area, it’s in its failure to use the game’s compelling world in an intelligent way.

This is nowhere so evident as in the game’s narrative, which is nonexistent. Essentially, you begin the game in an alley, beaten and bloody, while two of the Kingpin’s thugs gloat over you. You, of course, decide to seek revenge, and the rest of the game is taken up with you blasting your way through thugs and the occasional boss until you eventually meet the uberboss in a nut-it-out showdown. Sound familiar? It should, since it’s as traditional--which is to say as dated as--Doom.

Though the Kingpin is subtitled Life of Crime, there’s really no criminal activity in the game except for blowing a lot of people up. Where’s the extortion, the bootlegging, the gun running, the loansharking? I can understand—given the "current political climate"--leaving out stuff like running prostitutes and dealing drugs, but the lack of any real Kingpin-type empire building is a disappointment. If the game’s levels had somehow been more mission-oriented—run this shipment of liquor to a warehouse, bust up this guy’s gaming establishment, collect payments from deadbeats—it would been a lot more atmospheric and enjoyable. But it’s evident that Xatrix decided to let the graphics set the atmosphere

This lack of narrative is painfully highlighted by Kingpin’s frequent homages to Pulp Fiction. The Kingpin looks one hell of lot like the character of Marcellus Wallace, and spouts lines that are direct lifts from the movie. There’s even a brains-splattered on the windshield scene. But the game’s references to the movie carry none of the irony or wit of the movie itself, and it suffers mightily in comparison.

This is a shame, because it seems like all the elements for a great story are in place. They just aren’t very well implemented. For example, Kingpin is full of NPCs whom you can choose to interact with either positively or negatively; usually they’ll respond accordingly. But they typically don’t have much to say, and one wonders why most of them are even in the game. Indeed, you can frag all of them on sight and it doesn’t affect gameplay much at all. And in fact, this is not a bad idea, anyway, since it’s almost impossible to tell neutral NPCs from gang members out for your blood. Since you have to approach neutral NPCs with your weapon holstered (otherwise they attack on sight), you can often find yourself approaching what looks like a neutral character, only to find out the hard way that they’re not, which sucks. And though you can occasionally recruit a couple of thugs to follow you around, they’re not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Though they have excellent pathing, their judgment in just about everything else is very suspect, and they’re most useful as human shields.

The game’s sound, alas, is pretty good, but it’s also pretty repetitive. While the thug voices in the game have a real knack of cursing, they tend to use the same phrases over and over—mostly some variation of f*ck. Yo, Xantrix, you need some help coming up with some new nasty phrases, I can put you in touch with some guys I know. This repetitiveness is also found in the game’s soundtrack. Hey, I was as happy as anyone to see Cypress Hill doing the soundtrack for the game, but it’s a deep disappointment. You get three, count’em, three Cypress Hill songs, and while it’s a kick the first time one starts playing, it will play over and over and over again, and frankly hearing even Cypress Hill over and over and over again is not that much different from hearing Yanni over and over and over again.

Kingpin does shine in multiplayer; you can play on Mplayer or fire up Gamespy, and while it’s not as fast as Quake II, gameplay is tense and quick-moving. The deathmatch maps are also very nicely turned, and you get a great number of mix-and-match skins to try on. 

I guess I’ve been a little hard on Kingpin, but only because it comes so close to being a classic. If you’re looking for a gorgeous shooter with lots of action and well-plotted levels, Kingpin’s the game for you. But don’t expect much more.

--Rick Fehrenbacher