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 its
odd to be writing a review of Kingpin, a game whichdue to Interplays
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
Yes, Kingpin is violent and profane, but its no more violent than any other shooter out there. As far as profanity, theres nothing youll hear in Kingpin that you havent heard if youve worked construction or served in the army or survived seventh grade. So heres the scoop. If you think Quake II was too violent or if you dont 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, youre cleared for takeoff. Oh, and you can set the game on "low violence," which will nix gibbage and bleep out swearing, but its not a happy compromise.
Now that thats taken care of, lets get to the boring stuff. Kingpins a fine game with some nagging faults. Its strengths include drop-dead graphics and excellent level designbut 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, youll find yourself doing pretty much the same things you did earlier, without really knowing why youre doing them.
Kingpins 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 thats never existedjust about everyone you meet is either a thug or a wino, and just about every building either a bar, a gunshop, or a warehousebut this ugly world is absolutely beautiful. If youve got the machine to handle itand Im running a 400 with 128 megs of RAM and a Viper 770playing Kingpin is like playing in a painting. Kingpins gritty environments include steel mills, warehouses, ships 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 youre in the market for a pure shootem up. On the more difficult settings, youll find just enough health and ammo to keep you going, and the levels present one knotty problem after the other. Unfortunately, they arent very cerebral puzzles; they tend to be a little too action-oriented, and if Kingpin falls short in any one area, its in its failure to use the games compelling world in an intelligent way.
This is nowhere so evident as in the games narrative, which is nonexistent. Essentially, you begin the game in an alley, beaten and bloody, while two of the Kingpins 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 its as traditional--which is to say as dated as--Doom.
Though the Kingpin is subtitled Life of Crime, theres really no criminal activity in the game except for blowing a lot of people up. Wheres the extortion, the bootlegging, the gun running, the loansharking? I can understandgiven 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 games levels had somehow been more mission-orientedrun this shipment of liquor to a warehouse, bust up this guys gaming establishment, collect payments from deadbeatsit would been a lot more atmospheric and enjoyable. But its evident that Xatrix decided to let the graphics set the atmosphere
This lack of narrative is painfully highlighted by Kingpins 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. Theres even a brains-splattered on the windshield scene. But the games 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 arent very well implemented. For example, Kingpin is full of NPCs whom you can choose to interact with either positively or negatively; usually theyll respond accordingly. But they typically dont 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 doesnt affect gameplay much at all. And in fact, this is not a bad idea, anyway, since its 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 theyre not, which sucks. And though you can occasionally recruit a couple of thugs to follow you around, theyre not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Though they have excellent pathing, their judgment in just about everything else is very suspect, and theyre most useful as human shields.
The games sound, alas, is pretty good, but its 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 overmostly 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 games soundtrack. Hey, I was as happy as anyone to see Cypress Hill doing the soundtrack for the game, but its a deep disappointment. You get three, countem, three Cypress Hill songs, and while its 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 its 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 Ive been a little hard on Kingpin, but only because it comes so close to being a classic. If youre looking for a gorgeous shooter with lots of action and well-plotted levels, Kingpins the game for you. But dont expect much more.