"Oh, dear what can the matter be? Johnnys so long at the fair!"
In the most horrific interpretation of that old North Sea favorite, Johnny didnt go to just any fair: He went to the creepy, crawley, and just plain ooogy world of Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child. Based on Todd McFarlanes comic series, KPC brings our favorite dino-rockers back to life as "gods" of a twisted world filled with demons, big weapons, and scary monsters. Oooooh, feel me shake in my platform biker boots.
Im sorry, I dont usually like jumping on the bandwagon, and Ive got a love for kitsch that rivals John Waters, but Im so not into KPC. Why? Is it the buttrock? Nope, I have a soft spot for the hair bands. The return of the make-up, after Kiss went so respectable in the 80s? Nope, "Lets Put the X in Sex" killed that facade. Is it how Todd McFarlane is one of the most annoying hypocrites in comics, draws pretty cool, but couldnt write himself out of a paper bag? Well, sort of. Mainly, its the fact that KPC is a crappy game. Its terrible.
For a moment lets disregard all of the flaws in KPC and justify this three star rating. KPC is an utterly predictable and run-of-the-mill first person shooter. You play an avatar of one of the four gods, The Celestial Being, The Beast King, The Demon, and The Starbearer. Each of these are deifications of the core members of Kiss, Paul, Gene, Peter and Ace. You play through four major games, gathering the armor and weapons of each of the gods, until youve finally defeated the game and learned the secrets of the Nightmare Child.
The progression is pretty much like the rest of the early FPS games you run around, pick up weapons, ammo, power-ups, items, and shoot everything in your way. Occasionally youre confronted with frustrating jumping sections and you pull a lot of levers to open new areas. As I said, its all pretty much par for the course. The graphics are built on the LithTec engine, which is not a bad thing, but they arent anything spectacular. Third Law has done a pretty good job recreating the style of Todd McFarlanes drawings, so the scenery isnt too bad. But again, its not too special either. The sound is pretty good, but there isnt nearly enough Kiss in it their songs pop up occasionally in special areas. For the most part, its pretty bad synth-guitar mood music.
The story is pretty shoddy, too. Most of the game revolves around gathering the lost gear of the gods, and turning your avatar into a complete avatar, all decked out in platform boots and spikey shoulder pads. The game would have been much more interesting if you were rifling through cluttered dressing rooms and decimated hotel suites to find Pauls lost cod-piece. Then, at least, the monsters would have been interesting you could have fought rabid fans and hungover groupies, which would be much more interesting than headless slasher things, flame-throwing monster dogs, and scary clowns. Whats up with McFarlane and his scary clowns? He must really have some issues to deal with from childhood.
The weapons are pretty much uninteresting. You have the Thorn Blade, a basic machete-type weapon; the Zero gun, your quick but not as devastating machine gun; the chain gun, which is like a big shotgun; an energy weapon that kind of works like grenades; and the Star something or other, which vaporizes several enemies at once. In addition, you get a whip that can be used to move around levels and kill things.
The level design is basic. You move through circus, bar, cathedral, and other common settings. The levels arent that complex, and for the most part it is very simple to advance from one part to another. You might have to kill a slew of Headless slashers, or you might have to trip a switch, but either way you will advance in a pretty linear fashion. The levels are fairly big, with three or four parts to each one. There are also quite a few levels in each game, making the single player mode a decent length. But everything's too dark, forcing you to up your gamma levels and make the textures look way pixelated.
Online multiplayer supports standard modes, such as death match and, I believe, capture the flag. After many days of effort, I could never find a server that supported the game. The GameSpy support is supposed to be forthcoming, and Third Law is currently developing a multiplayer patch to give us more maps and skins to play. But right now the only way to find servers is through discussion groups, and everything I found seemed to be down when I tried to connect. Thats really too bad, because Im always game for some online fragfest.
But thats also just the beginning of my woes with KPC. The game is just plain buggy. Every once in awhile you just wish they would have delayed a title a little longer to iron out the bugs. The first time I ran it things went great. No problems. I went to load up my saved game later on, and it couldnt load the file. I remained calm. The last session had been late at night; maybe I screwed something up. I started from the autosave. The game immediately crashed my whole computer. I rebooted, reloaded, and tried to load the quicksave. Same problem. I decided Id see if there were documented problems.
The Third Law website is quite good, and they seem to be committed to support KPC, which is good. They have their hands full. I didnt find documentation about my problem, but I did find a beta patch that was supposed to fix a handful of known bugs. So I downloaded and installed. I tried to restart my game from my previous save files no luck. Same total system crash. I eventually started over from the beginning. I saved. Later on I reloaded from my save file and I thought everything was good.
The next day I went on a massive KPC rampage. I was killing fat ladies and killer clowns with a vengeance, and I had almost collected all of Pauls lost wardrobe. I even smiled a little when I entered the cathedral and "God Gave Rock and Roll To You" started playing. Simple, straightforward shooters can really be satisfying sometimes. I was at the final level, final battle, and I decided to save, just in case. The whole thing crashed out. I was left floating on my desktop. I tried to reload the game and my save file. No luck. Total system crash. I tried to load the autosave. Still, no luck. I threw up my hands in frustration. I will never touch this game again until it is released for the Dreamcast.
Its always sad when a game defeats itself because of bugs, incompatibility, or lack of testing. I dont know which of these is responsible for KPCs faults, but the game just doesnt work right. Third Law is aware of many problems, and the patch release should come anytime now, so thats why Im giving it three stars. If everything worked perfectly, this game would still just be a rehash of all the other hardcore FPS games youve played like Quake, Wolfenstein, Doom, and Unreal. Except were used to the nice graphics now, so those arent as impressive, and there are much better multiplayer setups available now in updated versions of the aforementioned FPS classics.
If youre a strictly PC gamer, just pass KPC by. Youd be much better off sticking with UT or QIII for the fragfest, and the story mode doesnt at all compare to Deus Ex, Half Life, System Shock 2, Thief, or any of the other really astounding FPS action/adventure games out there. The folks who should be looking on the bright side are DC owners. Presumably, the constant hardware setup of the DC should help Third Law get things right, and the console version wont be as buggy. Also, online multiplayer is planned for the DC version, and there arent any online multiplayable FPS games out for consoles. Although QIII will be some big competition, KPC might just be able to find a niche not in dads office, but in that dank bastion of teenage rebellion, the basement, on the Dreamcast.