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Review by: Justin Mills
Published: July 12, 1999
In the real world, there exists a segment of people who have chosen to ignore the norms of the surrounding society, opting instead to live a life that’s incompatible with the common conception of decency and morality. We call them criminals. And amidst all of the recent controversy regarding the effects of “irresponsible” media on America’s youth, some are applying this same description to game-makers Xatrix and Interplay, who have teamed up to deliver a title that prides itself on “…taking graphic violence to a whole new level.” From the publisher that brought us Carmageddon (the racing title that rewards players for wiping out innocent civilians) and the developer that brought us Redneck Rampage (the first-person shooter that invites us to drop good ol’ boys and aliens with a 12 gauge), comes Kingpin: Life of Crime. This latest offering thrusts players into a dark, merciless 3D world that effectively synthesizes “gangster” and “gangsta” culture into a hellish, urban war zone.
Without turning this review into an editorial, I’d like to quickly address the game’s controversial content. Admittedly, I feel compelled to issue a warning to people have been misled by a rating system that has classified such games as Diablo and Myth as “mature” titles. By doing this, the ESRB has left little room for distinction when a title like Kingpin comes along, which is easily the most vulgar game I’ve ever played. If you’re not comfortable with gory exit wounds, severed human extremities and every conceivable obscenity resonating through the halls of your home, you may need to think twice about this one. To Xatrix’s credit, they included a password-protected “low-violence” version, which eliminates all of the swearing and blood. But instead of recording an alternate censored dialogue, they opted to bleep out the bad words. The result is the gaming equivalent of a Jerry Springer episode, which is initially comical but soon becomes very annoying. With that aside, let’s take a look at the actual title.
In Kingpin, players assume the role of a common street thug who’s just taken his last beating. As he slowly rises to his feet with a battered face and wounded pride, he swears vengeance on the two goons who banged him up. The initially focused retribution ultimately swells into a full-scale gang war as your character sets off on a murderous rampage with the lofty ambition of overthrowing the criminal syndicate and taking command as the new kingpin.
Like other first-person shooters being developed in a post-Half-Life world, Kingpin strives to provide a deeper and more involving single-player experience than a game like Quake 2. To this end, Kingpin succeeds. Due primarily to the creation of a unique and truly intimidating atmosphere, which is achieved by breathtaking level design and well-implemented NPC interaction, Kingpin delivers an intense experience you won’t soon forget.
Unlike the clean, sterile offices of Half-Life or the crystal-blue waterfalls of Unreal, the environments found in Kingpin are as filthy as the game’s language. After walking through sleazy bars, scummy train stations and the trash-covered halls of graffiti-laden slums, I felt like I needed a tetanus shot. Yet despite the game’s carefully crafted ugliness, I was never able to overcome my awe with how beautifully depicted everything was. Visually, this title is top-notch and marks the best use of the Quake 2 engine since Raven’s Heretic II. From the wide-open streets of downtown “Radio City” to the claustrophobic confines of a gang den, the level designers consistently created realistic and foreboding environments. The downright nastiness of Kingpin’s locales adds immeasurably to the immersion factor. The moment you take your first steps on the foul pavement of “Skid Row,” you’ll know you’ve entered a world where daily survival isn’t assumed — it’s fought for.
The other element of this title that really contributes to the atmosphere is the interaction with NPCs. Taking a cue from Valve, Xatrix includes characters that aren’t meant to taste the cold steel of your crowbar. Yet unlike the characters of Half-Life, who are bound together by a common crisis, the people in Kingpin don’t know who you are or what intentions you have. If you approach a thug with a recruiting proposition in mind, but he sees you with your gun drawn, he’s not going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Some characters may look intimidating, but actually turn out to be friendly and lend you some good advice. This aspect of the game encourages players to assess different situations carefully and determine whether to use force or diplomacy. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, these opportunities grow fewer and further between.
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