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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: August 7, 2000
I guess originality is pretty hard to come by in today’s world of sequels and countless me-too products. At least those were my thoughts when news broke of the infamous eight leaving John Romero’s Daikatana development team to form Third Law Interactive, and begin work on a shooter centered around the rock band KISS. I wondered, had the concepts of first person shooters become so diluted that the only ideas left encompassed four rockers from the 70′s and a travelling circus gone mad? Known primarily for their outlandish costumes, makeup and stage antics, the members of KISS didn’t actually fit my idea of video game heroes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually old enough to remember the days of Gene Simmons’ “Christine 16,” and have fond memories of the days that were my youth. Heck, I even own an eight-track of “KISS ALIVE II,” and was fortunate enough to see Ace Freeley and gang perform “Shock Me” (with the exploding guitar) first hand many years ago. So it’s not that I’m ignorant of the band’s appeal, but in a first person shooter? Come on, what’s next, a Led Zepplin adventure game?
At the time I didn’t know a thing about the actual gameplay, and I was totally in the dark about Todd McFarlane’s comic book “Kiss Psycho Circus.” To be honest, from the time of its announcement right up until its retail release, I hadn’t given the title much attention. I knew Third Law was using an enhanced version of the Lithtech engine that appeared most recently in Monolith’s Blood II: The Chosen, and I had come to know that the concept behind the product actually had little to do with the band and everything to do with McFarlane’s comic book series. Having never read a single edition of Psycho Circus, I was curious to see whether or not the shooter would lend itself to folks like me, or if the appeal would focus more on its already established following.
Removing any preconceptions I had about KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child was a lot easier than I had anticipated. The opening comic book-like introduction and first mission in-game cinematic set the stage well for a campy, pulse pounding ride through the dark passages of twisted dementia. The Psycho Circus encompasses four prime realms — water, earth, air and fire. For those completely unfamiliar with the setting as I was, Third Law does a fine job providing background information prior to the action’s beginning. According to Psycho Circus lore, there are four prime realms guarded by the four Elders — the Starbearer protects the Water Realm, the Beastking is steward over the Earth Realm, the Celestial guards the Air Realm and the Demon is the god of the Fire Realm. These Elders are charged with keeping the balance between the realms, but at the game’s beginning, you learn that the Elders have become complacent, and the bind that keeps the dimensions of evil away from our world has loosened.
As time progresses the spawns of evil are making their way deeper into each realm. They are attempting to secure each region in preparation for the birth of the Nightmare Child. As the player, you must assume the role of each character, enter into their respective domain and restore the balance before the Nightmare Child is born and secures the world for his own. While Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child allows users to play the title in any order they see fit, the single player experience is designed for a certain order. The main concept of gameplay is to get each character through the different stages of their realm and capture all of the pieces of their power armor, which have been strewn about the realms. With each piece of armor the characters become more powerful, and when all the pieces are assembled the characters will once again become the powerful Elders.
KPC: The Nightmare Child is in many ways an old-school first person shooter. Each realm is broken up into what is refered to as stages, or levels if you prefer. Prior to each level a short cinematic is provided which outlines a simple objective, such as retrieving a piece of armor. There are normally a few puzzles to solve prior to obtaining the level’s objective, but these always relate to the primary goal. You may need to obtain a key to open a door, or flip a lever that raises a platform, but whatever the puzzle may be its solution is almost always obvious. Level layout and design is extremely well done, especially for the type of gameplay. Third Law has managed to create vast landscapes that are complex and yet easy to navigate. Each realm has its own style and visual design with each of them making solid use of interior and exterior settings. Gathering of Developers, the title’s publisher, has advertised KPC: The Nightmare Child as having DOOM-like gameplay. In regards to level design I’d say the reference is spot on. KPC: The Nightmare Child is like DOOM II in that it does a great job balancing the elements of close-in and large arena battles.
Better than most first person shooters I’ve played recently, KPC: The Nightmare Child really takes advantage of the third dimension. The battle is brought directly to the player from every direction, especially from up above and down below. Whether you’re in the elaborate castles of the Earth Realm or the sky dwellings of the Air Realm, keeping an eye out for enemies on high is always important. Likewise from the ground as well, monsters always seem to be popping up out of crevasses and springing up from the canyons below. The architecture in KPC: The Nightmare Child is a chief reason why the level design works as well as it does. Buildings are scaled appropriately and even in an environment as loony as a travelling circus, everything somehow remains logical.
There are a few other elements that relate to the visuals that are worthy of mentioning. In the setup menu players can choose an option that allows for limb-loss. This was one of the most talked about features when KPC: The Nightmare Child began development, and I was very interested to see it in action and compare it to some of the other systems such as Raven’s Ghoul. Unfortunately I’m not that impressed. The models aren’t nearly as in-depth as I was expecting, many of them looking quite blocky due to really low polygon counts. The limb-loss feature was supposed to add a great deal to gameplay, such as being able to chop off the legs of a pursuing monster or shoot the arms off of an enemy equipped with a long range projectile. While these features do exist in limited fashion, they’re not as robust as I was expecting.
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