Throwback Thursday - Kingpin: Life of Crime (1999)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:07pm 14/05/15 | Comments
Throwback Thursday is a weekly column here on Ausgamers where Kosta opens up the proverbial gaming industry attic, has a poke around, finds dusty copies of games from a different time – and plays them!
Watch Kosta take a lead pipe to Kingpin: Life of Crime
The Game: Kingpin: Life of Crime
The Year: 1999
The Developer: Xatrix Entertainment
The System: PC (Windows)
Over the last few decades the first-person shooter has been the go to place for advances in visual fidelity, and the visceral impact those changes brought to the fore. In the words of an all-American teen, the “Sweet graphics bro”. The only catch being the simple fact that what looked new and impressive a few years ago is now considered old hat, and no longer packs the same visual punch. In the words of an all-French teen, “Le craptastique graphics, dude”. This is true across many genres, and in the early days of 3D graphics the advances came so thick and fast that something as simple as texture quality, that being the process of putting pictures onto 3D objects to make them look as good from far as they do up close, was drastically improving every few months.
In the early moments of 1999’s Kingpin: Life of Crime, the first weapon you come across after waking up in an alley is a lead pipe. A crude, blunt weapon that you can then use to violently bludgeon any character you come across. To death. And sure, we’re talking about a videogame here so the execution is by no means as realistic or as sadistic as that description makes it out to be. But in 1999 Kingpin: Life of Crime was one of the most visually impressive first-person shooters to date. The way in which the impact of the lead pipe would change the corresponding face or body texture to include new bruising coupled with the blood splatter effects that covered the surrounding ground had such a visceral impact, that the level of violence felt new. And slightly off-putting. Even though it really wasn’t.
"Video game Violence. Is it hurting our youth? More at 11."
At the time of its release, which was shortly after the tragic Columbine High School massacre, there was a bright ill-informed light shining on videogames a whole. You see they depicted violence, so that meant they were in some ways responsible for violent acts. In other words the sort of elementary-level views that the mainstream media trades in on a daily basis. Like how NASA somehow figured out how to send men to the moon in the era of Mad Men. But coupled with a real-life tragedy, and the heightened hysteria that comes with that, Kingpin: Life of Crime was pulled from retail shelves across the world due to its violent content.
So how does the lead pipe to the face stuff play today? Well, as you’d expect it’s nowhere near as bad as it once looked. It’s still pretty intense, but compared to the stuff we see today it’s kind of tame. In the words of a past-his-prime gamer, “The violence in the computer games from my day was pure, blurry, and weirdly Lego like. The violent games you kids have today crosses the line, from Lego into cartoon. Also, get off my lawn.”
Clint's pants have had it up to here with the kids today.
Apart from the improvement in overall texturing one of the other visual improvements that Kingpin brought was actually in the cartoon-like depiction of its characters. Limited polygons probably played a part in the overall design but the exaggerated features of the characters, from the monstrously huge biceps to the unrealistically shaped torsos, would be something that wouldn’t be seen in another shooter until Gears of War in 2007. But in the few ways that Kingpin was ahead of its time, for the most part it was a game that belonged in the early-to-mid ‘90s.
Case in point, the soundtrack. In the early ‘90s touting that your game had music from hip hop group Cypress Hill would have sounded like quite the coup. Kind of like a game from 1989 featuring the music of Milli Vanilli, let’s say the fictional-but-you-wish-it-were-real Castlevania IV: Dracula Blames It On The Rain. Having the music of Cypress Hill in 1999, which for the most part seems to just have been a 16-bar hip hop loop they licenced to the developer, wasn’t anywhere near as cool as it would have been in 1994. Same goes for the numerous movie references, which mostly equate to imitations of characters from Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski. With somehow, even more swearing.
An artist's rendition of what might have been.
Level design doesn’t fare any better, as for the most part the game opts for early ‘90s style maps that aim to replicate the hedge maze sequence from The Shining. Including the stuff with Danny backtracking though the maze to hand in a quest. But even so Kingpin was well received by critics at the time. Silly stupid late ‘90s critics. Actually no, they were actually right for the most part. Even though Kingpin’s style can feel a little dated today, the little touches helped elevate it above other games from the time. Touches that are still impressive today.
You know that part about bludgeoning someone with a lead pipe? Well, it’s entirely optional. Actually that’s wrong, it’s kind of encouraged. But, the fact that you can interact and talk with most of the characters you come across speaks volumes to how the genre was changing at the time. Not everyone you come across is an enemy in Kingpin, in fact most of them can be friendly, and will even help you out if you complete a little task for them. Choose to smash them with a lead pipe and you can steal their money, and then use that to buy new weapons and upgrades. Wait a second, this is starting to sound a little like a role-playing what’s-its. One of those dragon-elf games, where the magical forest of Grandillia has been cursed by an ancient evil and needs the dwarven folk to unite with the human folk and other folk, for some reason.
A long time ago, in an alley far, far, away.
Any this is 1999, a transitional year for shooters as a whole. With System Shock 2, and Deus Ex on the horizon, the endless corridor shooting galleries of the early ‘90s were about to become a distant memory. Kind of like Cypress Hill. And Kingpin for that matter. Because even though it’s an interesting and important milestone for the genre, it still pales in comparison to the greats. Except on the lead pipe front, which it still rules. Like some sort of king.
Best Forgotten / A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless
Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album recently released.
Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.