bhlaab's Kingpin: Life of Crime (PC) review

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Stroggos On Earth

Kingpin is unlike other 'crime' games I've played. There's no joy in this world, where American urban blight has apparently spread across the entire planet. I doubt the sun even bothers to rise anymore in Kingpin's universe. At the end of the game, spoiler alert, you eventually murder enough people to take down the titular big boss of all gangsters and assume his throne as the new kingpin. Kingpin of what? You've met your subjects; every man shaped like mashed potatoes and twice as dumb. Your kingdom a non-euclidean mass of broken down tenements and gang territories, with apartments that somehow turn into sewers halfway through and exit directly into the subway tunnels. That's the only triumph that exists here, to sit at the top of what amounts to nothing and wait for some other enterprising murderer to wander in and gib you with a pawnshop-ordered rocket launcher as you did your predecessor. It's like a post apocalyptic world where everyone is too stupid to realize they're in a post-apocalypse. There are retro-futuristic trappings as well. All the television sets look like they come out of Fallout and all of the rotary phones sitting on desks have little neon power cells glued to the back of them. Of course, it's very doubtful that developer Xatrix (of Redneck Rampage... fame?) ever intended this setting to be anything but schlock and stolen dialogue from Pulp Fiction, but somehow they made a world so thoroughly awful to exist in that it turns into some kind of mood piece.

The shooting is satisfactory but rough. Kingpin is built on top of Quake II technology and inherits some underwhelming elements from that game. Your own weapons don't feel 'snappy,' and are saddled with clumsy, slow feedback animations. Explosive weapons like the rocket launcher disappoint with low damage. It's very easy to find yourself stuck on the environment, particularly when crawling through small areas or climbing ladders. The enemy AI, like a lot of FPS games of the era, suffers from over-competence. They have lightning fast reflexes and superhuman accuracy, making this an extremely difficult game. You'll have to power through and quicksave a lot, which will turn many off straight away, but it does give the moment to moment gameplay a frantic, terrified energy that I found ultimately enjoyable.

The way Kingpin sets itself apart from every other FPS a the time is the introduction of light RPG elements. Each 'level' begins with a small hub where you can have (extremely limited) interactions with NPCs, pick up your next quest, and even buy weapons and equipment at pawn shops. Unfortunately there are no ways to customize your experience-- trying to buy a powerful weapon early will just have the shopkeeper refuse you. There's a three-piece armor system bolstered by locational damage mechanics, so you can buy a helmet to protect yourself from headshots and so on. Most importantly, you can hire certain NPCs in these hubs to act as teammates. These AI companions do a fantastic job of acting as meat-shields and providing additional firepower (although their stand-in-place-and-fire tactics seem straight out of the Civil War). Having one or two tagalongs is extremely important for curtailing the game's harsh difficulty, even if their deaths are inevitable. The friendly AI is a little bit smarter than you'd expect from a game of this vintage, but not up to standards higher than that. Their path-finding prowess is impressive, as they can leap over pits, crawl through openings, and properly climb ladders in order to reach you, but I'd be lying if I said I never saw them get stuck on anything. Your only ability to command these guys is limited to "stay" and "follow" (with one or two moments of "unlock that for me") but it works out more or less alright.

I kind of expected the worst going into Kingpin. I did not much care for Redneck Rampage, Xatrix's previous effort, and this looked like a cheap controversy-bait cash-in. I ended up pleasantly surprised. Even the setting, which seems like an obviously awful idea, somehow came together into something interesting (probably by accident). It's a fun game if you can put up with its unrelenting difficulty.

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