June 12, 2015

Giants: Citizen Kabuto (Review of Game)

And you thought you had weird group gatherings... 

Basic Plot: The Meccaryns, a group of grumpy, Cockney-accented drunkards, are pulled from their planned vacation trip to Planet Majorca in order to free the "Smartie" race on a planet known only as "The Island. The Smarties have been enslaved by the Sea Reapers under the reign of the evil Queen Sappho, a sorceress with great power extending far beyond that of the Meccaryns. Her rebellious daughter, Delphi, sympathises with the rebellion, helping the Meccaryns with their conquest.

Unbeknownst to them, Queen Sappho has gained control of a gigantic monster known only as Kabuto, who she controls through the power of a crystal to keep the other races under her control. Kabuto proves a bit unruly, however, and it seems like Sappho might not always be able to control him. 

The Meccaryns, Delphi, and the Smarties all band together to form an uprising against the Sea Reapers, promising to overthrow Queen Sappho and restore peace and harmony to the land they know only as "The Island".

Release Date: December 2000

Developer: Blue Moon Studios

Publisher: Interplay

Platforms: Windows, OS X, PlayStation 2

Genre: Third-Person Shooter, Real-Time Strategy

Review of Game:

The Meccs, incredulous when confronted by an insane
suggestion delivered by an off-screen character.

Giants: Citizen Kabuto is one of those strange concepts you take one look at you really need to play in order to fully understand. It's a strange genre-bending concept which really works well once you give it the chance to truly shine. There are some road-bumps, however, which we will cover in detail in this review. So prepare your fifth cup of coffee, get comfy with whatever stuffed animal you desire (rhinos are best), and let's get reviewing, shall we?

Released at the tail-end of 2000, Giants failed to make much of an impact on the gaming market at the time, having faded into relative obscurity in the following years. However, following its release on, Giants has been able to find a larger audience, due in no small part to its strange cult-like appeal as a genre-bender.

A strange conglomeration of Third-Person Shooters, Real-Time Strategy, and RPGs, Citizen Kabuto's uniqueness speaks for itself. The player takes on the role of three separate characters in three distinct campaigns: The Meccaryns, The Sea Reaper, and Kabuto.

The Meccaryns are a race of suited, Cockney-accented aliens, whose campaign features third-person shooter and real-time strategy elements. The Meccaryns, "Meccs" for short, work best in groups, with the player gaining indirect control of up to five Meccs during the game, being able to command the team a la Rainbow Six, albeit far more simplified than said game.

The Meccs also have jetpacks for speed travel across land and sea, although they run the risk of being eaten alive by piranhas if they are unfortunate enough to fall into the water below. Players also gain a boost mechanic for the jetpack late in the game, allowing the Meccs to launch themselves over mountains and across structures for faster travel.

Players are also able to build bases late into their campaign, such as a command post, weapon shop, shield generator, defensive walls, SAM and Anti-Person turrets, and even a smallish helipad for a smallish little gyrocopter which you can giddily fly around with. The strategy element is rather basic compared to other games, with the player only being able to construct a base and not do much beyond that. Still, for what it is, it's a welcome mixture in a predominantly shooter-based campaign.
Delphi, pictured with her grotesque sidekick Yan, deliberating
as they prepare to face an uncertain enemy.

The Sea Reaper campaign has the player taking on the role of Delphi, a blue-skinned humanoid with an affinity for magic and sea travel. Delphi only has one sidekick, who's relatively useless in combat and appears in cutscenes to trade bizarre witticisms with the blue-skinned lady.

Delphi has the ability to build bases just like the Meccs, albeit with magic instead of manual labour. Once a magic shop has been constructed, Delphi can acquire spells to use against enemies. The spells are a useful addition to her arsenal, giving the player much more flexibility when facing off against groups of enemies.

When facing off against one enemy at a time, Delphi can use her arrow, fitted with wooden, explosive or sniper-shot arrows, to kill off stragglers, and use her sword when up close and personal. More assault-inclined players may still use the destructive spells if they desire.

The Delphi campaign also features a racing segment halfway through, which players may find to be a bit of a mixed bag in comparison with the combat sequences. The campaign also becomes a slight bit repetitive towards the end, following the same structure of base-building-followed-by-destroying-the-enemy-base levels earlier in the campaign until it becomes rather stale.

The Kabuto campaign has the player taking on the role of the eponymous Kabuto, a monstrous creature with a healthy appetite for fresh meat. Players can stomp, crush, and outright decimate enemy ranks with his powerful attacks. Kabuto can also eat select smarties for growth-related reasons, allowing him to size-up and unleash even more destruction.

Kabuto can give birth to two smaller monsters once he reaches full-size, which the player can send after enemies to either return them for the player to devour, or just have the monsters kill them outright. These monsters can also be killed, so caution is advised when facing off against large groups of enemies.

All in all, the last campaign is giddy fun, with the player being able to wreak unbridled havok upon large groups of enemy troops to fulfil every ten-year-old's destructive fantasies.

Now that the individual campaigns are out of the way, we'll talk about the game in general.

An excellent art production makes the game truly shine.

The audiovisual production of the game is excellent, even a decade and a half on. The art style and world still shine after all this time, all backed by an excellent orchestral soundtrack. The levels are all distinct from each other, with the player given freedom to explore the levels in full. 

This, combined with the game's huge amount of features when it comes to characters, gives the player an unbridled sense of freedom not often found in other video games.

Whilst players are given a wide-variety of gameplay styles to work with, and the campaigns are always fresh and exciting, it's hard not to feel that the game becomes more "stripped-down" as it progresses.

The reason is that the Meccaryn campaign is filled with bizarre and colourful characters, tied together by the game's wacky sense of humour. As the player switches over to the Sea Reaper campaign, the humour is still there, but the majority of the colourful characters aren't seen again until the end of said Reaper campaign.

This becomes particularly jarring once the player reaches the Kabuto campaign, and the game's sense of humour and colourful characters disappear entirely, due to a lack of cutscenes and no in-game humour besides the smirk-inducing briefing screens, giving the game a "lonely" feel to it.

This is by far the game's biggest flaw as it moves along, as the campaigns would've worked far better had they meshed more fluidly and didn't feel too separated from each other in their current state.

But this is by no means a game-killer; Giants: Citizen Kabuto's strength lies in it's twisted sense of humour and selection of characters who give the game depth. The ending does a good job of tying them all together though, so the player may find these worries to be ultimately superficial in the end. Still, it would've been nice to have a more meshed approach to the individual campaigns, as the final result feels oddly disparate in its approach to storytelling.

Quality Verdict: Great (B+)

A bizarre mix of genre elements, Giants: Citizen Kabuto succeeds on various levels with three fresh, unique and enthralling playstyles, all making for a memorable cult classic that falls unfortunately short of a masterpiece as a result of its disparate storytelling, even if the final result is still a must-play classic in dire need of a committed audience. 

Outro: Before I end off this review, I want to note that I've omitted talking about the game's Multiplayer due to time constraints and lack of experience with the online play. The Multiplayer features the same unique gameplay from the campaign, but pits players against each other instead, nothing stripped down or removed in terms of gameplay.

The Multiplayer has an excellent concept, one I recommend the reader invests in if they decide to purchase the game.

Alright, that about covers it. Thanks for tuning in for this little jump back in time. Regular programming will recommence next week, although I may have to skip a week due to my studying schedule. More details will be posted on Monday.

Have a great weekend ahead, stay safe, and happy gaming!

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