Kingpin: Life of Crime review

Written by Julian Schoffel on . Posted in Action

Kingpin game image

When it came out back in the late 1990s Kingpin heralded a new era where PC gaming aggressively sought to become part of mainstream culture. Its copious use of swearing and gratuitous violence was a sort of anguished plea directed at the masses – “It’s really not nerdy to play PC games any more, look at me I’m cool…”

But Kingpin relied far too heavily on dubious shock value, while severely skimping on any form of gameplay depth or substance.

Using an enhanced version of the Quake II engine, Kingpin was a 3D action game which cast you in the role of a would-be gang lord. Players then guided their on-screen persona around a hostile urban landscape, killing anyone who got in the way.

Language that makes something like “Dexter” look like the “Gilmore Girls…”

One of Kingpin’s key selling points was its liberal use of colourful expletives. And even I have to admit that for the first thirty minutes I spent playing Kingpin it was kind of mesmerizing hearing the “F” word bandied about with such enthusiastic abandon in a PC game. However, once you got used to the swearing you started to notice Kingpin’s distinct lack of originality…

Like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Doom II, Quake, Quake II, Duke Nukem 3D et al, gameplay of Kingpin consisted almost entirely of killing things. Sure there was plenty of stunning (for 1999) 3D terrain to admire, but you couldn’t interact with much of it, so it really amounted to nothing more than shallow eye-candy.

Weapons in Kingpin included typical action game fare like the pistol, shotgun, flamethrower etc. Many of these could be bought in the “Pawn-O-Matic,” using money stolen from safes, vanquished opponents, and so on.

As was the case in the (then) recently released Half-Life, players could recruit NPCs (non-player characters) to help in combat. This hired muscle would follow you around and attack anyone who posed a threat.

Violence and stupidity taken to a whole new level…

Depending on the context, I have nothing against the use of violence in PC games: the clever tongue-in-cheek stuff which popped up in titles like Dungeon Keeper 2 or Fallout could be extremely entertaining. But I do have a problem when a game used marketing blurb like (and I quote): “Shoot a snitch in the kneecaps, or snuff out a rival with a single head-shot and watch them bleed to death” or “…taking graphic violence to a whole new level.”

This sort of crap could only have issued from the teeny-weeny brain of a wanky marketing executive. But my biggest problem with this form of marketing trash was that it was so obviously directed at kids because everyone else would have seen it for what it was – i.e. bloody tedious and stupid…

In designing a supposedly realistic depiction of gangland life, the creators of Kingpin conveniently left out many of the not-so-glamorous facets. Things like racial slurs, drug use and rape were all conspicuously absent from the game. Instead Kingpin was a cynical package which showcased all of the supposedly ‘cool’ aspects of gang culture, while omitting the negatives.

Admittedly, the game was incredibly vacuous and shouldn’t be taken seriously, but it still managed to impart an irresponsible message: violence, and the threat of violence is the best way to get what you want. All I can say is: for a quick reality check, why not take a trip to King’s Cross on a Saturday at 2.00am, pick a fight with a bikie outside a tattoo parlor and see what happens? Welcome to the jungle…

While a low-gore, non-swearing version of the game was also included, I ask you – without the four-letter-words and bloodshed, what’s left of Kingpin? Not a whole hell of lot…although the box does make a nice beer coaster…

Review Summary
Score: 45%
Info: Back when I first played Kingpin: Life of Crime in 1999, PC games still suffered from a ‘nerd stigma.’ In some twisted, misguided way I think that Kingpin was an attempt to address this issue. In my opinion it failed dismally. I noticed that the game has popped up on Steam recently so I felt it was worth posting this retro review, if only to let would-be purchasers know what they’re in for…
The Good: Used the Quake II engine to striking visual effect. Customizable weapons. Halfway decent AI.
The Bad: Shallow. Vacuous. Dialogue sounds like it was written by a profane 8 year old having a psychotic episode. Very cynical.

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Julian Schoffel

From 1994 to 2007 Julian was a contributing editor for Australian PC User Magazine. He has also written for numerous publications which include Australian Personal Computer, PC PowerPlay, Hyper, Ralph, Megazone, The Disc, PlayNow, TechLife, The Sydney Morning Herald and IGN.

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