Giants: Citizen Kabuto (Windows) (2000)
First normal mapping
IGN, December 15, 2000
"It's been a long time since a gang of off the wall ex-Shiny employees took to the task of breaking out and starting their own development studio in Sausalito, CA known as Planet Moon. We've been following Planet Moon's first big project, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, for a few years now...going gaga over the screenshots, playing the beta builds until our fingers were covered with blisters, and wiping our chins every time a new movie of the in-game action was released. From its early beginnings, Giants sounded like a warped gaming experiment gone horribly, horribly right. Fortunately for us -- and the rest of the gaming world -- Planet Moon finally finished the massive undertaking that was Giants: Citizen Kabuto...and the final product of three years of labor is one of the most creative, gorgeous, and thrilling games we've ever played.
The key to Giants' originality lies in the gameplay variety. You'll play as three distinct races through about 25 hours of total playtime: the futuristic jetpack adorned Meccs, the beautiful rogue Sea Reaper Delphi, and the game's namesake, the colossal Kabuto himself. The Meccs, Delphi, and Kabuto all offer unique gaming experience. And while the three races certainly give you a lot of variety while playing, it's the distinct gameplay variations that ultimately shine in Giants. When it comes to basic design, Giants lumbers over the myriad of other cookie-cutter games that we're so used to on the PC. While at its heart Giants is a third (or first) person action shooter, it incorporates a bit of softcore strategy (mainly base building and resource gathering), and even a series of jet ski races to really mix up the action. It's like Tribes, Wave Race 64, Red Alert 2, and Rampage all got together for a weekend of non-stop partying.
The best thing about the game is that there's never a time when you're not doing something, and it doesn't get repetitive or boring because you're never doing the same thing for very long. Your goal may be to save a horde of precariously dangling Smarties, destroy an evil Reaper hideaway, or to build a base so you can acquire a special item. It's this variety that has kept me coming back for more, even though I've played through the single player experience. Overall I was impressed with the controls in the game as well, although the jet ski physics weren't up to a full-on racer and Kabuto's offspring were difficult to control, especially in the heat of battle because you have to click the mouse over them before you can order them to do anything. But all in all, the team did a great job of combining several varieties of gameplay into a single experience and keeping it simple enough that you weren't frustrated with learning a new way to play.
For the most part, the AI is pretty good, but it does have its share of problems. As you progress through the Mecc levels, you'll have your first taste of commanding your very own squad of Meccs. They tend to be pretty self-sufficient, but sometimes you have to give them a good kick in the pants to get them going. Kabuto's offspring were a different story. They're not nearly as gung-ho as the Meccs, and I usually found them pretty useless since Kabuto was able to dish out so much damage. Opponent AI is a mixed bag as well. Sometimes your opponents will find cover or run for backup when they're in trouble, but I've also seen enemies shooting in the wrong direction and endlessly running into walls. It's certainly no worse than I've seen in any other game, and it's a heck of a lot better than most, but I'm still waiting for the day when a computer will play as intelligently as a human without cheating.
Like the recently released No One Lives Forever, the folks at Planet Moon were able to do something so many developers ultimately fail at...making a allegedly amusing game actually humorous, which actually isn't surprising since many of the Planet Mooners worked on the quirky MDK. Here's a sample of just one of the hilarious conversations you'll find in the brilliant cutscenes between each mission:
Baz (Mecc): What the *%$& is that?
Timmy (Smartie): Wax models of Smarties. The Sea Reapers are trying to frighten us off our island...
Baz: Akmed!!! The Smarties! They're real!
Timmy (faints and then regains conscious): Please, save them! Oh God, and to think yesterday I was throwing stones at them.
Baz: Yeah, they do look a little beat up.
And the cutscenes aren't just funny...they're mighty helpful as well. It's in these cutscenes that you'll learn your objectives for the next link in the story, which as I mentioned earlier, are just as varied as the races themselves.
One of the big draws of Giants has always been the graphics. Sure, playability is always the most important aspect of any game, but it doesn't hurt to look pretty at the same time...just ask Vincent. The recent slew of miraculously beautiful games such as Alice and Sacrifice have given us a glimpse into the future standard of PC graphics, and Giants captures that next generation look perfectly. The tight, high quality, bump-mapped textures look absolutely amazing, and the bright, colorful graphics give you the feeling that you're playing a cartoon. As you can see from the screenshots, the artistic minds at Planet Moon are warped to say the least, but everything is gorgeous and highly stylized. Much of the visual beauty in Giants is enhanced with brilliant lighting effects. The models themselves are nicely rendered as well, and the animation is top notch. The most impressive of the models is definitely Kabuto. The behemoth even sports bump-mapped scars and divots, and when he skulks and lurches across the landscape you'd swear you were watching a holiday claymation special.
The game does require a power system to run smoothly at full detail, though. On the PIII500 loaded with a GeForce 2, the framerate was choppy at 800x600 with the details all the way up. And even on my 800Mhz machine at home, some of Kabuto's special moves that are accompanied by a rippling terrain effect slowed the game to a crawl for a few seconds. However, like I said in my first impressions article, this could very well be the game to warrant a system upgrade, or at least a graphics card upgrade.
Like the graphics, the sound work in Giants is top notch. The voice-overs are well acted and recorded, and it's obvious that the team has taken great care in picking voice talent that was both professional and possessed a good sense of humor. Sound effects are abundant and have the perfect amount of reverb to fit the sound dynamics of each location, and the rich, dramatic orchestral soundtrack accompanies the action perfectly, keeping you primed and energized the whole time.
Even with the inspired inventiveness and graphical splendor in the game, Giants still has its share of problems. The biggest complaint I have with Giants is the annoying crash bugs. While I've heard reports of people crashing out to the desktop numerous times during a play session, I was fortunate enough to only encounter a few crashes while playing the game through its entirety. But this problem is only exacerbated by the lack of an in-game save function. Since the missions are all fairly short, and since you're pretty much never just sitting around doing nothing, this in and of itself isn't that big of a deal, especially since the dev team made it so your base remains in the state it was if you die in the middle of a mission. But when you combine the lack of in-game saves with crash bugs, you're asking for frustration. To be honest though, I enjoyed playing the game so much I really didn't mind going back and playing the missions again. Fortunately, we've already heard that Planet Moon is working on a patch to fix a myriad of user-submitted bugs this Monday, so many of these problems may be cleared up after the weekend.
Multiplay also has some problems. While playing deathmatch and capture-the-Smartie (basically CTF) is a lot of fun when it works, you'll invariably encounter the occasional crash bug here as well, which make playing online a precarious affair. The network code itself seemed to be pretty efficient though, as lag didn't seem to be that big of a deal.
Even with its bugs, Giants is still one of the most creative, innovative, and entertaining games I've played in years, and it's a worthy addition to anyone's software library. I'm still going through a little withdrawal sitting here writing this review as I'd rather be playing Giants than writing about it. While it's not perfect and it could have used a little more time in the Quality Assurance department, Giants is still a winner, and you'll be sorry if you miss one of the wackiest, inventive, and just plain fun games of 2000."
1) Normal mapping, or Dot3 bump mapping, - is a technique used for faking the lighting of bumps and dents – an implementation of bump mapping. It is used to add details without using more polygons. A common use of this technique is to greatly enhance the appearance and details of a low polygon model by generating a normal map from a high polygon model or height map. The first console capable of hardware normal mapping was Sega's Dreamcast console, and its Naomi arcade counterpart, in 2001. In comparison, Sony's PlayStation 2, released in 2000, lacked hardware support for normal mapping. Like the Dreamcast, hardware normal mapping was later supported by the GameCube and Xbox in 2001.
2) The PC version of Giants: Citizen Kabuto appears in the book "1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die" by General Editor Tony Mott.
3) "Kabuto" is Japanese for helmet, often describing the great war helmets of the samurai, which sometimes had decorative antlers and spikes.
4) Censorship: Due to concerns about the game's ratings, the topless Sea Ravens got a bra. It can be removed by deleting a file from the HD. However, the game was rated "M" anyway. The bra was also added for all PlayStation 2 releases.
5) It was the first project for Planet Moon Studios, which consisted of former Shiny Entertainment employees who had worked on the game MDK in 1997.
6) The team faced a tight schedule, and abandoned several features initially in the game. Early designs allowed players to change the landscape; they could gorge out water channels and isolate segments of the land by playing as Reapers.The Kabuto character initially could bake mud into "mud shepherd" units and use them to defend its herd of food.
7) Game runs on Windows 10 with patch.
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