Giants: Citizen Kabuto
From the team who brought you MDK comes the disturbing tale of Giants. It's hard to say exactly what category Giants falls into, but for now action/strategy is probably the best description. The aim is simple: to progress through 40 different worlds, slaying all who cross your path. You play the game as either Kabuto himself (a brutal monster who swallows natives whole), a group of evil sea wenches known as The Sea Reapers, or a group of five cockney space aliens known as the Meccaryns. All these races clash in world-shattering duels that draw on a whole range of influences, including Hidden & Dangerous and Populous. There are even strange Smurflike creatures that pop up with presents if you're nice to them.
Rest assured, the humour is surreal and the gameplay bizarre. Prepare to roll your eyes skyward this spring.
Every now and then a title comes along that almost defies explanation. This is one such game. On the surface it's just a straightforward third-person-perspective shooter. On another level it's a complex, multiplayer real-time strategy game. And somewhere else along the line it turns into a role-playing game. And just to top it off there's a dash of thrown in. In short, it transcends boundaries like no other game we've seen. What's more, we can't get enough of it.
That's right, after a wait of more than two long and drawn-out years, Giants: Citizen Kabuto has finally arrived in the office and for once disappointed. Kabuto himself has to be one of the coolest gaming personalities to ever grace the PC. He is the epitome of all that is violent in video entertainment: he sticks Marines on his horns and stores them for a snack; he rips other creatures to pieces with his bare hands; and he just pops living morsels into his mouth like peanuts. The big guy trujy is a class act. But more on that later, right now we need to get back to basics.
If you're not aware of the plot, here's a quick run-down. The giant Kabuto is created by a race of naked, underwater nymphets, the Sea Reapers, and ordered to defend them from possible, yet very improbable, alien attack. Kabuto is not impressed - he doesn't know where he came from and he doesn't understand why he is this huge monstrosity. He feels lonely all the way up there and he longs for a mate, and so he gets angry, very angry indeed. He turns on his female creators and virtually wipes them out. The remaining Reapers flee to the depths of the ocean to concoct new twisted ways to save their fishy skins.
The story may be in a contemporary form, but it's a classic tale - it's Frankenstein for a digital age. The folly of messing with science and perverting nature is the theme, and in Kabuto we have the perfect anti-hero.
That's the easy part out of the way, here's how Giants actually works.
All For One And One For All
You control three different characters: a disenchanted Sea Reaper called Delphi; the Meccaryns, a band of cockney space Marines who have crash-landed on the planet; and the lovely Kabuto.
Each character has strengths and weaknesses. Delphi, for example, can learn up to 13 magic spells. Unfortunately, her nakedness means that physically she's quite weak and can't take many hits before dying. The Meccs, on the other hand, are protected by sturdy exoskeletons and have a staggering amount of weaponry and technology at their disposal, but to access most of it they must build a base. Kabuto, obviously, is an enormously powerful magical psychopath who flattens anything he sees and needs to eat constantly to maintain this unequalled strength Interestingly, these immense personality differences lead to three totally different ways Fighting your way across the island as Delphi is fast-paced, stirring stuff. She carries a magical bow (complete with a zoom option) that fires everything from flame to homing arrows. Her spells include the ability to slow time (so she can dodge bullets, Mafrw-style), shrink any creature (including Kabuto) to the size of a mouse, create a tornado and call up a wall of fire. For close encounters, she has a sword that can kill most minor enemies in a flash. She's a fearsome lass and there's a definite mystical appeal about playing her. Oh, and you get to see her breasts. But that's not important, of course.
Playing as the Meccs is, again, action-orientated but there's the added strategy of using the jetpack to thrust around the landscape and having to command the four other Meccs in the team. Issuing them with basic orders, such as "take cover" and "attack" is all that it takes in that respect, although there are times when for some reason the AI gets a bit twitchy. They also tend to zoom around in peculiar patterns and are not averse to bumping into a mountain or two. Annoyingly, they also look very similar to some of your enemies, so you can end up shooting your own men by mistake. They can't actually be hurt but you can still end up wasting valuable ammunition.
That aside, playing as the Meccs is still an interesting experience, especially when you've got delights such as mines, grenades, machine guns, RPGs, sniper rifles, homing missiles and more at your disposal. Playing Kabuto, on the other hand, is an all-out gorefest. His body is his only weapon. With his colossal size, casualties simply can't be avoided and, in true Carmageddon style, you find yourself killing and maiming without even realising it. Special moves are acquired as the game goes on and include the elbow-drop, fist-slam and the lethal butt-stomp. There's even the added bonus of viewing the action through a mouth-cam. Assuming the role of Kabuto is literally a devastating experience; controlling him is confirmation that he is, without doubt, the star of the show.
Here's the twist, though; you never actually get to choose which of these characters you want to control. Instead, the game automatically selects one for you when the plot necessitates it. One moment you could be fighting Kabuto and then on the next mission you could be controlling him. It's a restrictive way of doing things that might not appeal to everyone, but it's still an idea that manages to instill a compelling desire to finish the stage in order to see who you are going to play as next. Ultimately, there are 15 missions per character so things even themselves out in the end.
Only Smarties Have The Answer
Despite their obvious differences, the aforementioned characters have something very important in common: they all need two vital resources to survive. The first resource is Smarties: an intelligent yet harmless race of small blue creatures. The second is Vimps: gentle bovine-like creatures bred solely for food. While all three of the main characters rely on these resources, they don't necessarily use them in the same way.
Where Kabuto and the Sea Reapers need to kill the Smarties to utilise their powerful mana, the Meccs simply put them to work as slaves to help build their base. The Vimps, meanwhile, are important to Kabuto and the Meccs as a basic food supply. However, for the Sea Reapers these strange two-legged cows increase spell power.
Smarties also happen to be the lynchpin of the whole story. Yan, the wise old Smartie sage, is the guy who Delphi learns her spells from. In fact, in all the early missions these little blue Smurfy things help you along, familiarising you with the world you're in and teaching you how to use your equipment. On one mission near the start, the Meccs have to rescue a Smartie who has been kidnapped by some Sea Reaper henchmen. Once you've rescued him, he rewards you with a sniper rifle and sends you packing on another mission to rescue his son. One female Smartie even manages to get a shag out of a Meccaryn called Reg - they really do like to get involved.
They also act as comic relief providing funny accents, silly names and ridiculous predicaments. At times the humour gets a bit stupid, especially during the numerous slapstick cut-scenes at the end of each sub-mission. Still, this is something that should be expected from Planet Moon, after all, this is the developer that broke away from Shiny Entertainment, and whether they like it or not, a lot of Shiny's warped sense of humour is still evident. Take the Meccaryns, for example. They only arrived on this world after they were eaten and then shat out by a giant space fish. Now that's just plain old weird.
Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None?
The RTS section of Giants is slightly easier to digest. On later missions both Delphi and the Meccs can build bases. This gives them new technology and better spells or weapons. All they have to do is take a Smartie back to their base and then assign it to work on a particular building.
At this point the view flips into overhead mode so that you can work more easily. In this manner Delphi can create wonders such as sea monsters and submarines, and the Meccs can fly around in nifty little helicopters. The chopper in particular is a versatile machine allowing you to travel the immense landscape faster. It also allows you to strafe enemies from the sky. This means you can slice your enemies into tiny pieces if you fly close enough to the ground. Buzzing a herd of Vimps, for example, scatters big fleshy lumps of Vimp meat everywhere. There are limits, though - trying the same trick on Kabuto should definitely not be attempted.
Another excellent move on the helicopter is to assign a Mecc to each wing and use them as gunners. You can even do this in LAN or Internet multiplayer mode.
Kabuto is the only character that doesn't have a base, but he's still got a few tricks up his hairy sleeve. For one, if he eats enough Smarties he can pop an egg out of his arse. Curiously, this egg hatches into a kind of demonic helper who can run around and perform basic tasks such as collecting meat and Smarties. Kabuto can produce five of these at any one time and they can all be controlled in a similar way to the Mecc 'wingmen'.
The RTS element to the singleplayer game is clearly an inspired touch that adds a significant novelty factor to the gameplay. In the multiplayer game, however, RTS is less of a novelty and much more of a necessity.
Matches take place between two sides. Any of the main three races can be chosen, and battles can even occur between two sides of the same race. The exception is Kabuto, he flatly refuses to fight himself and so duels only with the other two races. The Meccs can have a maximum of five players on their team, the Sea Reapers can have three and Kabuto, obviously, is by himself.
The idea is to collect Smarties faster than your opponent to make more powerful weapons to kill them with. But there are also a lot of other tactics. One of these is that you can nick Smarties out of the enemy base and take them back to your own. Other strategies include stealing all the food resources so that the other team starves to death. This is extremely effective when your opponent is Kabuto, because as soon as you remove his nourishment he is almost powerless.
From what we've experienced so far, the multiplayer game is perfectly balanced with no race seemingly having a huge advantage over the other. Overall, the multiplayer aspect to Giants is something Planet Moon is clearly serious about - they want it to be as enjoyable as the single-player game and they look like they may well have done it.
X Marks The Spot
The detail of Giants is unbelievable. You only have to look at the rippling of the ocean and the swaying of the trees to know that this is an engine with some serious balls. Everything looks sublime, and sometimes the majestic beauty of the landscapes themselves leads you to think that this is the only game in the world that looks similar to Black & White. And if you think Kabuto looks good as a still screenshot, wait until you see him moving or, even better, roaring.
Care doesn't stop there though. Mark Morgan, who works on some of the The X-Flles music, has written the exclusive soundtrack to the game. It may sound like incidental Star Wars music at times, but there's no doubt that it puts atmosphere in all the right places. Sound effects and speech have also been developed with the utmost care and precision. Only recently Planet Moon threw a load of professional voice artists into a sound studio and got them to talk gibberish for several hours. The resulting ad-libbing between the actors was so good nearly all the recorded material was used. The only other thing worth mentioning is that this is a very tough game, especially on the Meccaryn missions. Every weapon has limited ammo and much of your time is spent looking for the Gift Shop, found somewhere on each mission.
Here you can pick up free ammo refills and extra gadgets such as shields and stealth-bushes. But continuously running backwards and forwards between battle and shop is not everyone's idea of enthralling gameplay. If you think we're being picky, we are, that's our job. The fact is Giants is predominantly an action game and repetitive gameplay like this detracts from the overall fluidity.
We won't hold that against it, though, because when it comes to originality and depth this game delivers. Giants is equally good online or offline, and in this day and age where developers tend to concentrate on either one or the other, its versatility is a treat.
Big and beautiful, Giants ms certainly one of the highlights of last year. Released just before Christmas, it offered a taste of action that freshened the palate: three distinct styles of play through a trio of diverse and wildly exaggerated characters; first- and third-person combat; a sprinkling of strategy; all drizzled in a rich and humourous sauce.
Very tasty indeed. But it was - and still is -a machine-hungry game, requiring at least a PIII-500 and a top-notch graphics card to look its very best. Frustrating, too, was the fact that being linear, to control the eponymous Kabuto, you had to play through the Meccaryn and Sea Reaper missions. Not that we complained - the single-player game was a feast in itself.
On wheeling out the sweet trolley that is the multiplayer game, you soon discover that far from the one-course wonder of the lone-player missions, there is a whole spread of tempting dishes laid before you. They are variations on a theme mostly, but you can at least play as either of the three main races whether you have completed the game or not. Deathmatch and team deathmatch are pretty self-explanatory, and so too are CTF-style Capture The Smartie games. What is highly innovative here, however, is the successful transference of the base-building game from the single to the multiplayer, where Meccs, Reapers and old bigfoot himself must fight over the indigenous population for resources.
You Dirty Lag
But while all these dishes look tempting, tasting them is altogether different. For one thing, there is quite a serious imbalance between the races. Although this doesn't assert itself in same-race team games, it certainly misses the mouth when you try to play Mecc Vs Reaper Vs Kabuto -more so when the numbers playing aren't quite right (it admits as much in the manual).
Playing online, Giants'worst crime, however, is that actually connecting to a game in the first place is rather difficult. Out of the box, Giants multiplayer is positively archaic, requiring you to manually input TCP/IP addresses. And although, thankfully, the game is supported by GameSpy Arcade, when you do get in you'll be dogged by lag, even with a highspeed connection to one of the few dedicated servers. But when you get in with the right mix of players and are used to the imbalance and sniping-focused gameplay, Giants really is a lot of fun. Much thought has obviously gone into the multiplayer game, though one can't help but suspect that it was left to last when it came to the testing stage. The V1.1 patch did go some way to eliminating the bugs and imbalances, but a second patch is long overdue to address the many glitches that remain.
So, certainly not a patch on Unreal Tournament or Counter-Strike, nor anyway near as popular. But then it was never destined to be. Being such a damn good laugh though, the game's imbalances are offset to a small degree. If multiplayer games were more stable and modem-friendly, Ganist online could be as satisfying and fulfilling as it is offline. There's still hope...
The First Time I played Giants: Citizen Kabuto, I got stuck. It's not an easy game. There are no quick-saves, no midmission checkpoints, no difficulty settings, no regenerating health, and it doesn't take much in the way of gunfire to kill you. Often, the blast radius from a rocket will kill you, even through two feet of rock. It's not easy. In fact, Giants occasionally gets you burrowing a knuckle into your tear ducts in frustration.
In Mecc leader Baz's favour, he's got squad members he can deploy, a range of defensive weapons such as a shield, a bush to hide inside, and an endless supply of free health syringes from the shops, providing you can get to one before a sniper takes you out. What I'd forgotten was the charmingly mistimed slapstick and the startlingly fresh dialogue. It's not the best line in the world, but you just never hear anyone saying "I'm just an old man, my balls are saggy" these days. And Giants is full of half-squinting moments like that.
After one of your squad mates uses his bush camouflage to have public sex with one of the local species, he declares that he "Likes to get himself a little taste, now and then." And the dysfunctional home life of the Smarties is straight out of one of the better Monty Python sketches.
That was my memory: a funny, hard game that I never got around to completing. Here's what I missed out on - and the many loyal fans of the game will be appalled at my ignorance -I missed out on two playable races.
The Mecc were the traditional race, mixing gunplay and special weapons with Tribes-style jetpack antics. But I'd never even seen the Sea Reapers, let alone the mutant Kabuto that gave the game its title. Why did I think the game was called Citizen Kabuto? I can't say. I just thought they were being wacky.
Eggs And Meals
If the Mecc are StarCmft's Terrans, the Sea Reapers are the Protoss - spiritual types who use magic instead of high technology (or use, as Arthur Clarke puts it, tech that is so high it seems like magic). They can teleport, leaving behind a decoy dummy. They can also slow down their opponents. This is extremely useful, given the jetpacks that are employed by the Mecc.
Then there's Kabuto - a one-man army, who doesn't need to worry about using the Smarties to build bases, or store food from the wild herds. He just eats them until he's big enough to lay eggs, and delivers wrestling moves from a menu that feature dignity-free attacks like "butt flop".
Yes, it's childish. But it's that perfect pitch of well-delivered childishness that's more sophisticated than it lets on. With so many games taking themselves seriously, it's fantastic to play a game that gets most things right - controls, the balance, and the fast-paced combo of offensive and defensive kit - and still takes the piss every opportunity it gets.
Giants may be occasionally frustrating, but we haven't had a game adopting this reckless, playful tone for a decade. If you haven't already bought it, get it now.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode
Giants: Citizen Kabuto Screenshots
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