Kingpin: Life of Crime
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Kingpin: Life of Crime is a first-person shooter developed by Xatrix Entertainment and published by Interplay Entertainment in June 1999. The game begins with the player character wounded and beaten up by Blanco's henchmen, and the story follows his thirst for revenge. Released shortly after the Columbine High School massacre, the game attracted controversy which led it to be dropped from various retailers, despite receiving moderate critical acclaim. The game was ported to Linux.
Set in a quasi-retro time period, Kingpin features a mix of 1930s art deco crossed with modern technology and ideas. Many inventions are conveyed through an art deco style design, like helicopters and monorail networks. The setting is described by the game manual as a "past that never happened".
Set in a city, the world of Kingpin revolves around crime and criminals. The game begins in the most desolate and deprived area of the city, Skidrow, a dystopia where the population consists entirely of criminal elements, prostitutes, and transients. It is here that the player character has been left, after being beaten up by some thugs under the employ of Nikki Blanco, one of the Kingpin's lieutenants. For some reason not explained within the game, Nikki Blanco wants the player out of his territory for good, and the beating is a warning that should he ever return, he can expect much worse.
Kingpin is a game about revenge. Picking up a piece of lead piping as a makeshift weapon, the player plots against Nikki and the Kingpin himself. The player's rise to prominence, and his lust for revenge will take him through various areas of the city: from chemical plants through to steel mills and train yards, and eventually onto Radio City, home of the Kingpin's headquarters.
The game was influenced by the films Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski which features many lines of dialogue and characters lifted from both films. A few primary examples would be the main antagonist "The Kingpin" being heavily inspired by the Marsellus Wallace character from Pulp Fiction. The boss you encounter known as "The Jesus" shares the same name and personality as the Bowling champ from the film The Big Lebowski. Also, much of the NPC dialogue is lifted from movie characters. Many generics NPCs will say "Forget about it huh", which is another direct line from the film The Big Lebowski and many female NPCs will quote Jules from Pulp Fiction's "That's cool and the gang!" phrase.
Gameplay in Kingpin was most noted for its profanity laden dialog and its graphic depiction of violence. An idea incorporated into the game was that of area-specific damage: a shot to the head deals more damage than a shot on the leg. To complement this, each game character also has a deformable skin, which indicates where and how badly the character had been injured. Injured characters also bleed, and leave a blood trail making it easier to follow them. Instead of having a universal armor value for the player, armor is split into three different types, helmet, body armor and leggings, with separate values for each one.
Another innovative feature of the game is the use of weapon modifications. Various mods can be used to upgrade the weapons in the game. The pistol, for example, can be modified to increase its firepower, or its rate of fire, among other things.
Kingpin also features heavy NPC interaction for a first-person shooter; the player can interact with NPCs and choose between positive or negative responses. This can lead to various outcomes such as gleaning new information, hiring gang members, or provoking an enemy into attacking. The NPC response to the player also takes into account whether the player's gun is holstered or not. Some areas, such as bars and clubs, which acted as hubs for the chapters, force the player to lower his weapon. The player can also hire gang members to join him, and in some cases this is necessary as the player would need an AI character's specific skill.
Another new feature is the introduction of cash. Fallen enemies can be searched for cash, which can then be used to purchase weapons and ammunition at the Pawn-O-Matic, a shop found in every chapter, except in chapter five. Cash can also be used to hire gang members.
The soundtrack for Kingpin was provided by the rap group Cypress Hill, and featured three tracks from their album IV. These were: 16 Men Till There's No Men Left, Checkmate, and Lightning Strikes. Alongside the full versions of these tracks, instrumental versions with the vocals removed were used as backing tracks. Cypress Hill also provided some of the voice acting for the game.
On the initial UK release of the game a free Ministry of Sound album was bundled with the game.
Kingpin received a fair amount of controversy due to its graphic depiction of violence and heavy use of profanity. The game picked up increased media attention because it was the first high profile first person shooter to be released since the Columbine High School massacre. At that point, computer games were facing increasing pressure from Congress and lobby groups seeking an answer to what had influenced the Columbine killers.
Calls for Xatrix to cancel the game were made by various congressmen, the game was debated on the floor of the US senate, and was singled out for criticism in the National Institute on Media and the Family's 1999 report on violent video games. In a response to this, Xatrix implemented a "safe" version, a password protected game mode which meant that the game would play with low violence and bleeped out expletives. Xatrix also stressed that Kingpin was not in any way, shape, or form aimed or marketed at minors, with a warning message during the installation stage from the Xatrix CEO, Drew Markham himself:
- "In light of the recent acts of youth-related violence that have taken place across America we thought that you should know how 'Kingpin' was initially conceived. Kingpin was never intended for children. This is a game with mature themes made for a mature audience. There was never any attempt to market or influence children to buy Kingpin."
Still, the controversy led various retailers to not stock the game, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us. Xatrix team member Greg Goodrich would claim later that "If it wasn't for Electronics Boutique, the game might have never seen the light of day in North America."
The game received "average" reviews according to the review aggregation website GameRankings. Erik Wolpaw of GameSpot was particularly impressed at the way that Xatrix had used the then two-year-old Quake II engine, calling the game world a "beautifully depicted metropolitan nightmare". Jay Boor of IGN enjoyed the game, noting its excellent level design, and the advanced NPC interaction. PC Gamer UK described the game as "an incredible achievement in terms of graphics, AI and level design and a nasty, bloody swear-fest". Incidentally, the most scathing reaction to the game came from Stephen Poole of the publication's US edition, who felt that the game was too shallow, offered nothing new to the genre and was peppered with bugs and oversights.
Kingpin would prove to be Xatrix's last game; on the day that Kingpin shipped, Xatrix Entertainment ceased to exist. Many of their team reformed later to create Gray Matter Interactive Studios.
In 2014 the lost thought source code re-emerged according to a statement of Slipgate Studios' Frederik Schreiber. In 2016 Herve Caen responded regarding the source code, confirming that Interplay holds still the rights to the game.
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- Was the Kingpin: Life of Crime Sourcecode ever released? If not, we have a copy. Who owns the rights to Kingpin today? on twitter.com by Frederik Schreiber (23 April 2014)