Remasters of classic games are now the norm of modern gaming, and it’s fantastic. We get to play some of the best retro, classic, and cult games which deserve a second chance. There are plenty of forgotten titles getting that all-important return to the modern era, bringing about attention to many cult classics which did have a significant impact on gaming over the years. Kingpin: Life of Crime is one such shooter, which was part of the late 90’s resonance of shooters, such as Half-Life, Quake 2, Unreal, and SiN. But was it worth bringing back the legendary Kingpin into the modern age, and how does this remaster stand among many others?What is Kingpin: Reloaded?
Kingpin: Life of Crime was quite infamous back upon its release in 1999, even sparking debates in the House of Congress. It was vile, bleak, violent and gritty, but also helped pave the way for more grounded feeling shooters, leaving a profound mark on gaming. It’s since been pushed to the sidelines, but thanks to a recent remaster, it can experience new life on the mean streets.
It’s a stylised and highly violent neo-noir tale of vengeance in a dog-eat-dog world where money talks and having the bigger gun in a fight makes all the difference. It’s a visually impressive-looking game for 1999, using the same engine as Quake 2, and featuring many of the staples, from big, burly NPCs, clean-cut geometry, excellent level of detail (be it blurry) and intense action gunplay. It also infused some neat elements including an art deco look and feel, in a bloody gangland setting.
Kingpin: Reloaded is the long-awaited remaster, featuring upscaling, new dynamic lighting, and a couple of extra features to bring forth the nightmarish metropolitan hellhole to a new generation of gamers. Presented as the ultimate way to play the cult classic… which comes up with mixed results if I’m completely honest.A Depraved and beautiful urban nightmare
Now I never played Kingpin when it first came out, didn’t even know it existed until about 2005, when in the UK much of the news media jumped on the video game violence bandwagon. Only a few years later did I pick it up and play, having some mixed feelings on it. Maybe I was expecting something much more violent and disturbing, or something a little more advanced.
Yet Kingpin does earn much more of my respect on a second playthrough, seeing that it’s much more thoughtful with certain mission objectives, the aesthetics and even things like the ally AI stood out immensely.
As for the story, we take on the role of a no-name thug who’s been beaten to a bloody pulp by order of his gangland lieutenant Nikki Blanco. This triggers an uprise of death, and mayhem from our nameless anti-hero who has nothing but revenge on mind, blood on his fists and no time for peace.
And that’s it for the general plot as it’s all about straight-up revenge from a guy with no name, no history and just the desire to kill his former boss. It’s kind of laughable as we don’t even know this guy, considering he could be a real piece of s*** who deserved the beat down in the first place. But we go with the flow and inflict a massive amount of carnage to settle a score.
And on the other hand, I love its purity and no-nonsense nature to just get you going, and have you murder half of the gangland underworld to make things even. It’s incredibly blunt and straight to the point, meaning it can experiment in other aspects including mission structure and gunplay.
Right from the get-go, you don’t play this as your typical shooter, especially as you’re only armed with a lead pipe and making eye contact with the wrong person can surely result in death. You must wonder about the environment, talk to people, learn a few things, and wait for the right moment to strike. You break into something secure, find a weapon and move on to carry out your revenge. You do this by talking to people, finding more powerful weapons, being street-smart and exploring your surroundings.
It is incredibly dense at times, with a great sense of structure, and in many instances making you think smarter, and outside the box. One element of the core gameplay loop is shooting, but there are other more meaningful interactions to consider.
You normally do a fair amount of exploring, deciphering the environment and working out the best way forward, while making sure you’re armed enough to take on incoming problems. You can gather money and key items which you exchange for favours and can hire out armed thugs to assist and follow you into battle. Kingpin’s level design features a good amount of lateral thinking, exploration, looping level design and some immersive sim elements on how you tackle a certain problem. The focus is of course the shooting, which is nothing amazing, but it’s solid enough and engaging to keep you on your toes and feel satisfaction when you overcome some gangland thugs.
But the finding of weapons, figuring out how to deal with enemies better equipped than you, and getting hold of the most powerful weapons to cause all-out urban warfare do elevate Kingpin immensely. And from my understanding, Kingpin was one of the first shooters to allow players to upgrade their weapons via mods you could purchase from a vendor, which is truly special when you think about it. I will admit, that it has that issue with not updating you on certain small details when a mission status changes, leaving you a little high and dry on what to do next. But the notes system is there and helpful in recording what you’ve done and what you should roughly do next.
Half-Life is a great sci-fi action game with highly grounded level design and intense combat, but it felt quite linear in comparison to Kingpin. Which allowed more open style exploration, and fluent problem solving and managed to make an environment that’s somewhat abstract, yet believable. The grungy art deco style does stand out, making it unique and rather timeless in many respects. This is all down to Dan Koppel, who has quite a renowned influence being he worked on games such as Dishonored and Quake 2.
On the whole, Kingpin as a First Person shooter is a rather exceptional and distinct venture, that was part of the era where shooters evolved to be more thought-provoking, and intelligent and require more than just circle strafe and fire. And this remaster keeps all the best things from the gritty violence, bleak charm, and all the f-bombs that will make you blush.Tough as nails and beaten to a pulp
Now remastering a game is a fine art, with certain studios being suited for the task. Nightdive Studios has become the masters in the act of remastering, with titles such as Shadowman, the Turok trilogy, and Powerslave. Other studios have also brought about great long-forgotten games with some being quite excellent, and others not so much. It’s a difficult chore to do, and lots of small details to consider. And not all remasters are made equal as it seems with Kingpin: Reloaded, developed by Slipgate Ironworks, who have made some very good games recently.
Yet on the surface, Kingpin: Reloaded is quite underwhelming, especially considering this was announced three years ago, and from the looks of things, it barely feels that much different where it matters. And even more so when we’ve been blessed with other brilliant remasters that Kingpin: Reloaded feels it needed a little more time to render. But there are some things worth to note.
One of the biggest reasons Kingpin was notorious as it was, aside from the themes and violence, was due to the immense difficulty. Along with certain bugs which never got patched out (unless for the grace of modders back in the early 2000s). I can recall playing the original version back in 2008 and felt the pressure of not only the intense combat and super-aggressive enemy AI but also just getting the darn thing to work properly. So having this remaster is a great way to easily pick up and play, without having to do so much tweaking and modifying.
I do appreciate the fact it can be run effortlessly on modern hardware, and some of the new inclusions like the dialogue wheel, being able to listen to any of the iconic Cypress Hill tracks (when it works), and some much-needed balancing is neat. But there is quite a lot which feels off, from the overblown lighting, dynamic shadows that look preposterous, and a fair number of bugs just hinder this remaster overall.
The overindulgent lighting is one of the biggest issues, which is almost blinding at times, making it impossible to see where enemies are and getting you easily killed. The most bizarre is in the starting area where you must evade a patrolling guard with a shotgun and flashlight, which illuminated an entire area, as though God’s gaze was being shined down from the skies and turned everything to white. The lighting is poorly implemented, with it being too intrusive, or underwhelming, and things such as explosions are way too over the top, like being 400% bigger than the original.
And in general, I feel that a lot of aspects in the original just looked and felt better. Many older games usually had small touches to add depth and atmosphere to the world, and a lot of these have either been watered down or removed. Such as the reflection of neon signs, which many of them now appear much fainter.
And sadly, the legendary music is so underplayed, nearly absent without some serious tweaking. This is a massive shame as the music is terrific and is part of the soul of Kingpin (being performed by Cypris Hill). Now you may think it’s down licensing, but the music is there, just very faint from radios in the game. You can choose what track to listen to and it’s meant to play over the game, yet this didn’t work so well for me most of the time.
Thankfully the point I raised regarding difficulty has been tweaked somewhat, feeling more balanced and less overkill. But weapons such as the flamethrower felt way too underpowered in the harder difficulty. It is still tough, but not so much that it feels broken by the endgame, which was a sore issue with the original version.
While I didn’t have many bugs in my playthrough, the ones which did occur were quite irritating. The shotgun fire appears to cause the game to freeze for a split second. It is a split second but firing again and again makes it very noticeable. Another saw me unable to speak with any NPCs, and thus not carry out important objectives, resulting in me having to restart the area. And the music I selected from the CD option didn’t play or change, even causing some overlays with the main menu music. And even certain cutscenes had a weird bit of jank that would freeze the screen for a split second, say when you were watching the main character ride a bike.Overall?
For me, it’s not so bad I wouldn’t recommend Reloaded, but the flawed lighting, missing environmental elements, some critical bugs I came across (and other people have their own) and the lacking presence of Cypris Hill’s iconic soundtrack, make this quite a letdown. I understand that the developers can patch this up and make it better, but it’s a shame to see right from the start there are glaring issues which hold this back, especially as Kingpin is such a compelling piece of gaming history that deserves a lot more love and respect, and this needed to be the best representation.
Kingpin is a game that deserves much more recognition and praise for its innovative twists on the FPS formula. And it deserved a much better remaster at the end of the day to be fair. Again, I can see this being patched soon and I do hope that’s the case, but as it stands, Kingpin: Reloaded is underwhelming and flawed to the extent that it soils a masterful game in many respects.
++ Still a brilliant cult classic with innovative FPS gameplay.
+ Easy to pick up and play compared to the original.
+ Some neat additions, including awesome artwork.
-- Serious lighting issues, where it’s near blinding.
- Various bugs and glitches.
- Certain visual aspects looked better in the original
A review copy of Kingpin: Reloaded was kindly provided by the publisher.