Kingpin: Life of Crime is a first-person shooter developed by Xatrix Entertainment (now Gray Matter Interactive) and published by Interplay Entertainment in June 1999. The game begins with the player character wounded and beaten up by the Kingpin'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 by Xatrix employee Ryan "Ridah" Feltrin.
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 rats and the homeless wander the streets. 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 film Pulp Fiction and featured many lines of dialogue from the movie.
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 magazine size, 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 padded for cash, which can then be used to purchase weapons and ammunition at the Pawn-O-Matic, a shop found in every chapter. Cash can also be used to hire gang members.
- 16 Men Till There's No Men Left
- 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.
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 due to the fact that 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."[ ]
Upon its release, Kingpin received generally favorable reviews. High praise came from PC Zone, who awarded the game 92% and gave it a "classic" award, praising it for opening the floodgates to more adult orientated games. Reaction from GameSpot was also positive, with the game being given a rating of 7.3. GameSpot were 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". IGN enjoyed the game, giving it a score of 8.3, noting its excellent level design, and the advanced NPC interaction.
PC Gamer UK scored the game highly, giving it 90%, describing 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 the publication's US edition, where the game received a 53% rating. It was 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.
- Adrenaline Vault Kingpin review - retrieved December 2005
- HomeLAN Fed interview with Greg Goodrich - retrieved December 2005
- Salon.com - Ahead of the law - retrieved December 2005
- ZDNet - Video-game violence back under attack - retrieved December 2005
- PC Gamer (UK edition), Issue 73 September 1999, Kingpin Review
- Gray Matter Studios
- Kingpin: Life of Crime at MobyGames
- Interplay Entertainment
- Download Kingpin Demo for Windows at KingpinForever.com