Action-adventures don’t always have to be serious affairs, as Planet Moon Studios’ Giants: Citizen Kabuto offers enough to laugh about as well as to smash and shoot at.
Giants: Citizen Kabuto (PC)
(USA 2000, developer: Planet Moon Studios (now defunct), publisher: Interplay, platforms: PC, PS2)
After crash-landing on a mysterious paradise island in space, the Meccaryns, a group of alien soldiers, find out that the magical Sea Reapers and a big creature called Kabuto make it quite difficult to escape and rescue the native Smarties.
Three characters, one story
An overarching storyline of three different factions is a template for most RTS games, but action-adventures haven’t been very successful at introducing the player to new characters and providing logical transitions. Fortunately, Giants: Citizen Kabuto does an amazing job of not only featuring likable characters who don’t only have their own backgrounds, but the game also succeeds in weaving a tale between missions that is as fun as it’s unique. Even if it’s not full of dramatic twists, there is always a new development that motivates the player to complete each mission. It’s nothing epic, but as a background to drop all sorts of weird characters into the mix, the story works extremely well. Where some games fail to engage the player with only the same story from different perspectives, this game offers an interconnected story in which taking over the new characters makes narrative sense without feeling unnecessarily extended for its 10-12 hours playtime.
Funny how things and aliens turn out
It’s a very funny game thanks to the British sense of humor and slapstick scenes. One shouldn’t expect high-brow comedy, but there are more than enough laugh-out-moments, even if it means toilet humor and a bit of comic violence. While it’s never over-the-top blood and gore, the game doesn’t shy away from showing enemies or wildlife explode with bits and pieces flying around and left behind. There is even some nudity in the case of the Sea Reaper Delphi, but only in the European version, as the US edition covers her breasts with a bikini. It’s not a deal breaker, but it just shows how the developers tried to push their silly presentation to the limit. Most of the humor comes from the bickering between the Meccaryns and the Smarties who are the natives and are shown with oversized heads, bulging eyes, and often idiotic behavior, so the opposite of being smart actually. One soon learns to love this paradise world, because despite not providing much background knowledge or a grand storyline, it’s a believable setting with memorable enemies and main characters that might not be the deepest, but definitely the funniest the genre has brought on screen.
Three games in one
The three characters play completely differently, although they share certain mission objectives, at least during the two Meccaryns and Sea Reaper campaigns. The small mercenaries use firepower and can fly around with their jetpacks, the blue women wield magic and are fast swimmers, and the King Kong-like Kabuto simply stomps on his enemies while tearing down buildings and walls with brute force. The way how weapons, spells, and later different beast attacks and abilities are unlocked is highly motivating. The selection of the Meccaryns weapons is rather standard fare with a pistol, fast-firing SMG, more powerful RPG or missile launcher, a seeker grenade or homing missile, in addition to the ever useful sniper gun or the Millennium Mortar that has a much wider and more destructive radius. However, there are more items one can and actually has to use to complete objectives, e.g. the pop-up bomb that brings down big structures, or the bush pack that allows the player to disguise himself to get past enemies. More ways to stay alive become available either by killing enemies who leave behind items like an adrenaline syringe to increase lost life energy, a shield or more ammunition.
Delphi’s arsenal is much more impressive, as she can use different kinds of bows or her trusty sword to get rid of nasties, while staying in water slowly replenishes her life energy. Furthermore, there are many spells that can slow down time, summon a fire wall, circle, hail storm, or even a tornado, while cloaking oneself or teleport to move faster through the air make the Sea Reaper the most interesting and varied character to play, even if the number of offensive and defensive magic abilities can be overwhelming. Kabuto isn’t without his special skills, either, although he’s more of a berserker for which one doesn’t require much learning. Still, if one wants to, one can eat enough Smarties to lay eggs from which smaller versions of the giant hatch. These can then be ordered around to attack enemies, eat them and therefore grow in size and power. However, as the A.I. is rather dumb and the controls are fiddly, one is better off without this “strategic” element, and simply focuses on hitting targets, taking enemies and smashing them against others, which is a lot of fun.
Strategic thinking and waiting
Speaking of strategy, base-building also becomes a part of the game, and this is when it becomes extremely frustrating. First one has to find Smarties that are allocated across the map. As they’re not always close and one can only carry one at a time, it’s more work than fun to get them to the base. Then one needs a specific number of them to build structures. If this wasn’t time-consuming enough, one also has to provide food, which means hunting wildlife or enemies and collecting their meat (or energy in case of Delphi). Only after building two versions of walls and other structures is it possible to have an upgraded magic shop that finally unlocks either the pop-up bomb or a tornado spell which are essential for completing a mission, as these are the only means to destroy certain enemy buildings. At least one doesn’t have to pay anything for restocking weapons or regaining health in the shop, although the latter can’t be used indefinitely, with a certain waiting time preventing the player to constantly return and hide in it, which isn’t even possible as one isn’t protected from attacks when shopping.
As if the slow building and food hunting wasn’t annoying enough, one constantly has to defend the base against frequent enemy attacks. If the enemies break through, they try to steal the head Smartie and bring him to their base. This might be fun in the accompanying multiplayer mode, but in single-player it makes for an unnecessarily long and repetitive experience. This is especially frustrating, as one can’t save during missions and due to some scripting bugs, certain buildings stop working after being hit. One can try to repair damaged ones with a special tool or spell, but if the magic shop where all these items are on offer is down, it’s time to start from scratch. Planning ahead isn’t possible, either, because the map doesn’t show enemies approaching or where Smarties are located. Of course the whole idea of RTS elements mixed with third-person action is nice, especially since one can build additional defenses or fly a gyrocopter if one has patience enough, but it’s ultimately a feature that is detrimental to the flow and nearly breaks the game.
Shooting, flying, smashing, jet skiing, dying
It’s too bad that the base-building is so prominent, because the missions themselves are varied and fun, and even if it’s usually about destroying a certain building or finding something or someone, the way each mission is introduced by nicely done cutscenes makes it more engaging to explore parts of the island. Using various weapons and spells also opens up all sorts of different approaches, and as the island is quite big and one can see far into the distance, there’s almost an open-world feeling to it. Still, this doesn’t distract from the fact that the game’s difficulty is punishing, as it’s easy to lose life energy with so many powerful enemies. There are also some speed races on water during the Delphi campaign that are extremely hard, because one has to be in first place after five rounds, while trying to pick up boosts and weapons to stay on top. It might be a nice distraction and is quite fun, but as one can’t risk taking any mistakes, it’s one of the toughest challenges in the game one is glad to get over with.
A paradise presentation
Despite already being almost 20 years old, the game still looks pretty good thanks to a very capable engine that shows almost the entire island. With many cutscenes using the in-game graphics, there isn’t any discrepancy when one actively plays or watches how the story develops. The vibrant colors of the island work perfectly with some nice water and sun reflection effects, while the character models also feature many little details, which becomes very noticeable when seeing Kabuto in action. It might not and cannot compete with current games, but unlike many other third-person shooters, the art design and technology driving it are still impressive today. Voice acting is very good, too, although one has to get used to exaggerated German, French, and Cockney accents for comedic purposes, while the music offers some amazing orchestral set-pieces that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Star Wars movie. It’s definitely a soundtrack worth listening to outside the game.
A classic, but not without its faults
Giants: Citizen Kabuto is still a very memorable and fun game after all these years. The graphics might have aged a bit, but the island where the three different species battle it out is as unique and mesmerizing as when the game was released. With a great sense of humor and three characters that have their unique play styles, it’s one of the best third-person action-adventures around. If it wasn’t for the tedious RTS base building, the missing savegame function, and some difficulty spikes in level design, it would have been a recommendation for everyone. As it is, Planet Moon Studios delivered a unique experience that is worth tracking down even today.
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