Product Type: other PC games
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God gave rock and rock and roll to you - but did he have anything to do with this game? Probably not
KISS Psycho Circus - The Nightmare Child (PC)
Member Name: Hannard
KISS Psycho Circus - The Nightmare Child (PC)
Advantages: It's got Kiss in it! It's got monsters in it, and you get to murder clowns.
Disadvantages: The graphics are dated, it's not that replayable.
(review by me, and originally posted on GamesDomain)
I'd like to begin this review with a heartfelt appeal for your help in combating a grave misconception that has become rooted in the psyche of many of the inhabitants of this world. As disturbing as it may seem, there are apparently some people who see clowns not as they are, but instead see them in a rather twisted way. These tragic misfits labour under the impression that clowns are somehow friendly, happy and even funny figures of entertainment, when any right-minded person can clearly see that they are in fact darkly sinister beings with their freakishly painted faces and grim humourless antics. So if you know one of these unfortunate clown-loving individuals, why not help them to see the light by persuading them to watch one of the many evil clown films, such as "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" or the slash-em-up, "The Clown at Midnight." Or why not try dressing up as a clown yourself and leaping out of their wardrobe late at night? With perseverance, you should be able to convince them that clowns are indeed sinister and evil rather than amusing or entertaining. And perhaps then they can do the same to convert someone they know.
It appears that the creators of KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child know which side their scary clown-flavoured bread is buttered on, as the game features a great number of clowns, all of them mean, macabre and intent on eviscerating you at the earliest opportunity. In fact, as the game's title suggests, KISS Psycho Circus takes place in a strange realm inhabited by evil clowns and other creatures from some weird, twisted circus which itself is under the control of a strange being called the Nightmare Child - and only you, playing as the members of rock group KISS can save it from being totally corrupted. Although, given the total weirdness of the Psycho Circus world, it's doubtful anyone would notice the difference.
The manual doesn't actually state why it is that the only people who can save this crazy, alternate world are a bunch of glam rockers in goth costumes and make-up, but that's presumably covered in Todd McFarlane's KISS Psycho Circus comic upon which the game is based. Given that KISS have to be one of the most successful rock bands around, surpassing even Marilyn "Alice Cooper rip-off" Manson in the marketing stakes (with dolls, figures, comics and a huge number of other tasteful items available), it would have been easy for Psycho Circus to end up being a cheap and nasty cash-in along the lines of the dire Iron Maiden and Queen games a while back. In fact, most music related games to date have been pretty dire. But, luckily for 3D shoot-em-up fans and computer-owning KISS followers, Psycho Circus hasn't fallen into that trap. Certainly, while Psycho Circus isn't a revolutionary title, it offers plenty to keep 3D shoot-em-up fans entertained.
As in most shoot-em-ups, you play a heavily armed hero - or in this case a heavily armed member of KISS; you take role of a different band member in each of the game's episodes. You have to liberate the twisted world by, er, shooting and hacking your way mercilessly through its enslaved inhabitants. As a somewhat mindless shoot-em-up, Psycho Circus has more in common with Blood and the somewhat inferior, but similarly dark, Blood 2 than with Half Life. An impressive AI and a compelling storyline are not to be found here - instead broodingly dark levels, macabre monsters and high octane blasting are the order of the day. Another thing it has in common with Blood 2 is that both games use Monolith's Lithtech 3D engine, with Psycho Circus using a heavily improved version of the earlier LithTech games. But unlike Blood 2, Psycho Circus actually plays well out of the box, so it appears Third Law, the designers of the game, won't be doing a Monolith in abandoning their game, then claiming it's not their game, yet mysteriously not giving back any of the money they were paid to create it.
The game is split up into five realms, four proper realms and a final two-level "Nightmare Realm" where you get to kick Nightmare Child arse. Each of these four realms can be played in any order, but it's not recommended for plot fluidity reasons. These realms are in turn split up into about eight levels each. The locations you get to explore within these levels range from the slightly off-kilter to the truly bonkers. You start off your musical mystery tour in an abandoned roadhouse, wondering where everyone's got to. After a bit of exploring, and picking up your first weapon -- a sword -- you realise you're not in Kansas anymore when a headless creature pops through a nearby mirror and makes for you at high speed. Naturally, this foe can be dispatched with your sword but given that this is one darkly twisted shoot-em-up, things just get weirder from there on in. Subsequent locations in the first realm include a freak show, a strange sort of abandoned warehouse, a spooky town square and more. The second, third, fourth and fifth realms are just as gothic and spooky, although the second realm does start off with a couple of slightly uninteresting cavern levels of the type seen in virtually all 3D shoot-em-ups (though it picks up from there).
While you can have the best looking levels in the world -- Psycho Circus doesn't quite achieve those lofty heights, but the levels do look pretty damn good - if they're badly designed then you're not going to hold the interest of Joe Gamesplayer. But Third Law, the games designers, have done a good job of creating levels that not only look good but play well too. Psycho Circus 's levels are full of twists and turns and other surprises, and are rarely mundane. If you're the kind person who loathes wandering from location to location hunting for some hidden switch or trigger panel, don't worry. In Psycho Circus there are no hubs to get lost wandering around; nor will you find yourself collecting an item in the Tombs of Ydrrrynx used to solve a puzzle in the Ice Caves of Fnnnip. The most you'll have to do here is collect a key or flick an easily seen switch to open a door and in the latter case, you are nearly always shown where the door you opened is, usually nearby, so there's little toing or froing required, just plenty of monster maiming.
There are indeed plenty of monsters lining up to fight you, enough to make your quest to kill the Nightmare Child quite hard indeed. There are no enemies that are unique to a particular realm; instead, you encounter one or two new enemies on each realm as well as bumping into all the ones you dealt with in the previous realm. The real cannon fodder of the game are the "Headless": creepy crablike creatures which are, er, headless, and have rather nasty slashing claws but can be eliminated quite easily. Then there are the fire-spitting dog creatures that are still easy to take out but can be tricky given their ability to gob on you from a distance. Then there are the other circus psychos like cannon ball-hurling strongmen, half-spider half-clown Arachniclowns, Fat Ladies and a whole host of other really freaky monsters, including the Nightmare Child himself who has clearly seen John Carpenter's The Thing.
None of the monsters in the game are too bright. The headless do attack in groups but that's more scripted than anything else; they don't attempt to cut off your escape route or anything. Nor do the other enemies move out of the way when you're blasting at them, attacking you at every opportunity. The AI here is nothing to write home about. Though, if the monsters were any brighter you'd find yourself in real trouble. As things stand, you've got an even chance of being able to take them out with your weaponry before they introduce you to the business end of a strongman's dumbbell. A nice touch is that you do know how much damage you need to do to them before they expire as when you hit a monster, an unobtrusive little meter pops up, showing how much life that creature has left (a la Diablo) - a nice touch and one that is usually reserved for the big bosses in most action games. In this game, all monsters are treated with equal contempt.
To wipe out the scary clowns and their cohorts, you have access to a wide range of weaponry all of which looks weird and wonderful. You have access to a rocket launcher, an energy chaingun, close range melee weapons (each character has his own melee weapon but the rest of the weapons are used by all the characters), a huge BFG-style laser gun, and others. There's also a whip which can be used to do damage or as a kind of a grappling hook in the odd place to swing onto the pre-positioned hooks to get to another area of the level. Truth be told, the weapons work in the same way as most other shoot-em-up weapons, so you should be at home toting most of the guns in the game. And naturally you also get to point them at the face of human opponents in the deathmatch mode. You may have a bit of a problem finding a multiplayer game unless you have access to a network as there's no Gamespy style matchmaking service included with KISS. But going by the fact that Psycho Circus only supports head to head deathmatch play, and that there are plenty of better established multiplayer games about offering more varied multiplayer options, you're not going to be missing much.
KISS Psycho Circus won't win any awards for originality, but it is surprisingly entertaining -- partly due to the truly bizarre baddies that assault you and the odd locations you find yourself in as you make your way through the Psycho Circus world, and partly due to the fact that there's enough challenge and carnage to keep most hardened shoot-em-up addicts busy. So it's by no means a classic game; it doesn't re-define the shoot-em-up genre, nor does it offer enough to keep you coming back to the game after you've finished it. And the graphics are kind of dated by today's standards. But if you're a KISS fan, a gamer with a taste for the macabre, or just a shoot-em-up fan looking for something to tide you over until Half Life Episode 3 or whatever, then Psycho Circus is worth checking out.
Summary: Okay if you can pick it up cheaply - one for Kiss completists, really.
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