Kiss... make-up, spandex, big hair, bigger music... Ahh... Teenage memories of zits, greasy hair and air guitar in the bedroom...
Kiss, unlike my own career as a rock star, are still going strong and have sold the licence of their "Psycho Circus" comic-book series to developers Third Law. The game is a first person shooter based in the world of the comics, where the four alter egos of the band members encounter all sorts of evil circus monsters. Todd McFarlane, the brains behind the Psycho Circus comics, also contributed to the development of the game. His influence shows right the way through the game - the atmosphere is suitably moody and the levels do seem to have jumped right out of a comic book.
Disappointingly, the story is weak - I would have expected a little more imagination, even if only to beat the competition... An evil monster, the "Nightmare Child" is about to take over the circus themed world: Four characters (looking just a little bit like the band themselves) have to run around shooting things to save it. That' s about the whole story of the game - it is delivered well, though. The cutscenes are impressive, usually showing a taste of the level ahead and there is even a nice old gypsy woman who tells your fortune and gives you clues (cryptic, useless, but clues none the less) about how to survive.
Each character gets his own hand-to-hand and "super" weapons, which is a little less boring than a lot of other games, but the rest of the arsenal is the same as usual; a rapid fire rifle, a shotgun, a rocket launcher and a railgun type whip thing. I couldn't help feeling that there could have been more variety in the weapons - only twelve in the whole game seems a bit limited - I ended up just using the hand-to-hand weapon most of the time because the shotgun just got so boring.
Psycho Circus' big new feature is the sheer number of monsters that get thrown at you at one time. You end up with five or ten smaller monsters in front of you, instead of just one or two. This is great fun, but does seem to be a cheap replacement for a decent AI engine - none of the monsters are very difficult to beat, even if there are a lot of them.
The controls are smooth, easy to get to grips with and are just the same as every other first person shooter on the market. You turn and look with the mouse and move with the arrow keys. There is an inventory, and controls to go with it, but the items in it aren't really worth worrying about - they look more like a last minute addition than an integral part of the game. I got halfway through using the inventory only twice, which is a shame because it could have been opportunity to make this game different to all the other games in its field.
One of the game's redeeming features is the artwork and graphics. While the levels weren't too difficult to navigate, they had a real cartoon book look and feel, which I thought worked really well. The monsters were drawn well and imaginatively, although not really that scary - unless you are afraid of clowns and the like (Hands up all who couldn't watch Stephen King's "It"). The graphics ran without hitch on my set-up (Voodoo 3 3000, 192Mb RAM, PIII 450), although I understand that there were some (recently patched) problems with the menu system and the TNT graphics cards. The game did crash every hour or so, which was irritating, but something I have come to get used to with games nowadays.
I thought the sound was a real failure - the first glaring mistake being a general lack of Kiss music. There were snippets here and there - one amusing interlude of "God gave rock and roll to you" in a cathedral level sticks out, and another where a whole roomful of baddies do a dance routine before attacking - but, and it's a big but, the rest of the music is just sub-par game music. The music could have made this game so much better - a real missed opportunity on the developers part.
All in all, this game is an excellent Doom clone. Although it could have been much more, too many possible features had been missed out to really bring it out from the rest. I would say that it isn't just a cheap licence game - Kiss fans or cartoon buffs should really enjoy it - but there are better first person shooters on the market.