Written by: Stoo

Date posted: December 1, 2008

That’s a really badly composed screenshot, isn’t it. But it’s still pretty.

Earlier this year Good Old Games (gog.com) was launched, an online distribution service specialising in PC games from the past. As you might expect, it pretty much instantly caught out attention here at FFG hq (Rik breathing a sigh of relief that something finally pulled me away from warcrack). They seem to generally go for material from 10 or so years past, so you can find some classics in there like Freespace and Fallout. Also unlike with Steam there’s no DRM of any sort and your games don’t need to dial the mothership; you just pay, download and the archive is yours. Which is a highly welcome move; maybe they realised that most people actually looking for this sort of game in the first place, are probably the sorts quite willing to pay for it. So annoying anti-piracy measures are unnecessary; the pirates are off chasing GTAIV or something.

Admittedly at the time of writing I already own a large chunk of gog.com’s selection (which at time of writing is still limited to a handful of publishers). Some of them I’ve reviewed, some I failed at miserably and the memory still haunts me. Sacrifice still taunts me from the bottom of a stack of boxes, and I actually sold Operation Flashpoint in a burst of rage after being completely unable to do anything at all except run in circles and get shot. I bet I’ll end up buying it again, as I actively crave punishment like that. For now though, we’re looking at Giants: Citizen Kabuto. Which I’ve had filed away in the back of my mind for years in the same sort of category as Outcast; that is, original and characterful looking titles from around the turn of the decade that I missed first time round, and really should catch up on.

So here’s the overview: Giants is a mission-based third-person shooter in a sci-fi\fantasy world, with a few nods towards realtime strategy. It has a sense of humour that may or may not work, according to taste. It’s set in a world of seas and islands occupied by the smarties, which are ugly and mostly helpless little humanoids whom you might find endearing or might make you want to drop-kick them into the nearest lake. It also features three different heroes, each with a very different style. One of whom is a giant, called Kabuto. What state he’s a citizen of, and why he’s named after a Japanese helmet, I couldn’t tell you.

Kabuto, only in fact partially grown at this point.

Never mind that tho. I can at least report that the game has some excellent, visually appealing environments, even eight years after release. There aren’t fancy texturing effects on the rocks and buildings, or the kind of lush foliage we might expect in an exotic wilderness setting today. Still it’s it’s not afraid to be vibrant and colourful, which suits its up-beat mood. Sometimes the lighting on the water is especially well done. Also you do get details like trees and smartie villages here and there. All of which are destructable, if you feel like it. (And you *will* feel like it in the Kabuto sections).

The single-player game takes place over three campaigns, and first up are the Meccaryn, led by Baz. They’re soldiers very much in the armoured futuristic style; in fact they look a bit like the guy from Halo. So guns are the order of the day, from puny pistols to machineguns to crikey-that’s-big rocket launchers. They also get useful gadgets like the jetpack, which might send you flying randomly off cliffs at first but the added mobility is useful in combat.

Although you start off alone, you pick up squadmates along the course of the campaign, and can actually become quite attached to them. Far from being grim taciturn future-soldiers they’re voiced as English squaddies on a detour on their way to a holiday, and are very likable. They’re also useful in a fight; when you’re surrounded and getting hammered, it’s a welcome sight when they hurtle past strafing the enemy.

Then there’s Delphi, a scantily clad nymph type who fills the eye-candy quota. She’s rebel from the Sea Reapers, who are the main antagonists of the game. She’s all about swords, bows and magic, with a bunch of spells fuelled by souls taken from felled enemies. There’s a couple of explosiony types, but also stealth and teleportation. Oh and she can do big flying leaps too – and zooming across a valley into a squad of enemies and hacking them down is pretty satisfying. I was a bit disappointed that there’s no squad to lead in this case, although to compensate she is more powerful than an individual Mecc.

What a great bunch of guys.

The last chapter is then all about the monstrous Kabuto himself, a colossal stomping engine of destruction. So the now-tiny enemies scurry around your feet as you pound, kick or eat them whole. For extra damage he has a bunch of special moves powered off a recharging adrenaline supply, like huge crushing blows or jumping and landing ass-first on something, ideal for smashing enemy structures. Kabuto isn’t indestructible – get hammered by enough missiles and you will die – but it’s a riot to take him/her/it on a rampage.

He also has some offpsring who tag along, although they’re not implemented so well. They don’t seem to fight much on their own initiative, even with enemies right at hand. Also manually ordering attacks is too fiddly, and even when I did that they usually just stood there aimlessly, provoking cries of WILL YOU DO SOMETHING USEFUL PLEASE as Kabuto gradually got battered down by rocket assaults.

That’s the three campaigns then. A lot of mission objectives come down to killing enemies, or gathering something. There are some variations for Delphi and Baz though. Several of Delphi’s missions are in fact jetski races – which worried me at first as I suck at racing games. As it happens though, I ended up with a big “You Won!” banner with my first attempt at each one. Which is odd as I’m really sure I didn’t win and in fact was some way behind the leaders. Possibly all you need to do is make it round without dying or missing checkpoints.

There are also, for Delphi and the Meccs, base building missions. The idea here is to find smarties to do the building, and also food to keep them going. The final objective is to take out an enemy base, which constantly churns out soldiers who will attack your own. There’s no option of building your own force though. In fact the sole purpose of your base is to, once fully constructed, produce a super-weapon which is your only means of destroying the enemy base. These missions can feel a little daunting at first, as you must often leave your base unguarded while you run off looking for resources. Static defences are limited until the final structure is in place, and Delphi doesn’t have a squad to leave guarding the place. In fact though, despite some bursts of frantic action breaking up enemy assaults, they’re really not that hard.

These reapers are in trouble now.

Actually that goes for the whole game. Each campaign starts off at a gentle introductory pace, introducing a few features of that character at a time. While later missions aren’t quite a casual stroll, they don’t ramp up to anything super-hard either. Being easy might count as a flaw to some of you, but frankly right now I have a big stack of games to get through. Also I’d rather relax after work than beat my head against a stance of “you will do this OVER and OVER until you get it right”. And even if it doesn’t last that long, you’ve only paid $7 for it anyway.

Missions are joined together with in-engine cutscenes that tell the story behind events. There’s not a lot to it, beyond the Meccs joining with Delphi to save the smarties from Sea Reaper evil and the threat of Kabuto. There’s a lot of humour along the way too, although it’s not always successful, being a bit reliant on Smarties having comedy accents – this one’s Scottish! This one’s a pastiche of aged Japanese warriors! Still, I couldn’t help giggling at one or two of ther moments of complete ridiculousness. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age. Look at the opinions out there and you’ll see glowing writeups from fans who fell over laughing, and then professional magazine reviews that are all sneery. So, yeah, your mileage may vary.

For what it’s worth though, I do think Giants’ wacky sense of character is a strength overall. Which is something that can help it stand out next to Generic War Shooter 43 or whatever. It’s just not as funny as Planet Moon were probably hoping. I think they must have run out of time or ideas anyway, as the Kabuto campaign mostly dispenses with cutscenes. At any rate though this is coupled with some solid enough gameplay, and a few other flaws in the execution are forgivable.

So this one doesn’t quite grab an acclaimed classic status from us (developers around the world of course frequently check this site, hoping their lives will finally be granted true meaning when they achieve such a lofty reward), but it still gets a recommendation. Especially now with means of getting a legit copy if it (and other oldies) so easily.