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Saturday Gaming Retrospective - Giants: Citizen Kabuto

Giants: Citizen Kabuto Retrospective
By Andrew Groen

The progenitor of all comic-arcade shooters

If you enjoy the Ratchet and Clank and/or Jak and Daxter games then you have Interplay to thank for blazing trails with their seminal epic, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, an incredible blend of open-world environments, jet-packs, crude British humor, and fast-paced action.

Far from being an action-packed one-trick-pony though, Giants was also a gorgeous technical feat that featured expansive island environments, beautiful sunsets, and fluid character animations, which helped bring the highly bizarre inhabitants of this alien planet truly come to life.

What were its cultural impact and/or importance?

This game had a profound impact on the tone of modern action gaming. It's entirely possible that we would not currently have beloved classics such as Ratchet and Clank if it were not for the trailblazing humor and gun-slinging action of Giants.

Moreover, Giants included real-time strategy elements as you had to command your squad of several alien marines. This type of squad-based strategy is relatively common these days, though it was considered "genre-bending" at the time.

That being said, Giants never enjoyed much of a cultural impact due to its poor sales. Immediately after launch, users began reporting system crashing bugs, and dozens of glitches. This gained Giants something of a poor reputation and, despite solid review scores, it never achieved the critical mass necessary to gain traction.

What areas of gaming did it advance?

Technical advancements were practically a bi-weekly occurrence on the PC in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So to say that Giants pushed the technical envelope isn't really saying anything. It certainly wowed gamers with its graphics and animations, but it was in gameplay that Giants captured the attention of everyone.

It was ahead of its time in the category of genre-blending. While four or five years later every designer on the planet would be looking (and generally failing) for the next pair of genres to combine, Giants braved mostly uncharted waters and came away with extremely positive results for such an outside-the-box attempt. 

The gameplay was also notable for its attempts at putting an open level at the fingertips of the player. Giants was a game that gave you a starting point and a destination, that's all. The "how" was all up to you. Though its open ended nature has been dwarfed by the epic scale of games such Grand Theft Auto IV, this open style of design was quite uncommon at this time for this genre.

Does it stand the test of time?

If you're the kind of gamer that values well-constructed missions, and fun open-ended gameplay, then yes, Giants absolutely stands the test of time. You can still buy it today for around $6, and it's still extremely fun in a lot of ways.

There's a catch though. Like all great games, this one has been imitated dozens of times by now, and everything you'll find here has been duplicated since. It doesn't necessarily diminish the quality of this game, but you're not likely to find much that's surprising or new.

In a vacuum, this is a fantastic game that should be experienced by all. However, if you've been gaming in the last five years you've likely experienced so much of its latent influence that you've essentially played it all before.

If you're looking to study a bit of the archaeological history of modern gaming this is an indispensable classic. However, those who are just looking for a good time would do just as well to play one of its modern descendants.

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Next Saturday we will continue our retrospective column with a look at Advance Wars for the GameBoy Advanced.

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