kingpincoverWhile it’s incredibly cheesy by today’s standards, Kingpin: Life of Crime blew the doors open for mature content in games. While Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil were quite graphic, Kingpin’s content went way beyond simply ripping out spines and blowing apart zombie brains. The sex, profanity, and drugs went a long way towards proving that video games weren’t just for kids anymore. What made this game even more daring was that it had been released just after the Columbine massacre, immediately attracting a lot of controversy. The game’s developer Xatrix went on the defensive, including a warning that the game wasn’t for kids as well as a low-violence install option. Thankfully, beneath the R-rated content, there is a very good game that manages to retain some of its shine even today. While it can most certainly be considered a spiritual successor to the modern Grand Theft Auto games, it also contains several elements from a few other genres, making this difficult to pigeonhole into one category.

You play as the generically named ‘Thug’. A crime lord has you beaten and left for dead in an alleyway in Skidrow, and now you’re out for revenge. You’ll gain weapons (which you can upgrade at pawn shops), battle it out with rival gangs, and even recruit henchmen as you blast you way back to the top. You’ll travel through different areas, although there is no set path to take. You’ll have a notebook to take down mission notes, but it’s up to you to figure out how to get through each segment. You’ll talk to NPC for clues, but make sure to keep your weapon holstered unless you need it.

For a game that was released 10 years ago, the game still holds up quite well. The enemies have a complex AI system and will run for cover when outmatched, try to find alternate routes for sneaking up on you, and even try to corner and flank you. After you kill them, you can search their dead bodies for cash. The graphics (powered by the Quake II engine) feature region-specific body damage, and with the right weapon at the right range, you can even blow off limbs. The music and vocals have been supplied by the legendary west coast rap group Cypress Hill. Oddly enough, you’ll find radios, TVs , and other objects that look like they did in the 1930 – 40s, yet the gang members speak in a completely modern tone. The developers have stated that Kingpin’s story takes place in a ‘past that never was’, so that may explain it. The game also includes online multiplayer, and many fansites to this day still support it, creating mods, skins, and maps. As the game is based on the Quake II engine, that isn’t hard to do either.

While Kingpin may have opened the floodgates for games like GTA and Manhunt, the genre-bending gameplay is also a precursor to games like Bioshock and System Shock, as it also takes elements from the RPG and adventure game genres. If there was ever a game for an older crowd, Kingpin: Life of Crime is it. You can either hunt down a copy on, or you can purchase a downloadable, DRM-free, Vista/XP compatible version of the game from for only $5.99. Sadly, developer Xatrix closed up shop shortly after its release. Publisher Interplay planned a sequel in 2005, but financial difficulties caused the studio to close up shop. Thankfully in 2007, Interplay re-emerged using money earned by the sale of the Fallout franchise to Bethsheda, and is planning to revive several of its properties, such as MDK and Earthwork Jim. Although Kingpin wasn’t listed among them, we can always wish.