Genre: Third Person Shooter / Real-Time Strategy
Developed by: Planet Moon Studios
Published by: Interplay Entertainment
Platforms: Windows, Mac, PS2
Feeling Like: Video Game Gumbo
You have to remember, being a PC Gamer in the 90s and early 2000s was a weird existence. There certainly wasn’t much cross over with *raises nose* consoles. Magazines were dedicated specifically to one or the other. You’d rarely find a nerd who didn’t at least lean towards one side or another.
I leaned hard into consoles for the first decade of my gaming experience, because most of my early childhood meant using our 486 which could boot up Word Perfect and that’s about it. Seriously, I tried installing an NHL game once and I’m pretty sure it fried the entire system. Thankfully, a new computer showed up after that and it may have been the greatest day of my life.
It was a whole new world for me. I could finally play Starcraft with friends. I could download things off the internet, like demos and movie trailers. And I could finally be part of the conversation my friends were having at school about which PC game they were excited about. They were far too cool for N64, apparently.
Giants: Citizen Kabuto was one of those games we were excited about and talked about over the gigantic tables in the cafeteria. The screenshots were slightly puzzling – who do you play as? The little weird guppy dudes in army suits? The slim fish lady? Kabuto himself, the alien planet’s answer to Godzilla?
The game launched and I indulged. I couldn’t have been happier, and knew I was playing something extraordinarily unique, even 19 years ago. It’s wonderfully weird. It switches genres a few times throughout the game. The archipelago is sprawling, but movement means you’ll never mind exploring. Combat is satisfying. It’s hard to tell who the star of the show is. It’s easy to point to Kabuto, but I found myself rooting the most for the Meccaryns; their British accents, fondness for beer and irreverent nature for the crazy happenings going on around them. I loved playing as these guys, and was mildly disappointed when I learned they’re only under your control for about 1/3 of the game.
It still looks great, all these years later. The world is filled with colorful allies and enemies, and the idea of being able to hover right off the bat meant no long treks anywhere. Playing as the Sea Reaper…I mean it was ok, going fast in water is always a benefit in gaming, but I was more enraptured by playing as Kabuto, the giant ass kicking monster in the third act.
Giants: Citizen Kabuto changes gears so often, moreso than any other game I’ve played. Not only do the three groups of protagonists all play, look, control and sound completely different from each other, you’ll also go from third person shooter actions to base building and Real-Time Strategy-ing. And there’s a jet ski/bike race somewhere in there. What the hell is this game?
It’s funny too. The writing is sharp, the voice acting is hammy and appropriate and every crazy situation you get yourself into suddenly feels normal based on the dialogue and character interactions.
I also loved the draw distance and in case you’re a normal human being and don’t know what draw distance is, I’ll tell you! It’s basically how far you can see things in a game. On the screenshot above, note that you can see the ocean, then some hills, then some higher hills, then above that some clouds, etc. You can go to all those places and they’re not obstructed by fog, or an invisible wall, or loading screens. Back in the day, this was a very big deal as poor draw distance would kill immersion pretty quickly. Nowadays, open world games have nearly limitless draw distance, but when processing power improvements meant exponential advances in video game graphics, this was a very big deal. Giants: Citizen Kabuto had, for its time, stellar draw distance. A big draw, if you will.
The phrase “underrated gem” has become a joke at this point, a snarky meme among gaming enthusiasts. I don’t think I’ve used the phrase yet on the 500, but I’ll use it here. Giants: Citizen Kabuto is an underrated gem. It’s rarely discussed, the developer who created is long gone, it didn’t start a franchise, there’s little to no hope for a sequel, it sold poorly… but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit. Nothing everything has to be an obvious classic right away. It can be talked about among a small group of teenagers who were thrilled to be “in” on the scoop or it can be appreciated by you in the year 2019. Either works.