Fast Forward: games.Kingpin.


The first-person viewpoint has been one of the most important additions to video games in the Nineties. From the early days of Wolfenstein, the immersive atmospherics of the 3-D game - where the lower part of the screen is busy with the image of your right hand clutching one of a series of deadly weapons as you rush through an increasingly complex environment - have been compelling. Once the 3-D engine which runs the game had been established, there was huge potential, and developers exploited it: after the Nazis of Wolfenstein came the monsters of Doom and Quake. And, more recently, the inclusion of a developing plotline and persuasive characterisation have put Half-Life on the top of the pile.

So what was left to games developer Xatrix to take things a stage further? Its new game Kingpin - due out next month at pounds 39.99 - is certain to court controversy. It is set in an underworld which is brutally realistic in its use of language, realistically brutal in its deployment of gore, and with a multiplayer option which is named "gangbang". Not, then, for kids.

Of course, there will be editorial written about how this will corrupt the youth of today, but, extreme though it is, it is no more violent than the average Tarantino movie. More interesting is how it will change the perception of games. The idea that video games are just for kids disappeared when Sony promoted its PlayStation by putting consoles in nightclubs, but the image is still of an industry ruled by Mario and Sonic, with children being the most important customer. Given the huge outlay required to develop a cutting-edge computer game, can publishers make their money back if a game is only aimed at over-18s? And with kids usually more computer- literate than their parents, can parents be sure that their offspring won't find a way to play the game anyway? Of course, the arguments are the same as the ones over video censorship, but when a video game was tentatively mentioned in connection with the Colorado school massacre, it's hard to brush the copycat scenario away.

Back to Xatrix, however, which has put together a game which is bloody but exciting, and has a remarkable look to it. Facial skin moves as people talk, and when a punk gets battered - and there's a lot of that - bruises appear before the blood flows. Kingpin has addictive and deceptively subtle gameplay: if you just kill everyone you see, like in Quake, you won't get as far as if you talk to the people you meet. Even if you might wish they had a less limited vocabulary. David Phelan