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KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child

Score: 75%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Gathering
Developer: Third Law
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in KISS Psycho Circus are quite nice, with a garish gothic feel that matches the mood of the game and setting quite nicely. Sure, itís no mind-blowing graphics-fest, but it certainly doesnít look ugly. Well, the game part of it, anyway. For those of us with TNT-based cards, the menus are well-nigh unreadable, pre-patch, and still pretty ugly once you download said patch. Ugh. The interface could have definitely used some work.

The models in the game are adequate, but nothing special. The characters are well-detailed, but the enemies tend to be pretty simple models, consisting of a sparse number of polygons to keep the count up when there are swarms of them charging at you. As a general rule, the monsters in the game fail to impress, but not to the point of silliness (Froginators, anyone?).

The music in this game deserves special note -- it may as well be nonexistent. Ugh. Yes, there -are- KISS tunes, but they play from radios and jukeboxes, not as the music of the levels. And the music of the levels, well, letís just say that you wonít be humming it after you quit playing the game. Itís completely unmemorable. Of all the components of the game, I was hoping for the strongest showing in the music -- itís based off of a comic book based on rock stars, for Christ sakes -- but the game really turns up short.


Gameplay:

And, unfortunately, Psycho Circus turns up short when it comes to gameplay as well. Itís a serious run-and-gun experience, but I prefer the clean blasting of, say, Galaga to the ďspawn behind youĒ nonsense of Psycho Circus.

In Psycho Circus, you find yourself cast in the role of the four members of the band, Wicked Jester, called by Madame Raven to save the world by transforming into the Elders (read: KISS band members) and stopping the Nightmare Child... or something. Plotís never been a particularly strong point of first-person shooters, and this game is no exception. Youíll be picking up pieces of armor in the levels which give you new abilities (jump higher, etc.), and you eventually go to the Circus itself and deal with the Big Baddie.

All in all, it seems like a pretty entertaining premise, and it is -- for the first few hours. But then the game shows its true colors. You spend all your time wading through unending hordes of polygonal beasties, occasionally facing off against bigger beasties, in a race to get through the level. Yeah, Quake and its ilk are like this too, but the difference is that Quake stays entertaining.

The developers of Psycho Circus wanted to go for a more Gauntlet-style feel, so there are tons of enemies on the screen at once, instead of the usual one or two. This is cool at first, but it gets to be a major hindrance as you get further into the game. Since you donít get experience or anything for killing the enemies, theyíre more of a nuisance than anything else. And there are Spawners scattered liberally about the world, which do nothing but churn out more beasties until you destroy them. Sure, it doesnít make sense, but little does in games like these.

This would all be well and good if the game didnít cheat on you constantly. Walk down a hall that you -know- is cleared and enemies spawn behind you to tear you up. The positional audio, if there was any, didnít seem nearly as clear to me as it does in other games of the genre, and as such, I found myself spinning madly to find enemies that were hitting me. This oft-used method of teleporting enemies in when you think youíre done with an area is just a major pain in the butt. Itís not entertaining.

The game does have some cool points. I like the weapons design (well, the rocket launcher sucks, but the rest are rather nice), and the unique melee and ďultimateĒ weapons for each character are nice. The health bars that show up when you wail on enemies are neat, letting you know which weapons are most effective in a nice, graphical way. And the level design is usually visually interesting, if not revolutionary. You usually have a good sense of where you came from and where you need to be going.

But the seedier parts of Psycho Circus weigh it down too much, Iím afraid.


Difficulty:

You pick your difficulty level when you start up a new game in KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child, which seems to adjust things such as damage ratios, number of enemies, and locations of enemies. The easier difficulty levels are, well, rather easy, but none of them are trivial. And the harder difficulty levels are, well, letís just say ďhellishly frustrating.Ē Of course, thatís how theyíre supposed to be, I suppose.

Game Mechanics:

The actual run-and-gun aspect of Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child isnít too bad, but the core conceit of the game just doesnít work. I -donít- like games that cheat. A little cheating is okay -- look at Doom for a good example of a game where, whenever new enemies appeared, you felt like they should have. Psycho Circus just throws them in for kicks. The interface is ugly as well, and I had major problems with the Save Game dialog, even after the patch.

KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child is one of those middle-of-the-road games that does a few neat things (the health bars being the main one), but ends up with more flaws than it really should have had. Youíll probably find it entertaining for a while, and it does have its good parts, but in the end, the game leaves you feeling empty. There are better examples of the genre to be found.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x/2000, P266, 64MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, Direct3D-compat 3D accelerator, DirectX-compat sound card, 350MB HD space
 

Test System:



Windows 98 running on a K6-III 450 w/ 256MB RAM, 6X/24X DVD-ROM drive, SoundBlaster Live!, Creative Labs Riva TNT2 Ultra w/32MB RAM

Windows Foxy Jumper 2: Winter Adventures Windows Man of War II: Chains of Command

 
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