Written by  :  Atomic Punch! (194)
Written on  :  Nov 27, 2003
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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Better than I thought...

The Good

Let me begin this review with full disclosure: I picked the collector's edition up new for $1.99, so I didn't have any big financial investment in the game.

That having been said, I've been having a blast with this game. It's the first game I've played in a while that I've actually missed when I wasn't playing it. It's managed to kick Deus Ex and Arabian Nights to the side to become the main game I'm playing.

Don't get me wrong, this game is NOT better than Deus Ex. But it's a nice, simple shoot-'em-up that you don't have to invest a lot of time or brain power in.

The game installs flawlessly and runs smooth.

Psycho Circus is all about running around creepy environments mowing down freakish bad guys with outlandish weaponry.

The AI in this game is non-existent, but it manages to throw tons of enemies at you without noticeable slowdown. Also, there are monster generators like those in Gauntlet or Get Medieval. These puppies spit out an endless stream of baddies until you blow them up.

The graphics aren't mind boggling, but they never look poor. This was one of the first games (THE first I believe) to use the LithTech 2.0 engine. When it was new, the graphics were probably great.

Enemy design can be a bit repulsive (GasBags) and downright creepy (ArachniClown) but they always look great. Little details like the overflowing razor teeth of the hellhounds (Stump), the blood-spattered claws of the Headless and the sewn-shut eyes and sphincter like mouth of the GasBags make these things memorable.

The weapons themselves are cool looking and fit right in with the KISS 'look'. I personally like the 'shot gun'. A hulking rusted out piece of piping with chains running down the side and wicked looking spikes. Sure, it makes no sense, but it's wicked looking.

Sounds work. They aren't the best I've ever heard, but they aren't bad either. The gypsy narrator sounds decent. The characters themselves are sort of canned. Luckily they don't speak often.

I liked the in-game music, but see below for the rest of this story...

The Bad

Psycho Circus does have its' share of problems, though to me, none of them are major.

One, is that this game really does have a story to it. Not a great one but a story none the less. Sadly, you only know this if you read the story in the booklet. The game itself gives a confusing introduction that establishes mood but explains nothing.

Speaking of the game booklet, it doesn't explain ANYTHING. You grab pieces of armor through the game that give you different enhancements. The only way to see what these enhancements are is to play the game and try to notice what's changed.

Also, there are items in the game ala Duke Nukem, Blood or Soldier Of Fortune. Again, the manual tells you nothing about them. I still don't know what the black crystals do.

There are pamphlet pages you pick up through the game that add a page to a book you carry. This is supposed to take the place of information in the booklet and explain what things are for. This wouldn't be such a bad idea, as you'd get to learn what these mysterious objects are for as your character does. But the pamphlets are few and far between and they're so scattered they can be easy to miss. Also, the game doesn't seem to remember that you've picked pages up. Though I have so far picked up ten, for instance, my book might only have eight listings. Those will disappear from your pamphlet as you move on.

Another thing is that there's very little KISS music in the game. I'm not a KISS fan and I liked the in game music well enough, but it is funny that a game based on the lore of an over-the-top heavy metal band has so little of that band's music. (One cool touch though, is that you can turn on jukeboxes or radios throughout the game and KISS will play you a song.)

One last critique and for me it's the worst one. The game has a habit of spawning bad guys behind you. I don't mind the monster generators I mentioned above (in fact, in a game like this I kind of like them), but I've noticed that when you approach one of these, there will suddenly be bad guys attacking you from behind, even though there was nothing there a second ago. So you wind up swamped in the bad guys from the generator, think you're doing okay only to be killed from behind. (Also, the bad guys that show up from behind tend to be more powerful than the bad guys the generator makes.)

The Bottom Line

Overall, this is a rock solid game that was maybe a little ahead of its' time. It wasn't trying to change the face of PC gaming, just deliver a good, old school shoot-'em-up. Thing is, the story shooter (Half-Life, Deus Ex and Thief 2) was the hot property of the moment and people weren't ready for nostalgia.

A year later Serious Sam came along doing the same thing to much acclaim.

Though they are similar, I liked Psycho Circus more.