Set in a city, the world of Kingpin revolves around crime and criminals. The game begins in the most desolate and deprived area of the city, Skidrow, a dystopia where rats and the homeless wander the streets. It is here that the player character has been left, after being beaten up by some thugs under the employ of Nikki Blanco, one of the Kingpin's lieutenants. For some reason not explained within the game, Nikki Blanco wants the player out of his territory for good, and the beating is a warning that should he ever return, he can expect much worse.
Kingpin is a game about revenge. Picking up a piece of lead piping as a makeshift weapon, the player plots against Nikki and the Kingpin himself. The player's rise to prominence, and his lust for revenge will take him through various areas of the city: from chemical plants through to steel mills and train yards, and eventually onto Radio City, home of the Kingpin's headquarters.
Another innovative feature of the game was the use of weapon modifications. Various mods could be used to upgrade the weapons in the game. The pistol, for example, could be modified to increase its magazine size, or its rate of fire, among other things.
Kingpin also featured heavy NPC interaction for a first-person shooter; the player could interact with NPCs and choose between positive or negative responses. This could lead to various outcomes such as gleaning new information, hiring gang members, or provoking an enemy into attacking. The NPC response to the player would also take into account whether the player's gun was holstered or not. Some areas, such as bars and clubs which formed as hubs for the chapter would force the player to lower his weapon. The player could also hire gang members to join him, and in some cases this was necessary as the player would need an AI character's specific skill.
Another new feature was the introduction of cash. Fallen enemies could be padded for cash, which could then be used to purchase weapons and ammunition at the Pawn-O-Matic, a shop which could be found in every chapter. Cash could also be used to hire gang members.
Calls for Xatrix to cancel the game were made by various congressmen, the game was debated on the floor of the US senate, and was singled out for criticism in the National Institute on Media and the Family's 1999 report on violent video games. In a response to this, Xatrix implemented a "safe" version, a password protected game mode which meant that the game would play with low violence and bleeped out expletives. Xatrix also stressed that Kingpin was not in any way, shape, or form aimed or marketed at minors, with a warning message during the installation stage from the Xatrix CEO, Drew Markham himself:
Still, the controversy led various retailers to not stock the game, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us. Xatrix team member Greg Goodrich would claim later that "If it wasn't for Electronics Boutique, the game might have never seen the light of day in North America."[cn]
PC Gamer UK scored the game highly, giving it 90%, describing the game as "an incredible achievement in terms of graphics, AI and level design and a nasty, bloody, swear-fest". Incidentally, the most scathing reaction to the game came from the publication's US edition, where the game received a 53% rating. It was felt that the game was too shallow, offered nothing new to the genre and was peppered with bugs and oversights.
Kingpin would prove to be Xatrix's last game; on the day that Kingpin shipped, Xatrix Entertainment ceased to exist. Many of their team reformed later to create Gray Matter Interactive Studios.
A sequel to the game went in production in Interplay in 2005. Work got as far as creating a playable demo version of a level, but the project was canceled and soon afterwards.
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