Though Giants: Citizen Kabuto was originally released for the PC about a year ago, there's little evidence of that in the newly released PlayStation 2 version--this quirky, genuinely funny 3D shooter feels right at home on Sony's system. The only notable feature Giants lost in translation from the PC is its multiplayer mode. Otherwise, Giants for the PS2 offers the same uniquely enjoyable shooting action that the original offers--you'll get to control three distinctly different characters through a diverse series of action-packed missions.
Giants is one of those rare games that has a really great sense of humor. Even the game's manual is funny. The game itself is loaded with hilarious cutscenes featuring great characters, plenty of sight gags, a few gross-out jokes, a number of bleeped-out expletives, and a distinct visual style. These cutscenes are very well animated and have a comic timing that's downright impressive, and it says a lot for them that despite how good the game's action can be, you'll often want to press on from one mission to the next just to see how the story unfolds. If you find yourself wondering about the origins of Giants' inspired comedy, you might not be surprised by the fact that the game's creator, Planet Moon Studios, is made up of former members of Shiny Entertainment, the people who brought you famously funny games such as Earthworm Jim and MDK.
Giants begins when a spirited, disorderly pack of heavily armed, unmistakably British fellows called the Meccaryns crash-land at a place called the Island. There, they find a race of ugly yet likable little creatures called Smarties, which are being threatened both by a nasty aquatic species called the sea reapers and by its nefarious creation, Kabuto--sort of a cross between Godzilla and King Kong. During the course of the game's lengthy series of scenarios, you'll initially control the Meccs in their reluctant effort to assist the Smarties, after which you'll play as the beautiful, rebellious sea reaper princess Delphi and then as the enormous Kabuto.
Obviously, the playable characters are all different. On the other hand, all of the scenery in Giants is pretty similar--but once you see how pretty it is, you won't mind a bit. The setting looks like some tropical archipelago. You can see way off into the distance, and no matter which character you're playing as, you can cover a lot of ground quickly. The scenery is nicely detailed--dirt kicks up where stray shots hit the earth, the water glows with a sheen cast down by the sun, and various objects such as trees and Smartie houses blow up if you happen to shoot them. The characters themselves look just as good. The Meccs have lots of personality despite that they all look exactly alike, while the red-eyed, blue-skinned sea reapers and their evil queen Sappho look mean and nasty, just as they should. Kabuto, who's about a hundred times taller than the other characters, is suitably fearsome too, especially with his earthshaking roar and his pro-wrestling moves.
Battles in Giants often take place at long range, and you'll have little but craggy hills to use as cover when fighting against droves of enemies. You can play from either the default third-person perspective or switch to a first-person view at will. Each level tends to be both open-ended and expansive, but you'll fortunately have easy access to a map screen that shows your position relative to any objectives that you need to reach or destroy. If you've played other PS2 shooters, you should be able to get comfortable with the controls quickly--by default, the left analog is used to move in any direction, while the right analog stick is used to aim. You'll have to learn to use these in combination so that you can literally run circles around your enemies while firing, a key tactic in Giants' wide-open, enemy-infested levels.
All the characters gain new abilities as their respective stories progress. During the Mecc story, you'll control their leader only directly, but he'll eventually be joined by his marooned buddies, who will effectively fight alongside him and can be ordered to attack targets or move to new positions at your will. The Meccs soon gain the use of a jetpack, which lets them propel themselves across islands, out of harm's way, or straight into battle. Watch out, though--if you accidentally land in the sea, you'll be fast food for the planet's piranhalike ocean life. The Meccs acquire a series of increasingly large high-tech weapons, such as machine guns, sniper rifles, missile launchers, and what's called the millennium mortar. They can also use special backpacks, the most notable of which camouflages them as a bush so that they can sneak up on or just sneak past their foes. The Meccs can also use grenades and various other gadgets, and their armor ensures that they can take a good beating before getting knocked out.
Unlike the Meccs, Delphi has nothing to fear from the water--in fact, her health gradually regenerates when she's in it. She gains a turbo ability so that she can rapidly shift from point to point, letting her get the jump on her enemies. Instead of using heavy weapons, Delphi packs a sword and a deadly bow and is able to use a number of different magical spells. These let her do all kinds of things like heal herself, transform into a poisonous mist, raise a scorching wall of flame, shrink her foes, or summon a devastating tornado.
Delphi plays somewhat similarly to the Meccs, but Kabuto is very different. He can easily obliterate just about anything in his path and can be brought down only by sheer numbers of enemy forces. He can eat certain types of Smarties to grow larger, which in turn gives him the ability to execute increasingly powerful attacks--whopping moves such as a belly flop, an elbow drop, and more. Kabuto can pick up his foes and fling them into others, can impale things on his horns, and can even lay eggs that hatch into smaller (but still plenty big) Kabuto offspring that he can then control. He's a force to be reckoned with, but once the novelty of being so darn big starts to wear off, you'll likely miss the Meccs' and Delphi's maneuverability while lumbering around as Kabuto.
You won't be able to play Kabuto or Delphi until later in the game, since you need to beat whichever level you're on to move on to the next one. Some levels can be a bit frustrating--though there's a briefing screen that plainly (often humorously) summarizes your objectives, sometimes the objectives can be easier said than done, and some trial-and-error will probably be required. Unfortunately, Giants sports some pretty long loading times that occur when you first load the game, in between every few levels and whenever you reattempt a mission. You'll eventually learn that, despite the run-and-gun nature of the action in Giants, a deliberate approach works well. The Meccs and Delphi can pick off a lot of their foes from a distance using long-range weapons. As Kabuto, you shouldn't blunder into hostile territory without a good sense of what's ahead.
There's plenty of variety in the missions in Giants. Several of Delphi's missions center on what's essentially a jet ski race--you need to place first to proceed. It feels like there are one too many of these jet ski missions, though. Both the Meccs and Delphi must also complete a tough mission that features some real-time strategy elements. In both cases, you must rescue Smarties and then order them to build up a base, one structure at a time. The Meccs will need to bring the Smarties food to get them to work, while construction of Delphi's base is fueled by the souls of slain enemies. At any rate, you'll need to defend your base as you build it up. And just when you think you've seen everything as one of the game's main characters, the story changes focus to one of the others. Ironically, though the Meccs may superficially seem less interesting than the sultry Delphi or the ferocious Kabuto, the Meccs are easily the most likable--and probably the most fun to control--of the bunch, and you'll miss their antics when playing as the other characters. Still, overall, there's no shortage of good action to go around, and you'll like how differently the characters play.
Though Giants for the PS2 is certainly a good-looking game, it loses some graphical polish in translation from the PC, where the game looks amazing. By comparison, the PS2 version's graphics aren't as richly colored, the 3D geometry isn't as complex, the resolution isn't as high, and the frame rate isn't as smooth as what you'd find on a high-end PC running the game. In practice, you'll find that the frame rate tends to bog down whenever you get into particularly hectic situations and that long-range firefights can be more difficult than they should be when that sea reaper you're sniping at appears to be just a couple of pixels tall. There are a few other problems--there's some clipping when 3D objects get too close to each other, and sometimes enemies will behave erratically, perhaps getting stuck on things or standing still while their buddies are doing a fine job of dodging your fire. Fortunately, these sorts of occurrences are rare enough that they don't really detract from the game.
Despite whatever compromises had to be made to the graphics, Giants for the PS2 certainly sounds as good as the original, which is to say it sounds absolutely outstanding. Featuring the voice talent of experienced voice actors such as Michael Bell and Jeff Bennett, most of the voice-over found in Giants is first-rate and highly amusing, and there's plenty of it. The game's surprisingly epic orchestral score, composed by the talented Jeremy Soule, may not fit with the game's whimsical premise--but it sure sounds good. The other sound effects--gunfire and such--are a bit sparse and aren't very noteworthy but get the job done just fine.
The absence of any multiplayer element admittedly hurts Giants' replay value--the PC version offered some interesting multiplayer options, but considering that the PS2 version's frame rate isn't terribly smooth to begin with, it's little wonder why there's no split-screen multiplayer mode anywhere to be found. Even without the multiplayer mode, Giants is still a rather big game, one that you couldn't finish all the way through without some dedicated effort--it'll likely take you about 20 hours start to finish. You can save your progress at any point--a rarity in console games, and an especially big surprise here considering the PC version lets you save only in between levels. You can revisit any of the levels you've already completed (or view any of the cutscenes you've already seen), though these play out similarly each time you try them. The game does offer three different difficulty settings if you find the default setting too tough or eventually want a greater challenge.
Though Giants met with considerable critical success when it was released for the PC in late 2000, it shipped while the dust was settling toward the end of the holiday rush, which apparently didn't help the game's exposure to the public. That's a shame, since Giants is a fun and memorable shooter. It deserves a bigger audience, and now that it's available for the PlayStation 2, it'll get one. Still, the PS2 version's release one year after the PC version portends a similar fate--since it's not exactly the biggest thing to hit the PS2 this winter, Giants may yet again fall victim to obscurity. But you shouldn't let it. Give Giants a try, and in short order, you'll find yourself playing one of the PS2's most likable, most offbeat shooters.