KISS : Psycho Circus

First person shooter previewed

Dallas is the birthplace of the first person shooter, so while I was in the area to cover the big $100,000 Razer-CPL Quake 3 tournament, I dropped by a couple of the companies based in the area.

First stop, Third Law Interactive, whose offices are above an art gallery in a former church in downtown Dallas...

Equal But Opposite

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Sverre Kvernmo, clearly a man of impeccable taste

Founded by a group of former Ion Storm designers, Third Law is currently putting the finishing touches to a game based on the KISS : Psycho Circus comic book series, created by Todd McFarlane and inspired by the heavy metal band, KISS.

When the game was first announced, most people were skeptical. In fact, so were Third Law when they were first offered the KISS license. But after checking out the game for myself at last year's ECTS it was obvious that it could be a surprise hit.

In the last six months the game has come a long way. Third Law are hoping to have it ready for release by the end of May, and the day I visited they were putting together a demo of the game for a German magazine, so we should get to play it before long.

In the meantime, the company's resident Scandinavian level designer, Sverre Kvernmo, gave me a demonstration of the game...

Circus Top

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Exclusive new screenshot - the strongman, just one of the enemies you will face

KISS : Psycho Circus is a first person shooter in which you play one of four characters - the StarBearer, the Celestial, the Demon or the Beast King - the comic-book alter-egos of the members of KISS themselves.

The game starts in a bar where your band was supposed to be playing a gig, but unfortunately the world has come to an end, and a mysterious gypsy fortune teller (think Mystic Meg with a weight problem) has decided that it is up to you to save everyone from the apocalypse. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Throughout the game she will guide you, telling you at the beginning of each new area what you are expected to do, giving you cryptic clues as to how you can traverse the area, and generally setting the scene for the action to come.

During the game you will battle your way through four different realms (earth, water, fire and air) before reaching the bizarre supernatural circus of the title. And as you go you will take on the abilities of the old ones, the KISS characters themselves, by picking up pieces of armour - essentially bits of the costumes that the band use on stage, from their big glam metal boots to the copious amounts of make-up they wear on their faces.

The widescreen in-game cinematics are an important part of KISS : Pyscho Circus, and as well as the fly-throughs that precede each level there are also short sequences to show you picking up the various pieces of your KISS costume, to introduce new monster types, and for when you solve a puzzle. The cinematics are mostly very short though, and help draw you into the game without interrupting the flow of it.

Doomed

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Exclusive new screenshot - hordes of enemies, just like in the good ol' days

Third Law are going for a back-to-basics feel with KISS : Psycho Circus, getting back to the gut-wrenching action of Doom. And it looks to have worked...

Hordes of bizarre and disturbing monsters rush the player at once, with blood and severed limbs flying as you let rip with your arsenal of devestating weapons. There are four weapons that all of the characters can use, including a shrapnel thrower that brings back fond memories of Doom II's super-shotgun, surely the most perfect in-your-face weapon ever devised.

You can also find explosive jack-in-a-boxes that double as both landmines and grenades, and each character has two individual weapons - one melee and one ranged. For example, the Demon (Gene Simmons' character) has a dragon that sits on his shoulder breathing a stream of deadly fire, while for close combat he can use his axe to scythe through his enemies.

The monsters' AI might be a little basic compared to Unreal Tournament's bots, but it helps keep the action fast paced and bloody without sapping your frame rate too much. The AI can also be scripted, replacing the normal behaviour with preset strategies, which are used to make boss encounters and other big action moments more interesting.

It's a welcome return to old school action, as ever since sprites made way for processor-hungry polygons, most first person shooters have been limited to having a mere handful of enemies on screen at once.

Monolithic

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Will Loconto in his little studio at Third Law's office

The game is based on the LithTech v1.5 engine, essentially an updated version of the engine which was used by Monolith in Shogo and Blood II to varying success, but with several features from the LithTech 2 engine added in for good measure.

The result is generally very good and, although it isn't quite a match for the more recent Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament engines, Third Law have put it to good use. From the freakish circus of the title to fog-shrouded churchyards and creepy cathedrals, the game's visuals are suitably oppressive and impressive in equal measures.

The engine also uses Microsoft's DirectMusic system to allow interactive music to be built into the game. Musician Will Loconto is generally going for a movie style soundtrack, with plenty of sinister ambient themes, but as the action hots up guitar riffs come in, building up to a dance-metal frenzy. Bits of KISS tracks are integrated into the music in places, and Will has also tried to emulate their style in his own original music.

For the real KISS fans out there though, there are jukeboxes in several locations throughout the game which will play you entire KISS songs. Of course, if you don't like the song you can always blow the jukebox up mid-flow, but card-carrying members of the KISS army who just can't get enough of their heroes will be rewarded for their faith if they stop to listen...

Conclusion

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Third Law's animator clowning about

It looks like Third Law could be on to a winner, with a return to classic over-the-top first person shooter action.

Featuring eerie levels filled with hideous monsters, and a wide range of devestating weapons to kill them with, this game should be well worth a look whether you're a KISS fan or not. Keep an eye out for it this summer!

In the meantime, why not check out the bonus "Eye Candy" page for more photographs and screenshots?

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Eye Candy        

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