Review: The King of Chicago

By Dave Neumann 13 Mar 2014 0
It's the Bing Crosby/Vince Lombardi buddy film the world's been waiting for. It's the Bing Crosby/Vince Lombardi buddy film the world's been waiting for.

Back when I was growing up, summers were weird. We lived far enough away from my friends that I couldn’t ride a bike to visit them so, with both parents working, I spent most days home alone watching my little brother. While he’d run around outside and, generally, be normal, I’d be inside writing D&D modules or, more likely, watching TV. Movies like Originally released in 1987, the only reason I can see this being available for today's audience is nostalgia for an old, fondly remembered game. Unfortunately, what we're getting instead is a hard dose of reality, Beastmaster-style. King of Chicago is a dated, and poorly emulated mess.

It’s not that King of Chicago’s premise is unsound. In fact, I’m surprised there haven’t been other, better games to tackle this topic. 1930’s gangland Chicago and the power vacuum left behind after Big Al was sent up the river. King of Chicago bills itself as an Interactive Movie, which puts it a lot closer to gamebook territory than your traditional adventure game. It does play like a movie, with you, as protagonist Pinky Callahan, occasionally making dialog choices, but usually just watching people talk. And talk. And talk. This is, always, preceded and followed by a loading screen that takes longer than the conversation did, which is usually followed by watching more people talk (which is accompanied by more loading screens). Honestly, the decisions you make in the game are minimal. Occasionally, you’ll get to play a minigame involving bombing or shooting enemies, but…well, more on that disaster later.

I pulled this loading screen because it says "kiester". Butts are funny. I pulled this loading screen because it says "kiester". Butts are funny.

The game consists of, approximately, 8 billion loading screens and, believe me, you’re going to see them all. It feels like at least half of your time is spent watching a static screen with a title card and the word “Loading” in the corner. In one section of the game, I was visited by another character. This started with a loading screen announcing the character, which was followed by a back and forth conversation between Pinky and that character that went on, for minutes, WITHOUT ME MAKING ANY DECISIONS. It wasn’t until the end of this back and forth that I got to make a choice which, of course, sent me to another loading screen, which then went to a static screen of my car, which then went to another loading screen which, immediately, jumped to another loading screen. Yes, I went from one loading screen showing one of the many “title cards” in the game, to one with just a picture of my car. It was a riveting 8 minutes of gameplay there.

Did I forget to tell you that the game has no save feature? That’s right. If you die (which happens a lot, because minigames) you have to start this whole mess over with all the loading screen glory. I swear I've stared at the loading screens in this game for longer than I've seen all the pictures of all my children combined. Everything in the game takes forever and there's very little payoff for time spent waiting.

Now, I could be wrong about this but it appears the choices you do get to make don’t matter much. Shouldn't paying off a politician and then him failing to win an election cause some problems? If they do, I can’t figure out what. Immediately after this nitwit loses, I just go back to the Loop and continue doing what I was doing anyway. Another example: killing the Old Man right away doesn’t seem to have changed any of my gang’s opinions or loyalties as opposed to waiting to get important gang members on your side first. Maybe I’m missing something, or maybe games from 1987 just weren’t nuanced enough to have the kind of depth we expect in 2014. It just seemed that every decision I made put me in the same position, with the exception of choosing to go on a bombing run or shootout. Ah, yes, the minigames.

Excuse me, but you can stick your button up your ass. Excuse me, but you can stick your button up your ass.

The minigames in this game seem like they could be a good idea, and maybe they were if you were playing this on an Amiga back in 1987 or if you're on peyote. One of them has you lobbing bombs out of your car and trying to hit the 2nd story windows of a Southside barber shop. Another has the Southside gang appear in windows or run across the screen in front of a, wait for it, barber shop. Another has you trying to shoot a car that’s pursuing you, while the simplest one simply has a guy standing there and you get to point and shoot them.

Unfortunately, the touch controls in the game are atrocious. To say that they work at all is an insult to those of us that barely work. I have yet, after at least 30 tries, to pull off a bombing run. The manual says that the longer you hold down on the screen the higher up your bomb will fly, yet sometimes your bomb will sail right over the building, other times it will launch as soon as you touch the screen and other times it doesn’t launch at all. Trying to shoot a moving target is equally frustrating. You’re supposed to move the reticle and then shoot when you remove your finger. I found the aiming to snap to positions on the screen (where there weren’t any bad guys) and not fire every time I removed my finger, while sometimes firing when I would touch the screen. Failing these tasks will put you in a casket and end the game, forcing you to start over at the beginning. To be fair, I did succeed at the one minigame where I had to shoot a doorknob. I don’t understand why shooting the doorknob was supposed to scare the Southside gang but, hey, at least I accomplished something and that doorknob is now sleeping with the fishes.

There are whole features of the game that seem to be useless. At times, the screen will switch to a view of your desk. (Note that the game does this when it wants to, not when you decide to.) Here you can check your ledger or go see your girlfriend or do other things I’ve never found a reason to do. The ledger would seem to give some strategic depth to the game, as you can adjust your books to move payments to hire more men and keep underlings happy. What all the lines in there do, however, is completely opaque. I bumped up “bribes”, thinking it might help me with the election but I still lost and with no feedback as to what I did wrong. Also, the interface for the ledger is laugh-out-loud bad. The adjustment sliders zoom, but nothing else does, so the sliders no longer line up with the lines you’re trying to adjust. As for visiting your girlfriend or anything else, I didn’t see the point. Mainly because it was impossible to get anywhere without being able to complete the minigames. Maybe, if those weren’t impossible to accomplish, the story with your mother and girlfriend might make things more interesting.

So, the only thing this game has going for it is nostalgia. With excellent modern storytelling/adventure games on the App Store like Sorcery! or The Wolf Among Us, why would you pick this headache? I’ll admit, the graphics are pretty retro-spectacular and the chiptune soundtrack is pretty amazing (until you’ve heard it over and over…).  There is also a small bit of randomization, which allows different events to happen and the game to begin in different ways, but that just can’t make up for the fact that this emulation brings with it devastating loading times and horribly shitty controls. If those issues were fixed, King of Chicago might be a mildly interesting, 30 minute long adventure game.

As it is, you’re better off finding The Beastmaster on TV (you know it’s on some channel this very minute) and remembering the “good old days” that way. Either way, you're going to be disappointed, but with The Beastmaster, at least you get Marc Singer's abs. Oh, and Kira in a loincloth. And those weird bird-guys...hey, where's the remote?

Review: The King of Chicago

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