Founded by a bunch of ex-Shiny chaps and very much carrying the mantle of that studio's deranged comic styling, Giants was an incredible game of open world combat, lush tropical visuals and cockney aliens. It's a game of vastly disparate ingredients, united by Planet Moon's refusal to consign its boundless imagination and comic juxtaposition to the cutscenes alone.
You start out Giants playing as a crew of cockney aliens crash-landed on an alien planet on their way to Planet Majorca. It's an immediately ridiculous scenario in which to frame the subsequent island-hopping action. Once you're introduced to local boy 'My name is Ahmed, but call me Timmy' you'll never look back.
You won't spoil things too much by checking out the first few minutes of cutscenes below.
The levels that follow excel in mixing up conventions. Sure, a large part of this game is going places and shooting dudes, but the team at Planet Moon obviously relished finding ways to disguise that fact. In the second mission you get a jetpack and have to rescue dangling Smarties (the comically disfigured locals), and this was long before the likes of Just Cause gave us similar freedom. It's worth noting, too, that as good as that franchise looks now, Giants looked back in 2000.
As the game progresses - always interspersed with those fantastic cutscenes - your objectives are messed about with. One minute you're planting a bomb in an enemy camp, the next you're hunting Vimps (cow-bug things) for meat, the next you're knee deep in the base building game. Yes, there's even a relatively fleshed out RTS in here, which forms the cornerstone of the benchmark multiplayer mode. Every one of these elements is considered, presented with flair, and imaginative in ways it's hard to comprehend in these homogeneous times. The multiplayer standing alone would have had an impact - it was 8 player, non-symmetric teamplay with base building and Vimp hunting and a giant bloody Kabuto running about eating people. And it was 2 years before Natural Selection.
To put it in soundbite form, Giants is a game that reminds me how lazy the likes of GTA and The Elder Scrolls really are with their mission design - and how much more attention, variety and contextual detail we as players have a right to demand.
So you play on, and it's true - some of the levels become a little repetitive - but then you leave the Meccs behind and become a Sea Reaper. Suddenly the waters - which as a Mecc mean death by piranha - become the shadows you stalk through before you strike. You're able to move in ways that entirely change the game, and to overcome the hordes of enemies, that for the Meccs were becoming overwhelming, with precision and flair. You also have your boobs out which is again bucking convention, if nothing else.
All the time your objectives are being framed in ways that make sense. Gameplay rarely devolves into something that feels familiar. You're looking forward to the next joke, or the next time Planet Moon are going take you completely by surprise. Surely they're not going to let me do that?!
Playing it again now, it's naturally not as pretty - but it still has the charm. The timing is off in some of the cutscenes - Psychonauts comes up trumps for sheer polish and consistency - but I feel closer to these characters and, perversely for such an off the wall tale, the story itself. The world feels like a real place, and there's a darker tone to the game than the cartoony visuals suggest. From the grotesque design of the Smarties' physical features, to feeding children to giants, to the tensions between the different species, there's an edge here that keeps the game from feeling flat.
There's also the bit where you play as the giant, which was rubbish even at the time. Ignore that bit.
Planet Moon released one game of interest after Giants, Armed & Dangerous, before hitting financial woes, switching to smaller, licensed projects and finally being subsumed into Bigpoint. A&D retained the feel of Giants, but lacked the spark of invention (though it did come up with the shark gun long before it rose to fame in the latest Saints Row). Comparing the two games is nonetheless a fruitful engagement - doing so demonstrates just how much more is going on in Giants than gameplay + funny cutscenes.
Giants is a must play. You can get it from GOG for $9.99 (I make no money from sending you there).