previews\ May 16, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Impossible Creatures - PC - Preview

Film noir meets comic book, pulp fiction, and science fiction all rolled into one tidy package.

The game is called Impossible Creatures, a PC release from Microsoft Game Studios and Relic Entertainment. While on the surface this may look like a resource-gathering real-time strategy outing, the game has a solid back-story, excellent graphics and wonderful sound.

The preview was of the technical beta, which contained only four missions of the single player campaign, as well as the tutorial and multiplayer scenarios.

The story is important, so that’s where this preview of the game begins.

The year is 1937 and Rex Chance, the hero of the tale, gets a letter from his father, Dr. Erik Chanikov. The scientist has been missing for a long time, but this letter found its way to Rex courtesy of wealthy industrialist, and Chanikov’s confidante, Upton Julius. The doctor has been working in secret on an uncharted island, which is part of an archipelago chain off the western coast of South America.

Rex immediately follows the directions to the island and encounters something incredible – creatures that are the combined traits of two animals. Creatures that have heads like cheetahs or leopards, and the body and tails of scorpions attack him. Julius is behind the attack, and seems to have plans for Rex, plans that don’t need him unharmed – alive, but not necessarily intact. Just as it seems our hero is about to fall, a flying train arrives, piloted by a rifle-toting woman named Lucy Willing. She rescues Rex and before Julius can complete his nefarious capture of Rex (comic book scenes have already shown Julius has done something to Rex’s father), Lucy and Rex fly off.

But the train is damaged, and barely makes it to Isla Exsilium, which is 100 miles away from Julius’ camp. The train needs to be repaired. Rex is sent to a nearby village to ask for help, but before the villagers will give aid, they need a little help of their own. More mutated – or genetically spliced – creatures are threatening them.

The only thing left to do is to create a Creature Chamber, splice together an army of hybrid animals and defend the village. That’s where the story really takes off.

There are elements of RTS in this game. Creatures can have special, or triggered abilities, which use endurance (akin to mana in games involving magic). How you combine the animals will also have a lot to do with attack abilities. Do you want to use the head of the porcupine, or the fangs of a mountain lion for the head? The torso of the lion or of the porcupine – which then gives you a quill attack?

Sigma technology is behind the gene splicing, and mutations. It takes enough resources to create the creatures, and you need DNA samples for the library in order to build the mutated army.

Yep, sounds complicated, but actually it is anything but that. This game features the control functions standard to most RTS games. Drag around or click on the unit you wish to control and click to issue the order. You can group units and issue joint orders.

Once creatures have been created, you can alter their stance, put them into a guard or patrol mode, or send them off to fight. It would have been nice to include a formations control with the game, but there isn’t one. In order to form the army into any semblance of formations, you have to select the units and move them off to the sides. You also have to generate henchmen to gather the two resources the game requires – coal and electricity (build generators for the latter) – in order to have the necessary spending elements for creating your mutants.

Graphically this game is very well done. The environmental graphics (yes, the game uses the fog of war) are very solid and when viewed from different angles, using a rotating and zoomable camera, really give the game a wonderful look. The animations are solid and the cutscenes are excellent. The only rendered character that looked a little odd was Upton Julius. The “impossible creatures” are nicely designed and the special effects (the triggered attacks) are wonderful.

The soundtrack of the game is also a delight. The program uses a variety of music in-game, including a snappy little jazz tune to bridge the missions. The latter is very cool! The vocal acting does a nice job of advancing the game.

Multiplayer support is through a LAN, Internet or MSN Gaming Zone matchmaking service. The single player game will have 15 missions, while the multiplayer and player versus CPU (online) will have more than 20 maps to use.

If there were any drawbacks to the game, it seemed that the AI was a little weak. The game did not have difficulty levels and this may be an evolving AI, which will get stronger and more cunning as the game progresses, but through the missions offered, that didn’t appear to be the case.

True, this was only a beta, but enough was in place to give a solid look at what Impossible Creatures will offer. That is a different kind of RTS, with a solid storyline advanced through objective-driven missions, excellent audio and graphics, and familiar but still enjoyable game play.

The game features still art with a film noir sense to bridge the story, and the narrative almost sounds like a pulp fiction novel.

This program has managed to bring several diverse elements together very nicely.

Mark this game down as a winner.

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