Developer: Relic Entertainment
Release Date: 01/06/2003
It is rare these days that a RTS game attempts to do anything new or original. Hell, if it wasn’t for a few key titles this past year the genre would be all but devoid of innovation. So when I came face to genetically-enhanced face with Impossible Creatures I gladly welcomed its intriguing unit combination system that allows you to splice together the DNA of an assortment of creatures and produce myriad hybrid animals. The fact that Impossible Creatures is made by the same people at Relic Entertainment who brought us the excellent space strategy game Homeworld didn’t hurt matters, either. And after spending a substantial amount of time with the title I can safely say that Impossible Creatures is an entirely original and innovative game that should be more than enough to hold you over until Homeworld 2 is released later this year.
Impossible Creatures has gone through a couple title revisions during its development cycle, originally it was to be named Sigma, and then the subtitle “The Adventures of Rex Chance” was tacked on. And while those names may have detracted from the game’s main catch – the ability to create over 40,000 unique creatures – they would have been just as applicable as the title Impossible Creatures since the game focuses on Rex Chance and his exploits with the bizarre Sigma technology.
Rex, the game’s foremost protagonist, is a man on a mission to find his long lost father. For years, Rex had collected news clippings and articles that were even remotely relevant to his father’s whereabouts, but it wasn’t until receiving a strange letter from him that revealed his location and briefly touched on what he has been doing all these years that Rex had a solid lead. He immediately resolved to set out to an island off the coast of Chile and finally reunite with his father. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving he is attacked by ant wolves before being rescued by a woman named Lucy Willing who informs Rex that his father has been researching genetic-splicing technology and is now being held captive by his evil employer Upton Julius (as in “Orange Julius”, mmmm). Suddenly the planned family reunion is put on temporary hiatus until Rex and Lucy are able to track down Upton Julius and save their father and mentor, respectively.
While Impossible Creatures is certainly a far cry from your run-of-the-mill RTS game, it does have its roots firmly planted in the age-old dynamics of the genre. The single player campaign is a composition of unit building, resource gathering, and strategic combat. But the method of progression in terms of building better units and structures is pretty original. For instance, Lucy must steal the enemy’s plans for their technology in order to build better structures and Rex must “tag” animals in the wild with his tranquilizer rifle in order to obtain their unique DNA that allows him to mix and match creatures.
The interface that Relic has concocted to combine these creatures was executed flawlessly. Basically, you’ll select the two animals you want to combine and then their body parts will be shown in diagram form on either side of the screen. In the middle of these selectable parts will be the result of what the creature will look like. The bottom half of the screen is devoted to showing you the attributes of the animal in detail. The whole process is very intuitive and is laid out in a fashion that is immediately understandable and easily modifiable.
In total there are 50 wild animals whose DNA you can splice, making for a custom-tailored unit creation system that, while diverse and entertaining, are also made available to you in a manner that restricts overly-powerful units from being created early on in the game. Which is a good thing since it would have been pretty disappointing to find that you can simply whip up a few potent creatures and coast your way through to the end credits. But there is definitely an art to creating your creatures. Each part of every stock animal is given its own unique attributes, so you’ll need to pick and choose the parts you want to suit your personal preference. For example, if you want to combine a Snowy Owl with a Rhino you’ll have to retain the owl’s wings if you want it to fly but you’ll need to replace the owl’s head if you want to be able to utilize the rhino’s powerful ramming move.
Splicing the creature’s genes together is one thing, but actually producing them is a whole other bucket of chicken. You wont be able to produce the more powerful creatures you’ve created until your research level has been raised to the appropriate degree. Also, each unit you create will cost a certain amount of electricity and power, both of which are resources that are gradually accumulated. Lucy can create electricity-collecting towers and the more towers that she has built the faster your electricity will be replenished. Grunt workers must be assigned to mining coal in order to accumulate power. By taking the research levels, power, and electricity resources into consideration you’ll be able to consistently churn out a healthy supply of units.
It will take you some time to learn the various nuances of the creature combinations and how they can be used to their maximum potential, but the single player campaign hand-holds you through the entire process, so it is best to run through it before you really delve into the multiplayer mode that gives you free reign to the entire creature collection right from the start. Also, you are limited to only nine slots in which to place your created beasts so strategy is required to make sure you have your bases covered in terms of quickly deployable units and powerful-yet-time-consuming units.
But don’t be afraid to mix it up ‘till your heart’s content because even if your army is severely unbalanced – like your creations are too focused on flight-based creatures or you don’t have enough melee force – the helpful included army analyzer will critique your efforts and let you know what you are doing wrong, or right. For those who are just starting out this tool is a godsend and the fact that Relic was thoughtful enough to include is appreciated.
From a visual standpoint Impossible Creatures is chock full of interesting and detailed units, lush environments, and wicked energy attack effects. Watching as your army of mutants does battle with an equally bizarre cast of enemies is very entertaining and strangely satisfying knowing that they are the product of your own twisted DNA-related desires. The between-mission cut-scenes take a decidedly lighthearted approach to the situations as you watch Rex, Lucy, and an assortment of colorful characters chat it up in various scenarios. On the whole, the graphics are very stylized and definitely give more than a nod to the 1930’s era in terms of hypothesized future technology and character design. The voice work throughout is pulled off quite well and never goes too far over the top or too far off base from what you’d expect their different personalities to be like. Although the henchmen units that constantly remind you of your units being in battle does have a tendency to get annoying. The soundtrack is a nice collection of overtures that somehow, despite their melancholy-ish tone, feel perfectly fitting as an accompaniment to the on-screen action.
Impossible Creatures delivers on a few different levels, first and foremost the creature building system is far more than just a gimmicky ploy to sucker PC gamers out of their hard-earned cash and actually plays a vital role in keeping the game fresh and exciting. The interface that ties the game together is easy enough to jump right into and deep enough to keep you learning throughout. Single player missions offer up a wealth of creative objectives. And the multiplayer mode can be literally a metric ton of fun. Overall, Impossible Creatures may not be as progression oriented as Age of Mythology or WarCraft III in terms of the single player campaign (the focus is heavily reliant on the various creatures you can create), but the fact that Relic was willing to put their reputation on the line with a concept so unique should be commended. Particularly because, to a certain extent, they’ve succeeded in revitalizing an almost-stagnant genre.
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