Developer: Rainbow Studios
Release Date: February 10, 2008
Innovation in gaming is always something to be praised. After all, if developers never tried anything new, we'd still be playing pretty variations of Pong and Snake. Unfortunately, not every experiment is a slam dunk, with some ideas ending up a lot rougher than they should be. Such is the case with Deadly Creatures. The concept is great, but the execution leaves something to be desired.
Set in the desert, Deadly Creatures steps apart from the pack as soon as it starts. Instead of playing as either of the two human protagonists, you'll alternate levels playing as a tarantula and a scorpion. The two humans in the game (voiced by Dennis Hopper and Billy Bob Thornton) appear in the background for most of the adventure, searching for lost treasure as you and your two creepy crawlies attempt to survive the natural hazards of the land.
Making the main characters a spider and a scorpion was something of a risk in and of itself, given that a good number of people don't want to deal with the creatures in real life, let alone pretend to be one. Once you get over the Kafkaesque nature of the game characters, though, exploring the world in miniature can be intriguing. Both the spider and the scorpion have the ability to climb up walls (though the smallest crack will prevent them from progressing further), which allows for some interesting level design.
Though much of the world is based on nature, as the game progresses, you will see increasing amounts of human influence. Early on, it's the basics, such as an old shoe, discarded cell phone or even a lost garden gnome. In the latter part of the game, you'll even get the chance to explore indoors. The bits of direct human interaction do impress when they happen, but sadly, there simply aren't enough of these encounters. The vast majority of the game has you facing off against other insects and small creatures.
Controls for the spider and scorpion differ, with the spider being the more agile of the two and the scorpion being the slower, but more powerful, brawler. Attacking as the spider is more of a dash-and-grab affair, where you strike quickly before retreating out of range. The spider can also jump in from above or shoot a web to temporarily incapacitate prey. Meanwhile, the scorpion is all about in-your-face combat using its pincers. Cornered opponents can be hit with the stinger for extra damage. Weaken an opponent to near-death, and the scorpion can initiate a Quick Time Event-style finishing move. It's a level of violence that would be right at home on the nature channel.
The controls feel fine when you're moving around in open environments, but when you start navigating through obstacles or fighting more than one opponent at a time, shortcomings start to crop up. For one, there is a short but distinct delay when executing moves with the controller, which can be somewhat frustrating when you're in the middle of a fight. The camera tends to bunch up when in close quarters, which results in some odd viewing angles, especially when attempting to maneuver around a blocked, narrow path. At times, it felt more like driving a Hummer than controlling a nimble insect.
Boss fights are set up as set pieces, where survival is typically more important than winning. For example, in one level you need to pass a series of QTEs in order to escape from a rival spider's webbing. Make a single mistake, and it is game over. Another fight that occurs early on has the scorpion facing off against a Gila monster. It is a battle that looks impressive, but ends up being hampered by the controls. In order to escape, you need to collapse an escape route by digging. Of course, you have to dig in multiple places and dodge the attacking Gila monster by dashing out of the way.
Both digging and dashing are motion-controlled moves that suffer from the delay, so it is not uncommon to end up attempting a dash only to watch your character sit on-screen for a second before moving and end up getting hit. The AI behind the Gila monster doesn't help things, as it can auto-correct for your position no matter how the lizard is oriented. For a creature that is naturally slow, it's a bit odd to see the Gila monster suddenly flip 180 degrees with no warning.
Another nitpick in the game has to do with the loading pauses that crop up in the middle of the levels. We're all used to loading screens between levels, but Deadly Creatures also has loading during the levels. For no apparent reason, the game will suddenly pause while it loads the next section of the map. While it's not a massive shortcoming, it makes the game feel a bit unpolished. We have to wonder why the developer didn't simply make the levels smaller or opt for a streaming system that loads the level chunks in the background on an as-needed basis. Forced pauses are so uncool.
Once you get past the initial exploration of wandering around as a spider and a scorpion, the overall lack of a coherent story starts to become somewhat obvious. Yes, there is a story involving the two humans, but that's their story. What you're doing is incidental to that and, quite frankly, what you're doing really doesn't make much sense. Level goals are contrived and forced upon the player; they don't flow naturally from what's happening in the game. Rather than feeling like you're progressing through an adventure, it's more as if you're just given a task list and the adventure happens around you. This is somewhat exacerbated by the fact that the spider and the scorpion don't have any real reason to be adventuring alongside one another. Yes, yes, it's just a game. And no, we're not expecting talking animals here, but a tighter narrative would have helped things immensely.
As a tech demo, Deadly Creatures is an impressive piece of work, but as a game, it is merely average. For every good idea, there's something that holds back the game and prevents it from really shining. Given the flood of high-quality Wii titles that are hitting the console this spring, it's difficult to recommend picking up this one as a new release. Yes, it's intriguing, but it's better off as a bargain bin selection.
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