A real-time strategy title that taps into genetics and enables you to
combine different animal DNA strains into fearsome battle units - that's
the pitch that Relic Entertainment, the progenitors behind Homeworld,
are trying to bring to the real time strategy genre through Impossible
Creatures. By default, you don't start off with any combat units. You
have to make them. If that sounds interesting, it certainly is. But in
considering the entire Impossible Creatures corpus, the innovation gets
waylaid by the less than revolutionary components that make up the rest
of the title.
Impossible Creatures is situated in 1937, a few short years before war
begins to ravage the entire world. Set in an enclosed South American
setting, we meet two elderly characters in Dr. Erik Chanikov and Upton
Julius. Chanikov is the unwitting scientist backed by the
philanthropist Julius and he's responsible, along with assistant Dr.
Lucy Willing, for creating Sigma technology; a method for combining the
DNA strains of two creatures, carrying the strengths of both but
eliminating the weaknesses from the original hosts.
Julius, however, has other plans for Sigma. He's into things like world
domination, which makes him not unlike Stalin or Hitler, except he's a
few years premature. When Julius makes life difficult for the research
team and Chanikov disappears, Willing has to rely on her mobile
laboratory to get to the bottom of Julius' plans. That's where the
protagonist, a freelance war correspondent, Rex Chance comes in.
Struggling to make a living amongst Chamberlain's "peace in our time"
era, he makes the trip to South America and gets himself completely
wrapped up in Sigma.
The campaign in Impossible Creatures is told primarily in first person
narration by Chance and he's also in the game as well, including
Willing. In fact, Willing serves as your first hero "worker" while
Chance serves as the first hero "unit". They aren't heroes at
fighting, though, but the game eventually eases you into using Sigma
against Julius' army.
Each mission usually entails a few main objectives. You might be
helping some natives out. You might have to access some resources for
the mobile laboratory to keep running. Bonus objectives are included to
encourage Rex (or later on, underlings) to tag different creatures and
collect new DNA for use in assembling your combat units.
Resources are kept pretty simple. You accumulate either electricity or
coal. Electricity is powered by period technology like steam geysers or
wacky sci-fi contraptions of the time like a lightning rod. Coal is
simply harvested by henchmen (peasant or peons for the rest of you) and
these two resources are all that's needed to wage war. There aren't a
lot of buildings in Impossible Creatures. Aside from the defensive
walls, air and surface defense mechanisms, as well as a few research
workshops, much of the money you make will be spent in making upgrades.
The penultimate upgrade you'll make is in research levels to access new
creatures and in improving the genetic coding of your existing
creations. Other upgrades like making your henchman faster or
structures stronger are available but the real upgrades will come from
improving your creatures. Here, you'll have choice. You might want to
improve the defense of a fast scouting unit or improve the speed for a
lumbering ranged creature. The choices are up to you but you can't
upgrade any and everything available for a creature.
Almost all bases built with Sigma will revolve around the creature
chamber. This is where your creatures will be built. As I mentioned
before, when you start off, you won't have any units available for
building. You'll have to gather DNA samples and assemble creatures by
mixing two animals together. When you're not in the campaign, you'll
have all the DNA samples available to you. This is where the fun is and
Relic has provided an interface on the main menu that allows you to
tweak a pre-made army for multiplayer/skirmish combat.
The creatures you can create can be pretty complex. Each creature has
some attributes and special attacks that you can combine with others to
carry over. You might have a ferocious melee fighter who is slow to
move to the battlefield. Why not take a low level scout's hind legs and
combine it with the higher level fighter? Or perhaps a set of wings
from a bird will help. The possibilities are quite literally endless
and aren't necessarily restricted to pairing the head of an animal with
the trunk of another. You can pair heads, torsos and even tails
together. Typically, your creations will fall into scouts, melee or
ranged categories. Because of this, Relic encourages experimenting to
fit your own playing style.
The campaign and the various skirmish maps will take you over four
different types of terrain. That's also where creature modifications
will be needed. If you're isolated on an island, the horde of
land-based monsters you carry will be of no use to you. Better to go
back to the drawing board and create some marine inspired creatures.
Besides the creatures, there’s precious few other units available in
Impossible Creatures. Henchmen do double duty sometimes and there's a
primitive gyrocopter they can man during the game but these can't be
built to any great numbers. Furthermore, the henchmen are unable to
amount to much during combat. The fact that Chance and Willing aren't
anywhere close prize fighters puts the combat squarely on the creatures
Unfortunately, the battles are messy sordid affairs at best. Despite
the fact that each creature is a product of so much sweat and time,
you'll simply click them into the general vicinity of the enemy and hope
your numerical superiority will overtake the enemy's. In short, there's
little tactical value. That's a pity, though, considering the number of
stances (patrol, territorial, etc.) and the sheer amount of orders you
can issue to your units. None of them help in making fights more
manageable. In multiplayer fests, it works more or less like Warcraft
where you simply pit all your creatures into the fray of the battle and
hope your unit mix will come out for the better. The lack of support
units (healers, spell casters) or hero units makes it less in-depth from
a tactical standpoint.
Because the combat is so blasť and the other components so standard, it
detracts from what novelty Impossible Creatures brings to the real time
strategy genre. Here's a game with an interesting concept. But while
the rest of the game is solid in production value, it's uninspiring.
Chance's campaign lacks the emotion and involvement that Homeworld had.
Ultimately, we develop less sympathy for these human beings than we do
for the alien ones in Homeworld.
Some of this is due to the voice acting. The good doctor Willing is
nicely cast but Chance lacks the frontiersman bravado and charm we would
expect from an adventurer of the time. Luckily, the rest of the audio
is quite good. Supporting the latest EAX standards, there's definitely
a surround element to the overall game and the title is able to
generate some decent period music to go along with the story events.
In terms of visuals, Impossible Creatures does not falter. No doubt
benefiting from the close ties to Microsoft, Relic has a solid 3D real
time strategy title here. Camera control is simple and easy to control.
Textures are crisp, water effects are convincing and the wide-ranging
terrain of South America is nicely presented. Animation, key to
portraying those 3D creatures you are crafting, is fluid and natural.
Detailed models and the ability to zoom enable Relic to distinguish one
creature from another; even with so many subtle changes.
I do recall Homeworld being a title that was loved. But others did hate
it for being overly complex a real time strategy title. Here, Relic has
made its utmost effort to introduce simple real time strategy
conventions. Few resources are used. A comprehensive tutorial is made,
in addition to tutorial-like missions within the campaign itself. For
all practical intents and purposes, you don't even have to adjust the
camera during the course of the game. Building queues are available to
minimize micromanagement. Notification is displayed to remind you that
heroes or builders are idled, creatures are attacked, so on and so
forth. Henchmen look and almost sound exactly like the peasants and
peons from other popular titles. Finally, an online matching service
similar to Battle.net is arranged. All of this definitely makes
Impossible Creatures more accessible to the casual gamer. But
unfortunately, it also makes it hard to distinguish this product from
others. Take away the creature building and you've got a straight up
Little effort was made to capitalize on this era. You've got coal
driven trains here. Lightning rods are used as power generators. A
train engine constitutes as your mobile base of operations. There's
potential good in further exploiting this theme.
It would have also been nice to see henchmen arm themselves during
combat or the Sigma technology used against Nazis, Stalinists or some
traditional military units. Unlike the creatures on the Island of Dr.
Moreau, these ones simply like to claw each other to death. Some
weapons would have made the combat mix a little more interesting.
In terms of multiplayer, Impossible Creatures features some regular
skirmish modes on a good number of maps that take advantage of the
terrain diversity displayed in the single player campaign. Currently,
there's only one objective: destroy the opposing base. It's simple to
match up with other players through IC Online though. LAN Play options
are abundant and AI players, taking the form of characters found in the
single player campaign (Chance, Willing, Julius, et al) with their own
unique armies can be thrown into the mix. A few more game modes would
have made the multiplayer portion outstanding.
I don't want to characterize Impossible Creatures as a one trick pony.
On the one hand, we've seen customizable units before. We just haven't
seen it in organic form. I've built spaceships piecemeal before and
combining the head and torso of a crocodile with a lobster is about the
same as combining ship propulsion at level two with ship hull at level
four. Although, I must admit, there is a sublime artistic value to the
creatures -- the same sublime fascination our ancestors had with
On the other hand, its less than revolutionary portions are actually
very well polished and executed. Newcomers to the genre will not find
an easier real time strategy title to take on. But I feel like there's
a chance (pardon my pun) squandered here to fully take advantage of the
source material. The innovation is novel and great but Impossible
Creatures lacks the certain swagger that befits a confident winner.