Thursday, January 22, 2004

Impossible Creatures (PC)

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: Originality and lots of replay value
Cons: None, great all around game

This is another one of many discount games I picked up at my local Wal-Mart, value priced at only $4.77, instead of the normal $19.86. With the box boasting such well recognized and popular names like Relic and Microsoft, you can understand my surprise.

Impossible Creatures is a 3D real time strategy game from Relic Entertainment, the makers of Homeworld. The game is set in the 1930's, where you play as an adventurer named Rex Chance. Your father, Dr. Chanikov, who had disappeared years before, contacts you and wants to see you. When you arrive, you find that your father has been killed, and mutant animals are terrorizing the locals.

This is where the game takes on some originality. Your father had been researching Sigma Technology, which allows you to take DNA samples from two different animals and combine them together, creating super mutant animals! The game comes with around 50 different animals to sample DNA from, which leaves room for a lot of combinations. Also, you can take different body parts from each of the two animals and recombine them in different sets.

For example, take a tiger and a bear and pair them together. Then, further customize your mutant creation by taking the tiger's hind legs, with their speed and leaping ability, and using the bear's front legs (for their stronger attacking ability). Use the torso of the bear, because it is bigger, and maybe the head of the tiger for it's better line of sight. The possibilities are astounding.

Unfortunately, you can only combine two separate animals together at once - meaning you can't take your new mutant tiger-bear and give it the tail of a skunk. Regardless of that fact though, there are still tens of thousands of different combinations to choose from.

Some creatures may obtain special abilities, such as a stink bomb, electric strike, or quill throwing.. these can be obtained by using specific parts from the base animal, such as the tail from a porcupine or skunk, or part of an electric eel. These abilities must be used manually, instead of automatically engaging when you attack an enemy. Other abilities, such as leaping, or pack hunting, are automatic.

Your primary goal in Impossible Creatures is to destroy your enemy, of course. You start out with a lab, and with it, the ability to recruit henchmen. The henchmen can then build lightning rods and power plants to supply electricity, or gather coal from coal piles. Electricity and coal are the only resources available in this game.

The better the creature you create, the more coal and/or electricity is required to make it. Coal and electricity are also needed to build new buildings, such as the water chamber (for sea creatures), air chamber (for flying creatures), or sound beam towers (to shoot at enemy creatures).

Upgrades also require resources. Each creature you design can only be created once you have achieved a high enough research level. These can be upgraded at the lab, and range from level 1 (mostly regular animals), to level 5 (ultimate mutant combo monsters). You can also build a genetic amplifier, and purchase stat upgrades for your creatures, for a hefty resource price.

The campaign mode features 15 missions across 14 distinct islands, as well as an easy to use mission editor. Online multiplayer support is included, for up to six players, but I would not advice using it unless you have broadband internet, or at least a relatively good modem connection. It was a little slow for me, connected at 28.8 kbps, and I was only playing a two player game.

The background music in Impossible Creatures is, for the most part, relaxing and unobtrusive. You hardly notice that it is there most of the time. The sound effects do tend to get old though, like in most RTS games. Henchmen sound like a dumb lug, and creatures make different sounds when you click on them and move them, though they tend to sound like the animal who compromises the majority of their make up. There are also complete and well done voice-overs to accompany the captions at the bottom of the movie sequences.

Impossible Creatures uses a perspective camera angle to view the game, which is similar to nearly every other RTS on the market. However, you can also zoom in so far that you cannot fit a whole creature or building on the screen at once. Even when zoomed in, the detail remains unbelievable. It's nice to zoom in really close, and see just how different each creature actually looks.

System requirements run about average for Impossible Creatures. Only a 500 MHz processor and 128 MB of RAM are required, as well as a 3D video card with 16 MB of VRAM. A 4x CD-ROM, sound card, and some speakers or headphones would also help. The only requirement that is really above average, is the hard drive space, weighing in at a hefty 1.5 GB. Oh, and for multiplayer support, a modem or NIC is obviously required as well. ;)

There is a multiplayer map pack available for download from the official Microsoft site, as well as a patch to unlock 10 additional animals and a game update patch. Plus, if you have the update patch installed, you can download the 88 MB Insect Invasion mod free of charge, which features new creatures and abilities, as well as new maps and environments.

With both patches and the Insect Invasion mod installed, the number of base creatures grows to 75, instead of the original 50. This effectively adds 50% more combinations to the already huge number, yet the game remains simple enough to control and easy to play.

This game is a must-play for any RTS fan. If you enjoy playing games such as Starcraft, Total Annihilation, Age of Empires, or Warlords: Battlecry, you should certainly give Impossible Creatures a try.. you will be pleasantly surprised.

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