Some days I just wish I’d taken up a career in Mad Science. I think back to my boyhood days, playing with frogs and puppies, like many boys do. I’d be wistfully dreaming about combining those two treasured pets into some horrible, monstrous freak of nature. And why stop at Fruppies? Certainly we could try to see what would happen with a dash of turtle and a pinch of monkey. And then there were all those real animals that had misleading names: Catbird…dogfish…ant lion…my versions would be so much better. Of course, all of these creatures needed something to do, and what better job for these aberrations than to further my plot for world domination? Alas, those boyhood dreams gave way to the practicalities of Grownup Life, and thoughts of bending the earth to my very will became nothing more than fond recollections. Then came Impossible Creatures, a game that allows me, in some small way, to revisit those Golden Days of Yore, and send the Laws of Nature screaming into the night.
Impossible Creatures is, simply put, a game about combining real-world animals into new and exciting creations. Oh, there is a RTS game in there somewhere, which is alright as far as that goes, but the real thrill is in the making of these new Creatures. The game is set in a pulp sci-fi 1937, a world in which was discovered the amazing Sigma technology, a wonder of science which allows the combining of everyday animals into devastating weapons of destruction. Some also make pretty good pets.
The single-player campaign of the game, where Impossible Creatures really shines, is a very enjoyable time. The campaign chronicles the adventures of Rex Chance, son of the inventor of the Sigma technology. Rex decides to pay his old man a visit, and so heads off to a remote chain of islands somewhere in the Pacific, where his father has been living for quite some time. Upon arriving, Rex meets the beautiful Lucy Willing, assistant to his father. There he learns of the mysterious Sigma technology, the untimely death of his father, and his connection to it all. In an incredibly well written story, Rex and Lucy work to thwart the will of the evil Julius and his cronies. The story is campy, cornball, and perfectly pitched to fit into the pulp feel of the game. The RTS missions are well scripted, with some of the usual “destroy the enemy base” mixed in with some more interesting objectives.
Unfortunately, the RTS part of the game is actually the weakest aspect. While never truly bad, there just isn’t anything here we haven’t seen before many, many times. Gather resources, construct buildings, build up an army, and get ‘em. The battles are pretty frantic, so tactics are pretty much out the window once the fight is joined. Some of the creatures have special abilities, such as a Frenzy attack or a radius attack of electricity, but more often than not the battle is over long before there is a chance to pick out the unit and trigger its ability. Some planning is necessary before battles. The main challenge in Impossible Creatures is to decide beforehand which types of units to send into a given situation. All of the traditional RTS unit types are available—fliers, swimmers, ranged, melee, and artillery. Scouting ahead is vital to determine which is the most appropriate combination of animals and units to send, because once the battle is joined, it’s usually too late to switch tactics.
While the RTS battles are the weakest part of Impossible Creatures, by far the most interesting and entertaining is the Creature Builder. Throughout the single-player campaign, Rex (a playable unit himself) needs to collect genetic samples of the local fauna for use in his creature arsenal. Once a sample is gathered, the animal type can be combined with another to make a unit that has the best characteristics of both. Using a very slickly designed interface, it is possible to tweak body parts from the two animals until the desired combination is achieved. For instance, when combining a rhino and a hornet for a very powerful flying unit, I chose the head of the rhino (giving it a massive horn attack), the tail and back of the hornet (for the stinger and wings), and the legs of the rhino (more for aesthetic reasons than anything else).
Each “segment” of each animal usually imparts different abilities, such as the head containing the bite or gore ability of a particular animal, which the legs can give the speed of a particularly agile creature. Not only is it fun to mix and match, it’s also incredibly amusing. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions, not only in seeing how each animal looks as it’s being constructed, but also at how the game names the new creature. I spent a lot of time just playing with combining new animals, sometimes taking 20 minutes of Creature Builder time for a 30-minute mission. There are a lot of animals to choose from, as well, so the combinations are many and varied. Of course, some animals are just better than others, so soon the best combinations become apparent, and the other poor creatures are underrepresented.
Whereas the single-player campaign is a blast, I just didn’t enjoy the skirmish mode all that much. Either against the computer or a human opponent, the skirmish modes remove the best parts of the game (the in-campaign Creature Builder and the wonderful story), and leave a very-typical RTS outing. For the skirmishes, you need to choose an army of 9 types of combined creatures beforehand, and there’s no tweaking after the game begins. Again, choosing wisely which creatures to field beforehand is vital. But once that choice is made, it’s just a ho-hum swedge.
Impossible Creatures is an incredibly polished game, with everything looking and sounding wonderful. The creatures are very well animated, and a fully rotate-able and zoom-able 3D camera allows for views from just about every conceivable angle. The voice acting is spot-on, overplayed in true B-movie fashion. The sounds of the creatures are pretty good, although there just aren’t that many ways that a creature can audibly acknowledge a command, so things tend to get a little repetitive. Also repetitive are the incessant “Your creatures are under attack!” warnings, which seem to happen a bit too often. Unfortunately, there is no way to adjust the frequency of these warnings, so they can grate on the nerves fairly quickly. Other than those minor issues, however, Impossible Creatures just oozes charm and attention to detail.
As a single-player game, Impossible Creatures is well worth the price of admission. Coupling a great story with a unique unit customization and a serviceable RTS engine, and you have quite a decent game. However, if you’re looking for multiplayer RTS action only, then Impossible Creatures will most likely be a bit of a disappointment—this game seems designed with the single player in mind. With that in mind, I can easily recommend Impossible Creatures to all those closet Mad Scientists out there.