Thursday, January 30, 2003

Game fails to match all the hype

Winning a battle doesn't require that much strategy

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Strategy gamers have been waiting nearly three years for Impossible Creatures. While in development, the Microsoft game received a lot of hype for its different spin on the "real-time strategy" genre.

The concept involves fusing traits from more than 50 animals to create deadly hybrids. For example, combining the head of a rhinoceros with the legs of a tiger yields a fast creature with a lethal attack. Or blending the features of a baboon and a skunk will produce a sturdy beast that can emit poison gas when threatened.

Once created, the beasts are sent into war to attack other twisted creatures. Some animal hybrids can launch projectile attacks, while others can swim, fly or burrow.

Unfortunately, the game play doesn't match the title's ingenious premise.

Impossible Creatures chronicles the adventures of Rex Chance, an Indiana Jones-type character who, in the late 1930s, receives a letter from his long-lost father. In it, Dr. Chanikov begs his son to meet him on a small island in the South Pacific. It is here where Chance discovers "Sigma" technology - the ability to combine any two creatures into one.

The story-based campaign mode takes Chance on a wild ride through more than a dozen small islands, where Chance comes face-to-face with colorful characters that aren't happy to see him and bizarre creatures bred to kill.

The Island of Dr. Moreau concept is imaginative, but its execution - especially when it comes to combat - is not. Few tactics, if any, are required, and there's nothing elegant or graceful about how fighting plays out.

Winning a scuffle usually boils down to creating as many units as possible, not how clever the combinations are.

Combat would benefit from an option to align animal troops into formations so players could more effectively calculate offensive and defensive strategies.

Like other real-time strategy games, Impossible Creatures, with its 3-D graphics, requires players to harvest resources (electricity and coal), create henchmen to gather these resources and build structures (fences, lightning rods), and research technology to create more powerful creatures and stronger structures.

Gamers who aren't as interested in a story-based campaign can indulge in the "Player vs. Computer" or "Multiplayer" modes. With these, players can engage in specific battles on a chosen map. With the latter, gamers can play head-to-head against human opponents on the Internet or on a local area network.

Impossible Creatures isn't a bad game. It's actually quite fun.

Impossible Creatures is from Microsoft Games;; $39.99; rated "T" for teen

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