Impossible Creatures Review (PC)

Set in the late 30's and featuring granite jawed hero, Rex Chance, Impossible Creatures sets out to achieve what no other Strategy game has done yet - total control over your units (creatures) in all aspects. The very idea of being able to design a creature from scratch by combining two animals chosen from a fairly comprehensive list in any fashion that you choose left me drooling at the thought & eager to install the game. As you would expect from any game with Microsoft's backing, the install is fluid & easy and it is not long before Relics professionalism shows through.

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Choosing the Campaign option sends you off into a whole new world of comic book graphics and sort of semi animated cut scenes that sets the game ambience perfectly (very familiar to any Homeworld fans), with a 30's style jazz riff going on in the background that will soon have you tapping your fingers along to it. Rex soon finds himself in trouble and is saved by Doctor Lucy Willing, who arrives in a flying steam train very reminiscent of the one in BTTF3. From here on the game starts 'proper' as Rex & Lucy teamup to thwart the baddies & discover just what has happened to his father.

As in most strat. games, you will need resources to be able to accomplish anything, & in IC, they come in 2 flavours, Coal & Electricity. Lucy soon turns out to be a jack of all trades and is quite happy digging out the coal & erecting buildings while Rex is off exploring. You soon gain the use of henchmen to give poor old Lucy a rest though and it is not very long before the wonders of Sigma technology are revealed to Rex & the fun really starts.

Gameplay is smooth & neat. You get an initial cutscene & your flying lab sets down on the target island. You are then set your objectives for the scenario & its time to decide the best way to achieve them. Getting the 'economy' up & running is a must - no resources = no creatures = wipeout quickly. Initially, Lucy will be building & mining while Rex is off getting DNA samples from the creatures roaming the islands. As soon as the resources are available, you need to research differing stages of Sigma technology to develop better creatures, as well as other research & building improvements needed to keep one step ahead of your rival. The learning curve is set just right and it doesn't take too long to be running things like a complete pro.

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The real fun comes from the Army Builder however, as it is here that you design the 'pets' you will use to decimate your opponent. Once Rex has collected a couple of samples, you can then start mixing to your hearts content. Each animal has its own strengths & weaknesses which are 'allocated' to various parts of their bodies. By chopping & changing these parts you create creatures that combine all the skills etc that you require. As you change your creature, so the image adjusts to reflect your changes, and you can rotate it to view from just about any angle. Once you are happy with your creation, a name is allocated (Crocolobster or the like, although you can create your own), it is saved & then available for 'building' (if you have the correct technology level). Despite this versatility however, you will soon find, in the campaign game at least, that you tend to stick with the stronger, tried & trusted creatures (those that can regenerate and/or have powerful ranged attack).

The hybrids are created in one of three types of Creature Chamber (land, water & air) and you must have built both of the chambers needed to assemble your hybrid (if it is a cross strain one, i.e. air/water). Each creature costs a certain amount of resources to build, the more powerful, the more expensive. Groups of creatures can be selected & grouped in the usual ways, as well as assigned guard/patrol duties.

With such a vast choice of units, you would expect the battles to be on a gigantic, epic scale, but unfortunately, they all seem to be over very quickly, with a complete army easily being wiped out in a matter of seconds, rather than minutes. Because of this, gameplay can at times seem completely frenetic, a mad scramble to build, build, build just to avoid being overrun.

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The graphics are, as you would expect, superb, with a slightly cartoonish / Disneyesque feel. Camera control being fluid with zooming in & out following the normal mouse wheel movement. Sounds, on the whole, are a slight let down. Although the musical score is excellent, the grunts & roars from the creatures never quite seem to match what you would expect. Character voices range from the slightly comical, subservient henchman, to Rex's gung ho style. It only took about 2 levels for me to heartily sick of Lucy's "for science" every time you ask her to do anything.

Overall, the game plays well, although experienced players will be left feeling a little 'flat' as there does not appear to be enough in the way of micromanagement to keep up the interest - it appears that just one little generator can run any amount of electrical/defensive structures. You are also left with the impression that things haven't been taken as far as they could - the ability to combine pairs of hybrid creatures etc for instance (but maybe that will come in an ICII).

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