by Microsoft Game Studios
Real-time strategy games have come thick and fast over the last few years. It's a genre that's matured over that time too. Age of Empires and it's sequel, took the principles of Blizzard's Warcraft and honed them to almost perfection. Recently we have had Age of Mythology and yet again it's a game that has moved the RTS benchmark upward. If any developer is going to make a game stand out in this very busy genre, it's going to have to be both different and have all the ingredients of a very special RTS game. Let's have a look to see if Impossible Creatures can satisfy these two prerequisites.
Much has been made about the nature of Impossible Creatures. Unlike other RTS games your units are not predefined/pre-constructed. In fact they are not even human or machines. In Impossible Creatures your units, for the most part anyway are animals. Don't get the wrong idea though because this isn't a question of merely using lions to fight tigers. You have to collect DNA samples of animals and then mix any two to create a unique animal. The purpose behind this mixing, is to create a unique animal that has the qualities and advantages of both of the animals that were used in the mix.
Like all RTS games, Impossible Creatures is made up of multiplayer, skirmish and campaigns modes. The campaign mode is set in 1937 and centres around Rex Chance, a world adventurer and war correspondent. Rex receives word from his long lost father and decides to go and look for him. What occurs though is anything but a cosy reunion and soon Rex is in mortal danger when faced with an example of the Sigma Technology. This technology is the fusing together of two animal species to create a unique animal. When he's about to be mauled by what looks like a herd of a lions crossed with a scorpion, he's rescued by a young female scientist, (in what looks like a flying steam locomotive) called Lucy Willing and this is where the story begins.
Before we go on to talk about the gameplay it's worth congratulating the developers on both the beautiful graphics and the wonderful interface that is without a doubt the best ever seen in a RTS game. Take a look at the following interface bar.
Starting on the left side of the screen you'll notice two icons, one orange and one green. The orange icons let you know of events that need your urgent attention such as your animals being under attack or Lucy or Rex are in trouble. Clicking on these orange icons will take you directly to the event. Right clicking on the icon will simply remove it. The green icon let's you know of events that are not quite as important such as one of your characters being idle and requiring fresh orders as well as notifying you of when research has been completed. In the centre of the screen is the mini-map. Around the mini-map is the group selection hotkeys. Like in most RTS games you can assign numbers to groups and individuals, in order to quickly select them. Of course you then have to press the specific number to reselect them at a later time. The numbers around the mini-map correspond to the group numbers you've created. Clicking the number 3 for instance will select group 3 whilst double clicking on the number will select that group and take you directly to their location. Moving to the right side of the screen, next to the menu button, there's a recall speech button. All the text that has been shown in subtitles can be recalled here. The next button is the mission objectives button. Clicking this will recall the mission and bonus objectives. If new objectives are given you will receive a green icon on the left side of the screen and this mission objectives button will also flash. The button on the far right of the screen is the Army Management button that takes you to the screen where you can mix and match your animals. All in all a deaf gamer friendly, and altogether impressive interface. If I have one niggle with the interface, it would have to be that the pop-up help text is too small to read on a 17" monitor at the 1024x768 screen resolution and the colour of it makes visibility a little awkward at times.
As we have already mentioned the eye catching feature of the game is to create your own animals using a blend of any two that you can extract a genetic sample from. Basically what the game does is to allow you to create your own units to undertake the task at hand. After Rex has collected some genetic samples it's time to click on the Army management button. From the screen that pops up, you click on the combiner button. After selecting two animals you are taken to a screen that allows you to mix and match the various parts of the body to create the desired creature with the desired attributes. The possibilities are almost endless and a single combination of two animals could result in a range of species in itself. Without a doubt this ability to create your own units is perhaps the best single feature of the game itself. During the game you'll have to do some research to be able to build certain animal combinations and even then there are devices that can be built, such as the Genetic Amplifier, which can give a temporary boost to your animals attributes. On the Army management screen there is also an option to premix and match any animal within the game. In fact you can create your own army and save them to be recalled at a later date. The game comes with an impressive assortment of pre-created armies for a variety of occasions. You can even analyse your army to find out it's strengths and weaknesses.
Of course having read the previous paragraph you'll probably think this is going to be the greatest RTS ever, and it would be if it wasn't for the extremely basic combat. After all the unit creation and fine tuning to your army the combat is no more than selecting your units and piling them into the opposition. There is no formation control and no real depth to the combat. This isn't too damaging to the gameplay experience but nevertheless it takes the shine off the game somewhat. Your units have the option to patrol, guard etc. but it would have been great, if probably unrealistic if formations had been included. As it is you spend a while creating your creatures only for them to be slain in seconds, which takes the satisfaction out of it somewhat. Don't get me wrong it's still a very good game and this basic combat makes you think about your unit creation a heck of a lot more. You can pause the game and give orders. However a game of this detail and originality deserves a better combat system than it no better than the one in the original Age of Empires.
Graphically the game is very impressive and I would stick my neck out and say that the graphics here are more impressive than in Age of Mythology. The game is hugely configurable in this respect and the display resolution can be turned down to 800x600 with details and textures being fully adjustable should your system need them to be lowered, or increased. I played the game at 1024x768 in 32bit colour and it was not only beautiful to look at but also very smooth too. The detail on the animals and terrain is incredible and very pleasing to the eye. In fact the whole look of the game is first class from the stylised drawings to the 3D cutscenes to the in game engine its all brilliant.
On the whole the game is good for deaf gamers but there are a few disappointments. The introduction, which is quite lengthy, isn't subtitled and although it can be skipped if you so desire it robs you of the background story to the campaign. For a brief summary of what the introduction contains read the third paragraph of this review. For the most part the other cutscenes are subtitled with the photograph of the character displayed next to the speech. There are some cutscenes which begin with stylised drawings and one of the characters giving you some background information and these are not subtitled. In the single player skirmish mode when you click on one of the characters to select their army, they make comments and these aren't subtitled. During the game the verbal unit confirmations (where you give an order to a unit and they reply with OK, or words to that effect) are not subtitled but this isn't really a problem. On the positive side though, and as we mentioned in the paragraph on the interface, the speech (which is subtitled) can be recalled and mission objectives can be recalled at any time. All information in the Army Management screens is text only.
We have talked about the campaign mode but there is also a single player skirmish mode as well as a multiplayer mode. You can play against upto 5 AI opponents, on a variety of maps, in the single player skirmish modes and either choose a character's army to fight with or load up one of your own. The multiplayer modes on offer are Destroy enemy lab , Destroy enemy base, which both speak for themselves, and Hunt Rex (each player has their own Rex Chance and the objective here is to safeguard your own whilst killing your rivals). These modes round off the overall package quite nicely and it will be interesting to see gamer's unique army creations whilst online.
Game Rating: 8.0/10