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Cross a Baboon with an Archer Fish and you get ...
A wild idea by developer Relic Entertainment (creators of Homeworld), and published by Microsoft Games, Impossible Creatures is an RTS where players get to custom build their own animal units and pit them against each other. This is an RTS where you assemble your units from a library of existing animals. For example, you can mix parts of an archer fish with a baboon (see right) or fuse a mountain goat with an owl (bottom right). There's a huge number of possible unit combinations you can come up with, all which take existing attributes and abilities and mix them together in new forms.

Impossible Creatures takes the basic premise of the Island of Doctor Moreau and develops it into an easily accessible and smartly put together game. The crazy animals and island setting is reminiscent of Black & White minus the psychology tests (or any kind of ambivalent edge), the game engine and graphics begin where WarCraft III stops, and the single player campaign uses a mad inventor plot starring a rather nice young, heroic couple who could have stepped out of any modern animated Disney film. There's a collection of stereotyped, comedy villains to deal with, and a fantastical flying locomotive for a headquarters. Its housed in an Art Deco 30's retro matinee with rich colours and a snappy soundtrack. Impossible Creatures is a slick RTS designed to attract the general public. It lacks that "hard core" feel (for want of a better word) that usually screens out casual game players.

Even so, its not that radical, in spite of its wild unit creation. There's a lot of familiar territory here; the economic and research models are very "typical" of the real time strategy genre. The deposits of Coal and Geysers look like they came straight out of StarCraft after a quick paint job. The lightning towers and geothermal plant felt very Total Annihilation. There are gangs of Henchmen digging coal, building and repairing buildings, and even attending to injured animals. You get specialised buildings and defences that offer new build trees or upgrades to existing units. Impossible Creatures looks and feels like a superior version of WarCraft III; a seamless and cartoony 3D world of island maps to play in, except Relic is offering something quite genuinely new.

A Ram mixed with a Barn Owl...
Combining animals together is at the heart of this game: everything else is just there to let you do it without having to learn anything new. You have to completely devise, develop and produce your own forces from scratch, unless you opt to use pre-existing armies in skirmish mode. This allows you to create an entire force to your own specs, or the needs of the map; and it gives players a tremendous scope for experimentation to produce their own signature forces. You can only squish two different animals together at a time (damn!), but there are absolutely no restrictions on what you can cross and even two animals can give you a lot of options. The system of combining different animals together and producing your own armies is simple and lots of fun, and lets you easily massage those vital statistics and special abilities to give your creatures that tactical edge.

Each animal's DNA offers a different set of attributes: electric eels give a creature an electrical attack; a chameleon camoflauge; a tiger a pounce attack; a bear lots of health points; or a lemming the ability to burrow. You can cross an orca with a wolf so it can walk across land and have acute hearing; or cross a fish with a bird and have it fly and swim. With very little effort you can generate some outlandish monsters. Despite the fact players are ordering animals to fight each other to the death, this is all Family Safe: there's no blood or fuss (bodies fade away very discreetly) and there's lots of weird spells and Pokémon style attacks, all staged within that clean cut, sumptuous cartoon fantasy world mentioned before. The engine is excellent, playing on my older PC with a surprising amount of fluidity, and the game mechanics seem sound. The basic idea is superb, offering something different - but still playable - for a change. About the only downside is that a lot of people prefer their RTS units pre-built, and having to completely devise your own is going to put some people off. Still, Impossible Creatures is definitely recommended, but it does feel pitched towards the kiddies. The demo clocks in at 285Mb.

There's an expansion: Insect Invasion, adding 15 insect bodies, 6 new map environments and 9 new animal abilities to dabble with. This expansion relies on the gaming being patched to version 1.1.

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Last modified Tue, Sep 27 2005 by Lindsay Fleay