Set in the 1930s, Impossible Creatures is a 3D, real-time strategy game that pits the player against an evil villain in a desperate campaign across a chain of remote and diverse islands. With a strong backing from Microsoft Game Studios, and with Relic Entertainment's own Alex Garden on the job, Impossible Creatures was set out to redefine the RTS genre. Does it live up to the expectations?
As with most RTS games, the player is given the option of choosing either a campaign mode, a 'skirmish' like Human vs CPU mode or a multiplayer mode. Out of the three, it is apparent that the most attention went into the campaign mode's story line, but that is not to say the other modes are lacking.
After the game reveals the story behind the campaign mode you are pretty much thrown into the action without a second to spare. After your flying train thingy lands down your objectives are given and the constructing, gathering and training can begin.
Although from the main menu you have access to combine any creature in the game, in campaign mode you must gradually collect the animals one by one. This is done by a genetic dart gun, which shoots the animal with a non lethal shot and collects the important DNA data to begin the process. By the way, the actual process of combining animals in this game is called the 'Sigma Technology', which was a major part of the games previous title before being renamed to Impossible Creatures.
One disappointment I came across regarding the animal combiner was the fact you can only combine two animals at once, meaning you can't mix a tiger, a snake and a bee all in one. Although you can still create some far out there wacky creatures, it would have been cool if you could combine an array of animals. The game claims to have a limitless amount of possible combinations, but seeing that only two can be combined that isn't exactly true as there is a definite figure on that. If you had the choice to combine say five different animals that limitless claim would be much closer to the truth. However in reality, there are still a huge amount of possible combinations with only two animals, perhaps any more would simply be overkill.
When combining your two animals you have the choice to change five major locations on the created beast. These consist of the head, front legs, torso, back legs and tail. Depending on what animals you choose these locations will allow for different attacks. For example, if you cross a bee and a tiger you can choose to have a bee's front legs hence allowing the beast to have wings, which will give it aerial attacks. While on the other hand, choosing to have a tigers front legs will give good claw attacks, so as you can see it is entirely up to you. The best method is combining two animals which have entirely different main attacks, like a skunk and a shark, where a skunk's tail and front legs combined with a sharks head would pair up to create an obvious kickass land creature.
Once you have done your desired genetic mutations you must build the appropriate creature factories to produce the animals, which consists of land, water and air factories. After constructing these and a few other buildings there isn't much more to do but create animals and fight the enemies, as your range of buildings are pretty limited. On top of that, technology advancements are easily come by and take only short periods of time to research, leaving the true RTS style gamer a little bored. It was expressed that Impossible Creatures doesn't focus on the micromanagement like most RTS games well before release, but it is really the foundation of a solid RTS game.
Multiplayer and CPU vs Human modes are practically the same, you chose a map with the ability to host a maximum of 6 players and get the game under way. In these game modes you are not required to hunt down the DNA of animals, rather you are given access to every animal straight away to prevent any unnecessary fuss, which was a good decision by Relic. However the same problems of quick advancements and limited buildings found in campaign are present, but atleast now you have 5 other opponents to worry about. Games generally don't last as long as your usual RTS game which can be a good or bad thing depending on what type of RTS gamer you are. One thing is for sure, seeing as there are loads of different animals combinations you will never likely play the same created animals again which leads to some pretty solid gameplay.
Visually Impossible Creatures doesn't exactly impress but it does a fine job. Upon installing the game you are required to install DirectX 9, which is found on the CD, so I guess I came into the game expecting some pretty advanced graphics, which is why I wasn't overly impressed when I found nothing spectacular. The creatures you combine during gameplay come out looking very nice indeed, with models and textures morphing together creating a somewhat realistic look, despite the fact a crocodile crossed with a dragon fly is anything but realistic.
Being an RTS game, the controls in Impossible Creatures are really only basic clicks and mouse drags. However the other part of the controlling system is the camera control, which is implemented reasonably well. Basically, controlling the camera is the same as most RTS games - place the mouse on any edge of the viewable screen and it will scroll that way, while you can zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. However rotating the camera will involve holding down ALT while moving the mouse, which isn't your common camera rotation method but it works better than expected.
Impossible Creatures was set out to totally shake the RTS genre, and although it didn't quite achieve that, it does offer some solid gameplay with a very unique twist. From the seemingly endless pattern of rigid RTS titles being released, one could be forgiven for forgetting just how imaginative a RTS game can be, which is certainly the selling point for Impossible Creatures. Don't buy it to immerse yourself in RTS glory, because Impossible Creatures doesn't thrive on RTS perfection, just buy it so you can say "I've played what could very well be the most creative PC game in 2003".