It’s not easy to break the mold, especially in the real-time strategy and shooter genre. You can improve the graphics and sound, but at the core we have not seen anything too new for a number of years.
Impossible Creatures does bring new and exciting elements to the table, much to the joy of tired tank-rushing RTS gamers. The two interesting elements are that you can combine real-world creatures in a primitive lab to create just the right behemoths of destruction, and the fact that you have to use real-world creatures and their abilities to do it without the aid of machine guns, rocket launchers or technology.
There is even a plot to the game, though like most RTSs and current presidents, the plot is used mostly an excuse to get to the war. You play a Brandon Frasier look-alike in the 1930s who travels to a remote island to find his missing father. What he finds instead is a mad doctor and tons of misshaped creatures like tiger scorpions trying to kill him. At the last moment he is rescued by a Rachael Weisz-looking character (someone at the developer really likes The Mummy movies) and taken to safety.
But of course safety is a relative term. The mad scientist and his minions start sending their creatures to your island and you need to build your own oddities to defend yourself. Thankfully the missing father worked with your new sidekick on the same DNA-from-heck project, so you can get up and running in no time.
The game is played in a top-down interface like most RTS games. The graphics are outstanding and you can rotate your camera view in any direction. As an added element to the single-player experience, your main character needs to go around with a tranquilizer gun and gather samples of animals for the lab. Once you obtain a sample, you can mix that animal with others to get the desired effect.
The real fun comes in the lab, where you do your mix and matching. The goal is to maximize the advantages of a new creature by keeping the best parts of the first animal and eliminating its deficiencies by replacing them with a second. As an example, a tiger in the game has a powerful claw attack, but the hyena has a better bite. The solution is to up a hyena head onto a tiger body for a higher attack value.
Some creatures have special abilities, so long as you keep their special ability part intact. Put a skunk tail onto a tiger and you have a creature that can attack fairly well, and create a stinking cloud as well. Sometimes you only change one part. The chimpanzees are great creatures because they are one of the few missile troops in the game because they can throw rocks. If you combine them with a giraffe head, you get a much stronger unit because the long necks of the giraffe increase their sight range, a huge advantage for missile troops.
You can change the head, front legs, torso, rear legs, tail and any special abilities like wings between the two original creatures. When you do, you are given a picture of what the new creatures will look like and a chart telling you how much the change will improve or weaken the original design. There are almost always going to be tradeoffs. For example, you can make crocodiles fly with dragonfly wings, but it will make them more fragile creatures overall with fewer hit points.
The trick is to develop an army that suits your play style. Perhaps you want an army with all special abilities like putting electric eel tails onto gorillas, or a flying or burrowing force, or even one that is full of front-line brutes. Finding a set of animals that works for you is a big part of the fun.
To tell the truth, I was a bit disappointed at the plug and play nature of the customization. I was expecting more freedom in making creatures other than just combining five elements. Plus, I wanted to go back and recombine my creations with new animals, though I suppose the ability to do this would result in some type of uber-creature that was mathematically the toughest in the game, and everyone would just use it. Older games like War, Inc. and Tribal used to let you create units pretty much from scratch, but neither was too successful, so perhaps players don’t want to need an engineering degree to create their armies.
In multiplayer, you don’t have to collect the DNA strands like you do in the single player mode. Instead, you have the complete library of animals at your disposal, plus any blueprints that you keep in your personal zoo. It’s probably best to come to the table with your creatures ready to roll, cause your opponents probably will.
Like most RTS games, you have to mine resources. Thankfully, there are only two: electricity and coal. Coal is mined and electricity is captured by lightning rods and generators built over geothermal vents. You also have to improve the technology level of your home lab, the equivalent of advancing to a new era in Age of Empires, by spending resources. This gives you access to more powerful creatures to be combined and built.
You also have a few side buildings that can be created to enhance your creatures or improve your bases defenses. These give you things like radar so you won’t be surprised by flying creatures, or the ability to increase the size or efficiency of the creatures in your army.
In multiplayer, games seemed balanced. For every creature, you can create something to counter it given enough time and practice. Oftentimes the winner is the player with the most diverse zoo, so he can attack either early or late in the game with creatures that fit the given situation. And you have to love an RTS that lets you win a large part of the battle in the war room, or at least the war lab. Impossible Creatures earns 4.5 GiN Gems for putting the thought back into the RTS genre, and making it fun as well.