During my life I've played many games, some of them are full of artistic expression and offer intriguing stories, successfully challenging mainstream gaming concepts and preconceptions, and there are some that are just meant for casual fun. Right in the middle of this spectrum we find Impossible Creatures, certainly one of the most unique games that I've played in a few years.
Impossible Creatures is a Real-Time Strategy game made by Relic Entertainment, better known for classics such as Homeworld and Company of Heroes. Around the time this game was released (2002), players were complaining over the stagnation of the RTS genre, so Relic Entertainment created a system where instead of having pre-made combat units, you can create your own by combining the DNA of creatures you've previously collected. Apart from this significant difference, Impossible Creatures plays like any RTS, collecting resources, maintaining and defending your base from an onslaught of enemy attacks, all while expanding your control of the map and the extra resources contained within it. The faster you take control, the bigger your army can grow and the sooner you'll destroy the enemy. A tried and tested formula we all know well.
So... what's it about?
While being a game mostly focused on individual matches and online competitive play, Impossible Creatures also features a campaign inspired by 1930's pulp fiction. It revolves around our main character "Rex Chance" going to the Isla Variatas archipelago to look for his missing father, who once developed a technology capable of creating combinations of creatures using their DNA. Along the way, he and his partner "Lucy Willing" also have to worry about "Upton Julius" who wants to take over the world using the Sigma Technology.
This plot shouldn't really be taken very seriously - it doesn't even take itself seriously. The plot is revealed through cut scenes before and after each battle using either still images or rendered in-game graphics. These are also fully voice acted, something uncommon for RTS games at the time. The plot is dumb, silly, and goofy, but its self awareness gives it the right amount of charm to make it special. There are enough twists and turns to keep things interesting along the way.
The voice acting is also surprisingly decent. It's camp, but the voices fit their characters well and give each an individual personality. If I had an issue with the voice acting, it would be that characters often repeat their lines when performing actions, and some characters are just hilariously bad.
How does it look?
Just like the plot, the art style of this game is heavily inspired by 1930's pulp fiction. Character designs are unique enough and the environments are varied and vibrant, giving each battle a distinctive feel. The graphics are okay (even for 2002), most of the environments and character textures hold up, but the low-poly character models and low texture quality of the environments give away the age of this game. These compromises are forgivable though, considering the game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second even when there's a lot going on.
And the gameplay?
As mentioned before, Impossible Creatures plays like any other RTS, except you can create your own customized army of creatures. This is the best feature of the game, since the amount of creatures you can make is impressive (especially for 2002). The tiniest detail can have a great impact on a creature's stats and skills, making the creation process a huge part of the strategy.
Armies are well balanced, since stronger enemies require more resources to produce (and therefore take longer to create), while weaker enemies are cheap, so you can make more of them. There are a few exceptions to this, in particular flying creatures (and larger creatures) can feel overpowered at times.
Unfortunately, mission objectives wind up being not varied, since they all revolve around doing the same thing - destroying the enemy base - which becomes tedious as the campaign goes on. And talking about the campaign, there is a glaring difficulty spike from the second level, as too many new concepts are introduced in a short time-frame. Another issue is that, since creature creation is inherently so varied, spotting the weaknesses of your enemies is not intuitive, which leads to incorporation of trial and error 'tactics'.
The game is controlled using the mouse, and the interface is generally good, except for times when it's cluttered by menus. This game has a lot of replay value, with a Player vs AI and and a Multiplayer component. Both are solid enough if you want to have a quick or casual match. I do have to mention that the multiplayer component's servers are empty when I checked, so unless you host a server to play with your friends, it'll just be unavailable.
Impossible Creatures was a fun and interesting experience. I love the creature creation aspects of the gameplay, and the RTS elements are sound if nothing new. It's story and presentation were also a fun and engaging to experience. Yet in the end it's difficulty spikes, trial and error gameplay, lack of variety in terms of objectives and awkward camera controls really did hinder my experience. I recommend this game to either players who are new to the RTS genre and want something relatively simple to get into, or seasoned RTS players who want something original and unique. I also recommend playing this game in short bursts, since extended playtimes can become tedious due to the length and difficulty of the campaign's missions and the patience required to beat them.
And hey, I did manage to create a Dragonfly and Hyena hybrid creature and its name was john cena.