For this preview I checked out the Creature Lab demo, developed by Image Power. It’s a great concept. If you’ve ever fancied being on Umbrella’s side in Resident Evil, developing bio-weapons and creatures, or just fancy yourself a mad scientist, you’ll love the idea. But can the game live up to it’s promises and iron out its creases? There’s some quality of life updates that are sorely needed and we’re yet to see the best this game has to offer.
This being said, there’s a lot still to come and I think it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt. However, with high ambition comes big challenges, and that’s as true for the developers as it is for your character. With the release date still to be announced and promising images and videos of the game in development, this one might be worth keeping an eye on.
Story – Become Frankenstein
The story for this game is right up my alley. I love monsters and finally I can channel my inner Frankenstein. You play as an ethically challenged scientist who creates monsters in a secret lab. Once you have perfected your creation you can send them on missions. This can be to gather bodies and resources for new monsters, or to assault the city and military.
It seems fairly hands off, at least in Creature Lab’s preview. You can mix and match mutagens as you see fit, and graft new limbs and appendages to your monsters the way you want. The game is also setting up a secrecy element where you must keep your lab under the radar of the authorities. It’s a strong, simple set up that many horror fans will love.
Gameplay – Mutagens, Monsters and Mundane Busy Work
The gameplay is where this ambition clashes most with the practical difficulties of a game such as this. There’s a lot of creativity available to the player. You have access to many chemicals and microbes that appear to be randomized. These can be mixed and matched to create mutagens which will change a corpse into a monster. You can also incubate new limbs to upgrade your lab grown creature. For example, large claws and pincers for more damage, or hooves to upgrade its agility.
This is all fantastic in theory. The customisability of the monsters and the decision to let the player figure out what potions mix well or counteract each other is cool. It puts the power in the players hand and lets you feel like a scientist. You aren’t spoon fed what to do with your chemicals which can be satisfying when you figure out what to do. It’s too early to say how much the player can really customise their creatures. Options are limited but it’s a preview, so what can you expect.
There’s a problem though. Whilst letting the player figure it out for themselves is great, the game needs mechanics and features that support this. Currently it’s frustrating to figure out what to do. When you analyse an ingredient you will be shown some symbols that relate to what’s in the compound. However what these symbols mean is unclear. The game helps you find out which symbols mean the ingredients will counteract each other when mixed. But anything else, from what they might do, to what symbol is the activator is difficult to figure out.
Not only this, but you need to remember which potions had which symbols which makes it all the more confusing when you have so many varieties. The game desperately needs a journal or encyclopedia to help you keep track. At the least you should be able to put a label on the chemicals flask to show which the symbols it contains. There’s no fun to be had reanalysing things repeatedly because you can’t remember which green liquid was which. Hopefully when Creature Lab is out of the demo phase it will have solved this.
The Busy Work
Another problem that needs fixing is the large amount of busy work you need to do. Most of these problems could be fixed with a simple solution. Giving the character a trolley.
The lab isn’t huge, but as things are stored in different rooms there’s a certain amount of logistics of getting chemicals from the storage room to the lab, or bodies to the basement etc. What becomes annoying though is that you can only carry one object at a time. A lot of the game time is spent going back and forth, moving one flask or limb at a time. This isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s the kind of oversight that turns off a lot of players.
The last thing to mention on the gameplay is the missions. Once you made your monster you can send them out into the world through a secret computer to gather resources or terrorise the people. What this entails is unfortunately missing from Creature Lab’s preview. You get a brief cinematic but it’s unknown whether you get to have some involvement in these events. Making the missions playable in someway would go a long way to improving this game. Currently it feels a bit too much like character creator with extra steps.
Graphics and Audio – Gross, in a Good Way
The graphics and audio are the main area where the ambition of the game looks to be realised. The visuals aren’t going to blow your mind, but they are above and beyond what I would expect from and indie sim developer. Turns out Image Power had origins as a concept art and digital painting school, and this has translated into a good-looking game. The lab is well designed and the monsters look great. There were minimal issues, I think I saw one bit of clothing clip through a body once but that’s it. I’m glad the game has the visuals to back up the concept. The corpses look gross and bloated, and the skin textures and monster designs are strong, if fairly simple and limited for the moment.
Audio is pretty good as well. The soundtrack fits the moody and maniacal. I’ve found the Creature Lab preview is a game best played at night. There’s something delightful about being in a gross lab making abominations at night and the graphics and audio work well to support this.
What’s to Come
It’s still early doors for this game. The Creature Lab preview is short and sweet, but the devs seem to have high ambitions. They claim that a campaign mode is coming, along with unique body parts to grow, thousands of mutagens to discover, a fear mechanic and a strategic element for planning raids on the city and avoiding detection.
These all sound like solid additions to the game. But this may be straying into over-promising territory. For example, thousands of mutagens is only meaningful if each offers a new type of creature, which seems unlikely. What could work for example, is letting you micromanage the mutations and limb creation (i.e. choosing the size of the pincer and getting to add serrations or more crush damage).
Creature Lab was previewed on steam with a key provided by Image Power