By: Justin Hobley
Impossible Creatures is a real-time strategy game, originally produced by Relic Entertainment in January 2003. Now, Nordic Games has re-released Impossible Creatures on Steam with enhancements to ensure that its dedicated fan base can continue to strategize and pit its titular impossible creatures against friends and computer-controlled opponents on modern operating systems. The Steam edition also includes the Insect Invasion expansion content that followed the original release.
The control scheme in Impossible Creatures is relatively robust as it takes advantage of the majority of the player’s keyboard. With a very limited exception to what can’t be remapped, one could possibly map nearly every action to a keystroke.
Exceptions are visible in the options screen: there are non-modifiable camera control and selection keys, as well as a non-modifiable Group Selection option, each represented with a padlock logo. While this does block users from changing the camera panning keys if they have a preference to pan from the left side of the keyboard using WSAD or ZQSD, Impossible Creatures does make up for it by providing an easy to read mini-map that’ll allow players to lay in most types of movement and pan to a location without needing to let go of the mouse.
Considering the age of Impossible Creatures, the graphics are well done, with the Steam edition taking on a small update to allow the overall view of the game to shine through on modern systems.
Perhaps the biggest downside that wasn’t addressed as part of the update is that if the player has any form of red-green color blindness, this game may prove difficult to play. Player-owned facilities and built monsters are tagged with small amounts of green, whereas enemy-controlled entities are marked with red. There are no game options that allow the player to adjust this in single-player mode. In multiplayer, discussing this with fellow players before the game starts may help avoid potential issues.
Sound is a mixed bag. The varied creature sounds were simple, and given the types of creatures, fitting. As you play through, however, you may find yourself turning off the voice acting when possible. Hearing “The critters are under attack!”every 10-15 seconds can become grating on the nerves.
In single-player mode, the story starts with Rex Chance on a mission to find his father after receiving a strange letter from the man he long thought dead. Dr. Chanikov sent his son a letter that implored Rex to visit and find out more about him.
Said letter that led Rex to seek the island introduces our titular Impossible Creatures as Rex stumbles upon a tube containing a cross between a tiger and a praying mantis in his father’s lab, and he’s then accosted by a man that knows more about him than he does this stranger.
From here, you’re introduced to your new sidekick, Dr. Lucy Willing, swooping in on a flying train to save the day. While helping Rex escape from the monster controlling reveal of Upton Julius, our antagonist, she further introduces Rex to the concept of Sigma technology, which is used to create the crossed-up creatures.
As the player, learning to use Rex to gather DNA from various animals and combine it into unique species combinations is very important, because your fighting will be done with those creature combinations in this real-time strategy game.
Impossible Creatures’ gameplay hinges on the player understanding that it is worth deliberating over their creature combinations as the missions go on, culling poor combos, encouraging the strong ones, and does a rather effective job at hinting this: Rex’s only early game ability is to collect the genetic material of random normal creatures. In addition, requiring you to acquire and combine DNA to complete specific actions that progress the game helps to guide the player on how to combine creatures.
As you combine and experiment, check the army analyzer as you play.This tool can provide useful hints as to the strength of your army as you progress.
While playing Impossible Creatures, I found the AI to be too aggressive, capable of throwing wave after wave of high-powered creatures distressingly early in the game while I fought to keep more than three or four creatures on the playfield at a time. That leads to levels that were drawn out matches lasting an hour or more. It detracts from single player as it drags out the overall story.
As single player consists of 14 missions, Impossible Creatures should provide a decent amount of solo play time once you develop a method of dealing with the enemy waves. With the release of the Steam edition, network play was enabled again to allow players from all over the world get together and match wits as they smash creature DNA together for maximum effect.
Hats off to Nordic Games for the work they did to refresh a rather unique entry into the real-time strategy genre, listening to existing fans and possibly gaining more with the re-release of a classic title. If you’re in the mood to sit down with a game that benefits from planning several steps ahead, Impossible Creatures certainly fits that bill.