The Evolution Will Not Be Televised. Preview

The Evolution Will Not Be Televised.

Genetic science routinely crops up in the headlines. One week a few doctors clone

a pig; several weeks later, they build a better goat. Moral issues notwithstanding,

it seems like a lot of fun to play god and tinker with the building blocks of

life.

The thing is, very, very few of us are qualified to do that sort of thing

legally, even with one of those cool mail-order science degrees. But fear not,

would-be Dr. Frankensteins - the good folks over at Microsoft are one step ahead

of the game. The proof? Impossible Creatures, an upcoming strategy game

that will make Darwin roll over in his grave.

The combination process is all about streamlining and efficiency. Each animal

is 'rated' at one of 5 levels; the tougher the animal, the higher the level

(a rat is level 1, a sperm whale is level 5). When you combine two creatures,

you have to deal with the potential increase in level. During play, you have

to spend resources to research different levels before you're able to produce

those units. A rat might be level 1, but a rat with the head of a spitting cobra

will probably be higher.

The mad scientist in you really comes to the surface while trying to build

the perfect creature, and it's quite simply a blast. So far, my pride and joy

is a Poison Frog Eagle, a slice of flying hell with the body of an eagle and

the head of a poisonous frog. It's relatively cheap and very brutal, flying

around in packs and using its long frog tongue to kiss land creatures with vicious

frog juice.

Ultimately, the game is all about building armies of units. You can pick preset

armies or build your own. Though the game only supports armies made up of 9

different kinds of units, you'll rarely end up building them all in one game.

No worries, though, since armies can be edited endlessly. If your Gorilla Wolf

isn't working out as well as you imagined, then just dump him in the trash and

build a better, stronger, faster gorilla, perhaps this time with the ass of

a skunk.

Once you get past the incredibly robust unit creator, you'll find a very pretty

3D RTS. An impressive zoom will allow you to see the action from high above

for strategic purposes or down on the ground to watch the carnage up close.

The morphing system for combined creatures is particularly cool, as textures

and different creature limbs meld and mesh into one another almost seamlessly.

The engine is built with MODing in mind, so expect to see plenty of design tools

made available after the game comes out.

Impossible Creatures will feature a 15 mission Campaign as well as

plenty of stand alone single-player maps. Multiplayer through a LAN or online

will also be possible, allowing you to show off your latest freaks to the world.

Having first seen this game several years ago at E3, I'm really pleased with its progress from grandiose vision to streamlined reality. As opposed to Homeworld's complexity, Impossible Creatures is easy to pick up and play and the games rarely last longer than about an hour. Above all else, the creative take on the joys of genetics sets it apart from the pack...or the flock...or the pride...or whatever group your new animal travels in. The re-evolution of the strategy game is set to hit stores later this year.