Strafe, kick, kick, kick. Yawn.
After a small taste of Nightmare Creatures on the Sony Playstation, I was eager to get my hands on the 3D accelerated PC version. Set in spooky nineteenth-century London, Nightmare Creatures puts you in control of the beautiful, fencing gymnast Nadia or the man-of-God, staff-wielding Ignatius. Your goal: wipe out the nightmare creatures and their evil father, Adam Crowley. Though the mood of this gothic bloodbash is closer to Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark, my brief experience with the console game led me to believe that Activision's new title might actually bridge the gap between the exploratory wonder of Tomb Raider and the all-out brawl of Tekken 2. OK. OK. Perhaps this was a bit much to ask. But why not? After all, didn't Activision do a darn good job of mixing first-person shooter action with puzzles and RPG-style character classes in Hexen II? My Diamond Monster 3Dfx was just itching to get its chips on Nightmare Creatures.
When I first popped in the CD I was surprised to find a 2 MB install option. Quite sure it would be virtually unplayable, I chose it anyway. (Remember folks, this is work -- a dutiful reviewer must try out all the possibilities.) Surprise! Nightmare Creatures ran quickly and efficiently on my modest 12X CD ROM. Just like the console, the soundtrack is excellent and eerie. And, just like the console, the beautifully textured gothic scenery is smooth as butter, the evil nasties are richly detailed and your own character is almost as graceful as your favorite heroes from Tekken 2 or Soul Blade. In fact, with the exception of the opening FMV cinematic, the graphics are an exact replica of the console game minus the home-TV blur.
The story that moves Nightmare Creatures -- the Frankenstein-esque Dr. Adam Crowley unleashing a demonic horde on an unsuspecting newly Victorian London -- sounds cheesy and, of course, it is. By the end of the game you'll be knee-deep in the Camembert. Surprisingly, however, the occasional mini-movies and unfolding of the basic plot almost manage to generate some interest. It is quite disappointing then, that Nightmare Creatures doesn't quite make the grade as either a fighting game or an adventure.
The problem here is that Nightmare Creatures is just too simple. Unlike Tomb Raider, where exploring the massive and beautiful levels was most of the fun, the less intricate maze-like levels in Nightmare Creatures do not offer any significant challenges or puzzles. Beautiful as they are, you are forced to run through each level as fast as you can -- if you don't, your adrenaline level falls and you'll be too weak to attack the many monsters populating the various streets, sewers, and graveyards. The simple level design might not be so bad if combat were more interesting, but it doesn't take long to realize that the various combos and special moves available to each character are not required to win the game. Once you get in the first hit, almost all monsters can be destroyed with a series of strafes followed by triple kicks and triple punches. If this doesn't work the guns, dynamite or proximity mines will do the trick. Though this makes the learning curve much easier than a game like Masters of Teras Kasi or Virtua Fighter 2, it also makes Nightmare Creatures one boring fighting game.
If this weren't enough, Nightmare Creatures is plagued with a host of other problems. Though unrealistic clipping and bad camera angles are not as common as they are in Tomb Raider, they still exist here. Unfortunately, this is the least of the game's problems. Here's the worst: I spent hours and hours trying to make jumps that were no sweat on the console game. The only solution I could find was to exploit a game bug to get past it. This is not a challenge, this is just bad design. Since you can't save the game mid-level, these kinds of problems (yes, it happens more than once) are exponentially annoying -- you'll have to play the whole level numerous times just to lose all your lives on the one jump you can't make. That's not all. Nightmare Creatures suffers from control problems. Trying to pull off complex moves on the keyboard is a nightmare in its own right. I couldn't get most of the advanced combos to work using the keyboard, and the game only supports gamepads with ten buttons. Mine only has six, so I was out of luck. Why couldn't the programmers allow you to use a combination of keyboard and gamepad? It all suggests that the PC version of Nightmare Creatures is a slapped together port with little thought given to the needs of the Windows platform.
I wish I could say the hybridization of fighting action an exploratory adventure works for Nightmare Creatures, but it doesn't. This game has good potential and with a few minor fixes it could be a respectable title. Chances are, however, we'll never see these improvements. The only games that seem to get patched these days are those that have extended play life and a fanatical user base (namely, first person shooters, online games, sports and flight sims). Since Nightmare Creatures isn't the sort of game that has much replay value (you'd probably never play it more than three or four days) the likelihood of a patch is scarce. Besides, a simple title like this should have been perfect upon release. Recommended for closet goths and diehard gore fans only.