Review: Deadly Creatures (Wii)

Every arachnophobe's worst nightmare brought to life...

Deadly Creatures got a lot of attention in 2008 due to the novel scenario of putting the player in control of a creepy-crawly arachnid, rather than the usual space marine or swashbuckling hero. Why this hasn't been done more often in the post 8-bit gaming world isn't clear - maybe all the horsepower of newer gaming consoles has reduced the imagination of game designers. Developer Rainbow and publisher THQ should be commended for making an effort at doing something different if nothing else; thankfully the game is good enough to deserve more than that.

Once loaded, it's quickly apparent that a lot of attention has gone into the look of the game. The game's titular beasties can be heard in full surround off-screen before making their appearance on the opening title screen,something sure to creep out anyone who is less than comfortable being up close and personal with animals owning more than four legs. It's worth waiting to press A just to see all the expertly rendered critters as they parade by - some of which appear to be attempting to come through the tv screen to say "hi!"

Once into the game the visuals stand out as among the best on the Wii. The detail in the environments is impressive and makes free-looking worthwhile when you enter a new area: you can make out the different strata in the walls of the tunnels and canyons you travel through, and gaze upwards in wonder at citadels created inside large cacti and bramble thickets. You'll also see animated denizens of these structures going about their dark business, foreshadowing conflicts to come. Character animation is outstanding with the highly detailed animals having a full range of realistic motions, and the analogue control is put to superb use with very slow cautious movements being truly marvelous to behold in all their anatomical accuracy.

The sound is suitably creepy and the musical cues give a good sense of menace when enemy threats make their presence known. In addition to the expected scuttling sounds made by your own creature you get nice shrieks, roars and guttural sounds from your opponents. As you progress through the game you follow an overarching human narrative, and periodically can hear snatches of conversation between characters played by Hollywood A-listers Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper. You rarely see them, but will observe their presence in the form of dust falling from the ceiling or the threatening sound of shovelling as they search for buried treasure.

Alternating stages ("chapters") have you taking the role of a tarantula or scorpion which gives a nice contrast in gameplay. The tarantula is faster and able to jump; eventually it can walk on ceilings and jump to background spiderwebs via silk strands of its own, and its fighting strategy is more based upon speedy strike and withdrawal. The scorpion is more of a brawler with the ability to block enemy attacks, but suffers by being slower and less mobile, and it is later able to dig and open up new areas that the tarantula cannot reach. These primary characters interact at times and often go over the same areas, but due to their different methods of getting around they never feel quite the same.

This game is all about combat and exploration, as even though the level progression is linear there are plenty of areas to walk around in. You can try to find pick-ups like grubs and green crickets to unlock galleries of concept art and increase your health bar, or you can just try to breeze through the game and take the shortest routes. Given that you're often making your way through caves and brambles, walking upside down and on the sides of tunnels and cacti you can be forgiven for getting lost, so pressing the 2 button will display an arrow pointing you in the right direction. Otherwise the HUD is minimal or hidden, with tips and notifications about new abilities and objectives popping up and fading away in the upper left and a health bar appearing as needed in the upper right.

Enemy creatures can be other invertebrates like beetles, spiders, scorpions and wasps as well as vertebrates like lizards and rats. Combat is varied and you'll need to learn how to carry out various attacks and when to use them as enemies have different methods of attack and defence, as well as pretty good AI. This is not a beat-em-up where you can simply rush in and press the A button over and over again: a basic set of attacks is on hand to start using simple presses of A and B buttons with gestures being reserved for more powerful attacks. The gesture-based repertoire builds over the course of the game, providing players with a variety of different moves to dispatch their foes. Finishing moves also appear in the form of Quick Time Events, though the visceral nature of the finishes and the gestures makes this more enjoyable than the typical button press. The combination of enemies and attacks keeps the action fresh rather than repetitive and offers a level of challenge that feels well balanced.

Saves happen at various checkpoints represented by clouds of glowing fireflies. When restoring a save you can choose to replay any previous chapter and change the difficulty. The main game isn't a vast epic with just ten chapters that take about an hour each to complete, but the gameplay is enough fun that coming back for a replay will definitely be in order, although the only other incentive is unlocking more concept art. Given the nature of the game, the lack of a two-player split screen mode seems striking in its absence; hopefully a future instalment will rectify this omission.

Despite the praise, the game is not perfect by any means. Whilst the frame rate is generally excellent you will experience the odd hiccup, though this is hardly noticeable. Many parts of the game are quite large and levels will load as you progress; for the most part this is barely a blip, but there are a couple of sections where the initial load can be measured in seconds and bring the game to a halt, although these are quite few and no more than five seconds in length.

More serious problems are camera issues and clilpping. The camera does a good job of auto-tracking your character generally, but there are moments where it can get stuck and shudder for several seconds or become lodged within a wall. When experienced these events last several seconds before correcting themselves and aren't easily replicated. Manual camera control is limited to auto-positioning it behind you with a D-pad down press so if you do have camera issues, you'll just have to wait for them to sort themselves out. Clipping rears its ugly head with walls that can be moved into and, worse, sections of floor the player or other creatures can fall through. As with the camera issues these are rarely encountered, though unlike the camera issues this is something that is a level design flaw and must be avoided when it's something that will result in death. It seems clear from both issues that more polish could have gone into the game - especially true for the last few chapters where the hidden trap floors are most apparent - and is likely a sign of release or budget pressure from the publisher on getting the game out the door. These issues and the rather abrupt ending are disappointing, but thankfully these faults aren't game-killers.

Conclusion

Deadly Creatures isn't for everyone, and that doesn't just mean arachnophobes. It's a different style of gameplay with very different protagonists and antagonists than gamers are used to. This is really what we need to see more of on the Wii though, and despite the flaws it's definitely worth checking out if you want to try something new.

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