Microsoft was on hand at Gen Con 2002 with the latest version of Impossible Creatures, the real-time strategy game from Relic Entertainment that will let you create an army by combining different animals. We've seen the game a few times now, and it's looking more and more polished. The current version of Impossible Creatures has all 15 of the game's lengthy single-player missions implemented, and its clean 3D graphics and animated water effects are looking good.
In fact, the game has looked polished for some time, which is why we were initially puzzled when we first heard that Impossible Creatures, which was originally scheduled for release this year, had been delayed until next year. The development team is using the additional time to carefully balance the game's stable of 50 animals, which can actually be combined into about 50,000 different hybrid units, each of which can be created and used by players. Players can use the game's powerful army builder interface--which may prove to be something of a game in itself--to cross their favorite animals to create hybrids of varying levels of power. Among the units we saw in action were hippopaty bears (hippopotamus-grizzly-bear hybrids), eagattlesnakes (eagle-rattlesnake hybrids), and some even more bizarre hybrids of alligators and ants, tigers and scorpions, and killer whales and hornets.
The army builder can be used by players offline to create and tweak exactly the sort of hybrid units they desire, complete with exactly the kinds of special abilities they'd like, including an electric eel's shock or a skunk's scent spray. Players can also use the "zoo" option in the army builder to save every last one of their combinations, then reload them and tweak them as much as they'd like, although more-powerful creatures with lots of abilities will cost more unit points to incorporate into their armies. Multiplayer games let players choose how many unit points each player can have, determine the amount of resources each player starts with, establish the maximum unit cap, set the game at one of five different speeds, and begin games at random or fixed locations. In other words, there's an absolutely huge number of combinations of units and game conditions that players can come up with--and a correspondingly huge number of units that Relic's testers need to balance carefully.
Otherwise, Impossible Creatures is shaping up to be a very clean, good-looking 3D real-time strategy game, with all the amenities you might expect. Impossible Creatures has a default overhead camera view (you can return to this default view at any time by pressing the Backspace key) that can be zoomed in and out with the mousewheel and rotated by pressing Alt and the arrow keys. Handy message icons pop up on the left side of the screen every time a major event occurs. For instance, if your builder units have finished the building they've been working on, players will not only receive an audio cue, but they'll also get a small icon with a picture of a house on the left side of the screen.
Impossible Creatures is scheduled for release early next year. For more information on the game, check out our