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Revenge of the mutants

‘Impossible Creatures’ doesn’t have enough of the right stuff.

What do you get when you cross a horse with a horny toad? Either a punch line unfit to be printed in this magazine or the latest real-time strategy game from Relic Entertainment, the developers behind the fantastic “Homeworld.”

“Impossible Creatures” isn’t quite up to the standards of their last game, but Relic did create a very fun, attractive, and diverting RTS game that will keep you entertained, for a few days at least.

The gimmick behind the game is simple enough: You create armies of “impossible creatures” by combining the skills of several different animals. Put a gorilla and a cheetah in the Combiner and out comes a Goreetah. Throw a mountain lion in with a porcupine and you’ll get a Mountain Pork. Each animal comes with different traits, stats, and behavioral characteristics, and even combining just two animals together offers hundreds of combination possibilities. Creating (and naming) the different animals is the most entertaining part of the game, and it almost makes up for the lackluster battle engine and routine campaign mode.

The gameplay will be old hat to fans of the genre, but there is a tutorial to ease in gamers unfamiliar with real-time strategy. As far as RTS games go, however, “Impossible Creatures” is noticeably light on strategy. There is very little in the way of micromanagement, especially during the battles, and I found myself watching the battles more than I actually played them. Gathering resources and setting up camp seemed more perfunctory than essential to the game, and the battles almost always follow the same course regardless of how your army of creatures is made up. All this is fine with me since I don’t actually enjoy the micromanagement found in most RTS games, but I can imagine that many devotees of the genre will find the game lacking after playing through recent masterpieces like “Warcraft III” or “Ages of Mythology.”

As lacking as the game’s mechanics are, there are few faults to mention with the graphics engine. The backgrounds are lush and rich, and the 3D camera allows you to scale or rotate around to any possible perspective. The appearance of the creatures, however, is rather uninspired and their character models so underdeveloped that they all tend to look alike when the camera is zoomed out. During the more heated battles you need to take the camera out as far back as possible, but then you lose track of the animals and can’t tell your Elephorpions from your Chimpadillos.

“Impossible Creatures” has something for everybody, or maybe not enough for anybody. It is creative and funny, but lacks depth and doesn’t offer much to fans of the genre. A fun multiplayer mode adds a lot to the longevity of the game, but it ultimately suffers from the same drawbacks as singleplayer. That is to say, it is fun to create your army and fun to play with it for the first few minutes, but then things become tedious and even the most simpleminded gamer will wish for more depth and strategy.

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