Sunday, October 02, 2005

Creature Conflict Review

Creature Conflict, developed by Mithis Entertainment and published by Cenega Publishing.
The Good: Good themed graphics
The Not So Good: Frustratingly difficult spherical maps, essentially no customization, restricted strategies
What say you? An inferior Worms clone: 4/8

They say that copyright infringement is the sincerest form of flattery (or something like that). As with most things, in the computer gaming world, if one idea is proven to work, then countless others will try to siphon off some of the success in their own similar innovation. Creature Conflict: The Clan Wars (I am banning subtitles in games, so we will simply refer to this game as Creature Conflict) tries its best to copy the turn-based mayhem of Worms, the venerable Team 17 franchise. Teams of animals square off with an arsenal of weapons for the domination of a map, taking turns unleashing the violence. Will Creature Conflict make enough changes to differentiate it from the crowd? Short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but (name the Simpsons episode for extra credit).

The best part of Creature Conflict is the graphical design; the developers nail the slightly cartoonish bent of this genre. All of the characters are presented in a cell-shading technique (like Ultimate Spider-Man) that serves to relay its toon roots. The maps that you play on are beautiful to behold, with nice touches in both the elements on the map and the spacey backgrounds. It’s very evident that a lot of work and care went into the graphics of Creature Conflict, and it shows. The sound, not so much. There is only the basic arrangement of quips and weapon effects found here, and greater variety is found in other games. A game of this type has carte blanche to incorporate good jokes and funny phrases, but Creature Conflict misses the boat.

Creature Conflict has basic game modes: a linear campaign against the AI, a skirmish mode, and multiplayer options. I was quite surprised in the lack of customization to the games, other than the victory conditions. In other games, you can tweak the basic rules to your heart’s content, but Creature Conflict keeps the leash on the user, keeping you tied to the default settings. And I dislike the default settings, especially the short game turns that lead to limited strategies. They are especially hard on beginners, as you can’t have more time to learn the game and which weapons do what during your first games. The game has three different clans to play with: dogs, monkeys, and small mammals. Each has slightly different advantages and disadvantages, but they are pretty much the same. Other than the names of your team members, you cannot customize them further (more limitations…grrr). The weapons the animals use, although there are over 60 weapons, don’t have the appeal of those found in Worms. They are a generic collection of grenades, launched weapons, poison weapons, exploding stationary weapons, and movement modifiers. The joy I experienced using these weapons never equated the pleasure of using an air strike, holy hand grenade, or mad cow in Worms. The arsenal in Creature Conflict is neither distinctive nor impressive.

The main difference between Creature Conflict and Worms is that this game takes place on a 3-D globe. This is an original idea that is horribly executed. I like the premise of playing on a realistic earth, but the game uses the same targeting system used on a flat map. It is extremely difficult to aim any long-range weapon at an enemy due to the curvature of the landscape. On top of this, the game rarely shows you where you weapon landed (since your running away time starts as soon as your weapon is launched, not as soon as it explodes), so you don’t know how good or bad your angle and power settings were. Not giving this information to the user is a cardinal sin in a game such as this, where minute changes in trajectory are needed to successfully complete missions. Most of the game is spent running to an enemy (you only have 25 seconds to do so), getting stuck in water or behind objects, attempting to shoot something, and running away to a safe location. Since the gleeful pleasure of unleashing destruction upon your foes is not present in Creature Conflict, the gameplay becomes boring and repetitious far too quickly. To make things worse, the AI is very good at launching objects on a curved earth, and rarely misses you. Due to the spherical maps, the strategies you can use are very limited, and make Creature Conflict rather pointless.

Creature Conflict is not fun. I do like the innovation of using a 3-D globe as a playing surface, but it’s so poorly executed that Creature Conflict suffers because of it. Just because you can do a game in 3-D doesn’t mean you should; Worms has suffered from the same added complexities since that franchise has moved to 3-D, but at least Worms is playable. For me, the pinnacle of Worms is World Party, the last major 2-D version of the game. Creature Conflict has so few customization options compared to Worms, and this means your stuck with the difficult and bland game as the developers designed it. Creature Conflict is an exercise in frustration, where you spend your time trying to figure out the spherical maps instead of having fun blowing up some enemies with exotic weapons. There is no reason to leave the fun of Worms for this lesser replica. If you’re going to rip a game off, at least make the few innovations you decide to use good. In Creature Conflict, the new additions deduct from the overall game experience, resulting in no real motivation to play this game.