How many times have you sprinted through a crate-filled warehouse, guns blazing, as a voluptuous heroine or musclebound jughead? I'll bet you've unloaded millions of bullets, shot down thousands of nondescript terrorists and blown up countless facilities. So why not take a break from the cliche videogame action experience just this once -- it'll still be there when you get back -- and try on something refreshingly different? I've got a good candidate. Development house Rainbow Studios has teamed with publisher THQ to gift Wii owners Deadly Creatures, a ground-up console exclusive that ignores the tried-and-true action template and embraces a novel concept that is every bit as compelling as any Tomb Raider -- it just happens to be a hell of a lot creepier, particularly if you fancy yourself an arachnophobe. That's because in this unique title set to the moody backdrops of a hot desert and (eventually) a dirty, broken down gas station, you take control of the very critters that keep you tossing and turning in bed all night: a hairy tarantula and a venomous scorpion. And while these cold antiheroes would just as soon eat their neighbor as help him, you will have a great time controlling them through their atmospheric adventure even if some scenarios are a little -- well, buggy.
Third-party Wii developers have too often taken the easy way out, either porting over preexisting software or alternatively pushing fast, brainless shovelware on Nintendo's audience in the hope of making an equally quick buck. Sadly, as some overly popular mini-game compilations still prove, the strategy sometimes works, which is why my hat is off to Rainbow Studios not only for taking the care to create an original, altogether interesting property, but also for treating the Wii console with respect and really attempting to maximize its potential. I'm not just referring to making use of the Wii remote in intuitive manners, which Deadly Creatures does, but also milking the admittedly less powerful hardware from a technical level in order surround the experience in great presentation, be it an intriguing storyline, beautiful graphics or amazing audio. Whether you are drawn to the premise or not, all you need do is look at some of our game screenshots or videos to see for yourself that much love went into the crafting process.
You'll spot that love from the introduction cinema, voiced by Hollywood A-lister Billy Bob Thornton, who plays one of the two human characters (the other is voiced by Dennis Hopper) integral to the game's uncommonly provocative storyline. As Billy Bob speaks from the darkness, you'll see rapid flashes of imagery foretelling events to follow -- you won't know what to make of it right off, but as the levels progress and the details flow, it'll all come together. Even without all the pertinent information, though, Billy Bob's opening sets the mood for the adventure to come: a little mysterious, very uneasy -- something's definitely gone wrong and it's up to you to figure out what and why. The yarn unfolds seamlessly through the title's game engine so even as you manipulate the tarantula up ceilings or plow dirt tunnels as the scorpion, you will feel the ground thud and shake as two shady humans dig for something out in the desert just above you.
This natural coupling of high production values and dynamic, interactive storytelling is the future of videogames -- far superior to flow-interrupting cut-scenes -- but Deadly Creatures only scratches the surface. The tarantula and scorpion spy dubious human activity out in the desert, yet their interactions with the two seedy rednecks is limited if not altogether rare; they remain emotionless observers of the giants up until the game's climax. I'd honestly have preferred a more interactive approach, placing the critters into human territory directly and creating gameplay scenarios around these mixups. You'll catch glimpses of unrealized potential in this regard -- for example, a thrillingly cinematic point later in the title when the thuggish prospectors plant a shovel in the ground that nearly kills the scorpion and you keep control through it all. The tale is woven intricately enough that you will feel compelled to see it to its end, but there are missed opportunities throughout when plot emphasis is consistently placed on tarantula, scorpion and other creepy-crawlers, none of whom possess the human connection. And while the majority of the story elements, when they do appear, are fantastic in scope and execution, the ending sequence feels anticlimactic and rushed by comparison, as though the developer ran out of time.
Any potential story failings have absolutely nothing to do with the audio and graphic presentations, though, both of which are spectacular by Wii standards. I just reviewed Tenchu: Shadow Assassins and praised its rich musical soundtrack, full of traditional Japanese flutes and strings. The music in Deadly Creatures is an altogether different beast but no less effective. In fact, the subtle score smothers the levels in ambient, eerie tunes that stay the atmosphere even better than the jingles in Ubisoft's stealth game. Meanwhile, Creatures sparkles with some of the best visuals on Nintendo's system. The character models are insanely detailed. When the camera pans closer to the tarantula, you will see individual hairs on its legs and you'll likewise notice specularity and reflection on the shells of insects. The critters animate with creepy realism -- I'm a bit of an arachnophobe myself and watching the tarantula's slow, deliberate, believable crawl occasionally makes me feel squeamish. The game comes to life via a welcomed marriage of great art and tech. Gorgeous level designs spilling with detailed geometry, truly excellent texture and color work, and lots of variation. There's an attention to detail in Rainbow's game that is clear from the start and Wii owners who know the console's limitations well will surely appreciate what the developer has accomplished.
The framerate unfortunately pays the price on occasion for the hardware-taxing graphics. Deadly Creatures runs in 480p / 16:9 widescreen at 30 frames per second, but there are some infrequent dips, particularly when there are four or more enemies on-screen. Meanwhile, the game streams in levels one portion at a time so as you cross certain barriers / checkpoints you will encounter momentum-halting loads, some of which last up to five seconds. Additionally, the camera -- while much improved from early builds -- may every so often glitch out, catch on a wall and stubbornly refuse to shoot the action appropriately. In my experience, the level of polish found during the first three quarters of the game is diminished some during the final act, and as a result you will notice more frequent camera and framerate issues as you make your way through the closing sections, a truth that does not detract from the gameplay experience.
Deadly Creatures is comprised of 10 chapters separated between the tarantula and scorpion. The title, which can be completed in fewer than 10 enjoyable hours, is a spooky action-adventure, blending exploration and battle elements. If you've been following our video coverage, you've undoubtedly seen footage depicting countless gruesome critter-based battles and true enough, there's plenty of vermin and insects to go up against in the game. However, there's also a good chunk of linear level questing -- traversing up, down and all around environments as you look for the next checkpoint, the next battle and, if you're a true completionist, all the grubs. The edibles are generously strewn around stages, usually hiding in every nook and cranny, and when collected unlock concept art, interviews with cast members, and more. Of the some 450 grubs in the game, I had recovered about 350 by the time I had finished the project and I honestly wouldn't mind going back again and retrieving them all.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Deadly Creatures includes hints at a Metroid-ian design. You have two characters who start out with basic move sets and gain new abilities as they progress through the adventure. The tarantula learns a spin attack, the ability to crawl on ceilings, to spin webs at foes, to slingshot into webs, and to pounce on enemies; the scorpion acquires advanced pincher attacks, as well as the ability to dig tunnels, chop through barriers, and more. Rainbow has separated these upgrades across levels in a balanced and satisfying manner so that just as you begin overusing an attack or maneuver, you land another. And these new abilities allow the characters to come back to previously explored areas and access formerly unreachable zones. For instance, the scorpion will spot dig sites from the beginning of the game, but the menacing critter won't be able to access them until later in the adventure. Same goes for the tarantula, who spies spider-webs early on, but can only take advantage of them when it returns. Although the game world is divided into stages, there's a tangible sense of connection between them and if you like the occasional retraveral challenge, you will like what Deadly Creatures has in store.
Controls are handled tightly with the nunchuk's analog stick. The tarantula is light on its feet, but weaker and the scorpion is a tank, yet slower. Rainbow has smartly used Wii gestures for secondary moves, leaving primary attacks to the A button, but you will be waggling to perform tail kicks or to add uppercuts and hooks to combos -- the tarantula has a mean right, by the way. The scorpion has the advantage of defense and can block some incoming attacks while the tarantula is better off dodging and running. The battle system works really well and you will definitely be able to take advantage of the distinct fighting styles of each character, using their strengths and weaknesses. I love the fact that the tarantula can crawl just about anywhere including up walls and ceilings. Sometimes, an unsuspecting foe will run by below and you can go into attack formation, point the Wii remote at him and tap the A button to jump down with a deadly strike. The pointer-based controls feel very good. And I also love the scorpion's cinematic finishers. When you've depleted a foe's health, you'll be able to tap the C button to trigger a quicktime sequence in which you must complete two or three gestures for a gruesome animation -- for instance, the creature will stab its stinger into a rat's head in a bloody execution. Scenes like these reinforce the fact that Deadly Creatures is not for youngsters.
Know that the controls, fights and exploration elements in Deadly Creatures are all intuitively designed and great fun. Really, the harshest critique I can level at the game relates once more to polish: it's buggy -- and I'm not referring to all the insects that infest it. There are no crashes or gameplay-killing deal-breakers to contend with (thankfully), but as you progress through the adventure, you will encounter some annoying technical glitches. Enemies that clip through walls if you back them into corners. Rare camera issues that can in a quick spasm transform potentially easy battles into much more troublesome affairs. And environmental collision inconsistencies, let's call them -- points when you attempt to correctly maneuver your tarantula or scorpion down a crevice and the game doesn't allow it because you have not aligned your character perfectly to the invisible walk path. These are all issues that should have and probably would have been obliterated with just a little more development time.
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