Frequently topping phobia lists, it’s fair to say that spiders don’t get much love; their web spinning, fly catching and general eight-legged-ness being under appreciated by a public more enamoured with all things fluffy. Spiders looking to get into the movie business aren’t much better off – leading roles in romantic comedies for arachnids are few and far between (the dripping fangs are a big turn-off) and videogame spiders are similarly cursed; doomed to a life of being crushed, smashed, burnt, shot and chastised by plucky heroes and heroines. The simple fact is: spiders need better PR, and with Deadly Creatures, Rainbow Studios think they’re the developer to deliver just that.
Regardless of quality, it’s always heartening when a developer is brave enough to take a path less travelled; and so Rainbow Studios have ignored the marketing man’s advice and placed a pair of eight-legged heroes (a tarantula and a scorpion) at the centre of the action. Best described as a ‘creepy-crawly ‘em up’, Deadly Creatures gives you a bugs-eye view of the world. It’s certainly attention grabbing, but whether Rainbow Studios can expand on this premise to deliver a full and satisfying game is a question that hangs in the air from the first moment you put your multiple legs into motion.
Initial impressions are promising. Though by no means mind-blowing, visuals are solid with each of the bugs crisply rendered and possessing as much character as one could expect, while the dusty, subdued colour pallet perfectly conveys the American desert setting. A subtle, swelling, atmospheric soundtrack lends a feeling of dread to the proceedings, upping the tension and serving as a constant reminder of the small and not-so-small horrors that could be waiting around the next bend. Sensibly, Rainbow Studios cement this tension early on in the game with a visually impressive, though mechanically generic, encounter with a rattlesnake. From this moment on it seems all bets are off, and your venomous heroes suddenly feel a whole lot more vulnerable.
The game attempts to tie everything up in a narrative with mixed results. Hiring the voice talents of Hollywood heavy-weights Dennis Hopper and Billy-Bob Thornton was undoubtedly a shrewd move, and the tale of a pair of treasure hunters that forms the game’s backdrop is perfectly delivered. The biggest problem is that, beyond giving the game a loose narrative structure, the duo’s escapades feel almost entirely separate from the arachnid warfare that rages under their feet, with attempts to set up a rivalry between the scorpion and tarantula proving to be unconvincing. The plot, like much of the game, has struck upon a novel concept, but fails to deliver a satisfying whole.
And speaking of unsatisfying holes, Deadly Creatures is full of them. The rhythm set up in the opening sections of the game doesn’t really abate for the rest of the experience, which simply consists of wandering through a tunnel while eating bugs and navigating copious invisible walls, fighting a collection of enemies, obtaining a new skill and then rinse and repeat. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this simple formula, the combat fails to be satisfying enough to hold your attention, and being faced with yet another adequately rendered yet uninteresting burrow soon becomes tiring. Rainbow Studios have placed their hopes in the Wii remote with an array of waggles, shakes, twists and points used to control combat, and though the attempt to squeeze as much functionality out of the host system as possible is commendable, in practice it feels more awkward, gimmicky and unresponsive than immersive – or indeed enjoyable.
Further frustration is added by some truly horrible bugs (oh, the irony!). For example, during an encounter with a particularly dumb species of lizard, the scaled cretin seemed intent on repeatedly sticking his head through, and getting stuck upon, the wall-textures, resulting in multiple restarts. While not game breaking, moments like this are frequent enough to grate and mustering the energy to plod through the game can be difficult.
It’s great to see the Wii being used for something other than mini-game party collections and, secretly, we hope Deadly Creatures does well if only to open the door for similarly off-beat titles. It’s not a bad game per se, but the fact remains that its ambition and originality are far outweighed by poor execution, mundane level design and repetitive gameplay. The visuals and treasure-hunter plot (and the role that the tarantula and scorpion will play in it) hold just enough intrigue to keep you playing, but as a whole, it’s more a chore than an adventure. An entertaining finale proves to be too little, too late for a game that, much like the insects that populate it, can just be a little bit irritating.
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