Let’s not beat around the bush; Deadly Creatures is an odd bird. It’s set in a pseudo-realistic world where you alternate between playing as a tarantula and a scorpion. Though there is an actual story here – one that revolves around two sketchy human characters – you’re always experiencing the game through the many eyes of…well, the deadly creatures. Does it work as a compelling video game?
In a word, yes. It’s a sordid tale filled with irony, and the perspective from which it’s told is both intriguing and decidedly creepy. Elements of the plot are revealed by way of dialogue between two human characters portrayed by Billy Bob Thorton and Dennis Hopper. The presentation is deep and well thought out, though the gameplay does fall short on various levels.
The game is pieced together with individual chapters, and you’ll alternate between playing both creatures. The first chapter puts you in control of the tarantula and walks you through many of the basics. A sidebar will pop up on the top left of the screen whenever there’s new info to check out, and it’s a really well-implemented and polished system.
Though you move both creatures with the analog stick on the Nunchuk, each creature offers fairly unique gameplay experience. Pressing the Z button, for instance, makes the tarantula jump; for the scorpion, pressing Z causes him to go into a guarding stance. The scorpion can dash with a downward gesture on the Nunchuk or burrow by turning the Wii Remote upside-down and then gesturing upward to attack enemies from his hiding place. Some of the best moves are acquired later on in the game, and as such, Deadly Creatures is something of a slow burn.
There are some idiosyncrasies, however, with the controls. For one, there is a slight delay in almost every command you make, and stringing together combinations of attacks or movements can get tricky. Additionally, there isn’t any noticeable control rumble when executing gesture-based moves and attacks, and the lack of feedback often leaves you guessing as to whether or not you’re gesturing properly; you also miss out on any sort of visceral satisfaction. There are various context-sensitive moments during boss fights or when mortally wounding certain enemies, and though they’re mostly clever and entertaining to watch, the timing can be pretty unforgiving.
You can adjust the sensitivity for gesturing, but we noticed absolutely no difference between the very lowest setting and the very highest. Luckily, gesturing isn’t a continuous element of gameplay, but certain context-sensitive moments still proved to be quite frustrating. Worse still, you’ll often be forced to redo bosses when botching up a gesture toward the end of an encounter, and being unable to skip past cutscenes grows particularly tiresome.
On the plus side, the game has a really cool system for objectives. You’ll get your main, quest objectives as you progress through each chapter, but then there are side objectives, which, when met, garner you additional experience points. As you reach new points goals, you’ll unlock new moves and abilities for your creatures. There are also other achievements that unlock various goodies in the “Extras” section of the game.
The camera moves cinematically, though you can, at any time, quickly reposition the view behind your creature by pressing down on the D-pad. For the most part, the camera system works well and even adds a unique feeling of empowerment as you walk effortlessly along walls. However, the camera can also, at times, leave you disoriented or vulnerable to enemy attack when it occasionally flips around uncontrollably. Interestingly, the level design has a few things in common with Super Mario Galaxy, as your creatures can move along walls and such, and exploring levels becomes the real star of the show.
Though you’ll gain a host of new abilities and attacks throughout the game, you’ll likely find yourself sticking to a small handful of trusty skills. That’s okay, however, because it’s the game’s story and level design that really give Deadly Creatures its legs (sorry for the pun). Our first impressions of the game weren’t that great; however, the levels slowly begin to incorporate obstacles and gameplay elements that are not only fun and cinematic, but make total sense within the context of controlling both a tarantula and scorpion.
There are three levels of difficulty in the game – all available from the onset – but honestly, after about an hour or two of stumbling over some of the more clumsy attack techniques, we put the game on its easiest setting. Surprisingly, that made the experience much more enjoyable, since we were then able to concentrate on the game’s exploration (which eventually sinks its fangs into you and doesn’t let go). By the time we acquired the Stealth Pounce attack for the tarantula – which allowed us to take out enemies unawares and avoid a lot of the game’s frustrating face-to-face combat – we found ourselves truly enamored with the experience.
Deadly Creatures’ story is subtle. You’ll make your way through parts of a level, then occasionally cross paths with the two human prospectors. After doing a bit of eavesdropping, you’ll move on to kill a few more enemies and explore the rest of the level. But the story is delivered with such wonderful finesse and pacing that, in spite of (or perhaps because of) its issues with combat, Deadly Creatures eventually becomes a very compelling journey. The thing is, a real-life bug probably does want to avoid confrontation whenever possible, so utilizing the game’s other strengths in order to traverse levels actually ended up making the game more enjoyable. We still wish the motion controls had been ironed out a bit better, but the experience retains its charm regardless.
Deadly Creatures is also very pretty to look at. Technically speaking, it’s not really doing anything past what we’ve already seen in many games from the original Xbox, but the art design and exceedingly smart use of textures give the game a really clean look and presentation. The cinematic direction is also top-notch, and textures look almost as good up close as they do from afar. You’ll see a wide variety of creatures, and they all animate smoothly and behave in unique ways. The lighting is also used to great effect, though occasionally it can be hard to see key elements in the environment.
There are load times throughout levels, but they’re usually very quick. The prospectors, however, are probably the weakest aspect of the visuals, as the character models have an almost cartoony style that doesn’t quite work with the rest of the game’s visuals. Still, the framerate is pretty solid, the texture work is really attractive, and everything gels together with its own ebb and flow.
The audio, too, is quite impressive. There isn’t a whole lot of music per se, but there’s always tons of atmospheric sound in the background that does a great job of lulling the player into the game’s eerie world. Since you’re down in that world, you’ll experience the sounds of all the various wildlife in the game. It also helps that both Billy Bob Thorton and Dennis Hopper brought their A-game to the production. The entire experience is very moody, and overall, Deadly Creatures seems to have had a lot of love put into it.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly just who Deadly Creatures is aimed at. It has received a teen rating, but it also has a lot of dark overtones. That said, it really is a game worth checking out should you be in the mood for something particularly grim. The combat and motion controls are less than perfect, but the level design and cinematic storytelling really steal the show. Deadly Creatures offers a rare perspective that’s very entertaining, if only for a brief time.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
The game has a really polished look to it, and though there are minor blemishes here and there, Deadly Creatures rises well above the pack in terms of production values. 3.3 Control
Moving either creature is intuitive, and the camera system works fairly well. However, the motion-based controls and context-sensitive events are quite frustrating and offer almost no sense of satisfaction; it’s a shame they play as much a role in the game as they do. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Everything about Deadly Creatures’ soundtrack exhibits a top-quality, Hollywood sheen, right down to the voice work provided by Thorton and Hopper. 3.9
Though combat is often very much a chore, the exploration and cinematic pacing keep the experience very entertaining. It’s pretty short, and the unlockables are forgettable, but it’s a tight package for those in the mood for its unique brand of adventure.
3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.