Preview - Creature Shock (DOS, 1994)

Here's what I figure the future's gonna look like: Cooler cars, new and improved kinds of fuel, rapid advancement towards civilian space travel, and a couple of grandkids for me and the missus. Here's what the designers at Argonaut Software figure the future's gonna look like: Drastic overpopulation, widespread famine, hostile alien confrontation, and World War 3. Granted, my view seems a lot more pleasant, but it really doesn't lend itself well to a video game. Argonaut's, on the other hand, may seem dark and dreadful, but as a background for a PC adventure, it fits the bill. The "bill" happens to be called Creature Shock, and Virgin Interactive Entertainment will be releasing it in the coming months.

Have you ever played a video game that actually scared you? One that made your heart jump or your stomach sink? Neither had I. That's all changed now. Someone watching my body while I was playing the beta of Creature Shock might liken my reactions to an arachnophobiac being forced to watch a tarantula give birth. The game is divided into three separate levels, each with two different kinds of action sequences. The first, and primary method of exploration in Creature Shock is done in a standard first-person perspective similar to that in, uh, I forget the name of it . . . Gloom? Zoom? Anyway, the mouse controls your gun sight and not your body, which means that movement is only possible in one of the four basic directions. When you enter an area infested with slimy alien lifeforms, your crosshairs pops onto the screen and you enter a "shooting-gallery" like combat sequence where you need to kill the monsters before they reach you. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that most monsters can only be killed by a well-aimed series of shots at their "weak spot". Should you fail in your attempts to stop the onslaught, an animation will appear showing you what the creature(s) do to your frail body when they overtake you. Obviously, the more powerful the creatures, the more carnage involved.

Speaking of animations, they're everywhere in Creature Shock. With a few exceptions, every uncommon action your character partakes in results in a cinematic display of some sort. Argonaut Software is known for their polygon graphic work for the Super Nintendo, and after only a couple minutes playing Creature Shock, I'm convinced of their competence in the PC arena as well. At fifteen frames per second, the movie effects here are beautiful and as smooth as I've ever seen in a PC game.

The second method of exploration in the game is used when movement over a larger area is necessary. Being a spaceman, you have a spacecraft . . . a small, yellow one, in fact. Flying sequences feature a slightly different perspective than walking sequences . . . your view is from behind your vessel rather than from inside it. In the tradition of arcade shooters, you maneuver your vessel through bullets and bad guys and attempt to collect "power-ups" to increase your ship's defensive capability. Even in this fast-moving area of the game, the scrolling was surprisingly smooth for a CD. I didn't get much slowdown or control delay. Hats off to whoever at Argonaut was responsible for programming these sequences.

Getting back to the "terror" aspect of the game . . . it's not as though any of us actually KNOW what the inner sanctum of an alien vessel would look like, but we all have a general idea. I think the folks at Argonaut have done a very good job of making the settings in Creature Shock look like what most of us think they should look like: dark, tangled, metallic . . . in short, alien. The fear that I felt while playing the game didn't only come from being surprised by gorilla-like things jumping onto me from the ceiling . . . there was also a feeling of being lost in a place I'd never seen before. A game that can instill that feeling in a person is a special piece of programming indeed. But don't take my word for it . . . pick up a copy of Creature Shock when it hits the stores in November and feel it for yourself.