Review - Creature Shock (DOS, 1994)

I've been playing games on the PC for many years, and I've tried my hand at hundreds of time-wasting products. I've seen good games, great games, mediocre games, poor games, and even the occasional too-lousy-for-words game. It's that last category we'll focus on today, boys and girls. It doesn't happen all that often, but once in a while some misguided fools will release a game that is so bad it's hard to believe the project made it past the first round of playtesting. The Lawnmower Man, Street Fighter II PC, Jump Raven, this is the class of game I'm talking about. The kind of game that, when you play it, produces an almost physical reaction of disgust and nausea. Creature Shock, the new two CD game from Virgin is such an offering. It's hard for me to imagine this high-profile loser IN EXTREMIS not offending anyone unfortunate enough to play it. It sure as hell offended me, and that's abnormally hard to do!

From the start Creature Shock had me worried. All its pre-release hype revolved around two things: the fact that Creature Shock is a CD-only game (and two CDs at that), and that its rendered graphics are utterly amazing and blow away even the most jaded of gamers. In my experience, that means big trouble. When CD-ROMs started becoming popular the software stores were suddenly swamped with CD games boasting amazing graphics; most of them didn't include a decent game in the package. Apparently they were hoping that the consumers, pathetic mindless sheep that we are, would be so overwhelmed with the graphic splendor that the lack of a good game would be overlooked or forgiven. It seems that Virgin and the developers at Argonaut Software were banking on this same philosophy. Sorry guys, but my brain does more than just process visual information, and I ain't buying it.

The premise of Creature Shock is no better or worse than that of dozens of other games in which plot exists merely to set the stage for gameplay. Near-future earth is in a state of crisis. Overpopulation has become the principal planetary threat. To alleviate the congestion of people who just can't seem to stop making more of themselves, the survey ship U.N.S. Amazon is launched; its goal is to search the solar system in hopes of finding a suitable site for an off-world colony. When it reaches the outer moons of Saturn, the Amazon is attacked and destroyed by a huge alien ship which appears to be organic in nature. It goes without saying, but your mission is to enter the alien ship/thingy and make crispy fried goo out of everything that moves.

Creature Shock starts out with a very nice animated introduction depicting the fate of the Amazon. The much-touted graphics are nothing more than standard 320x200 VGA. They are very well drawn, but are certainly nothing that hasn't been seen before. What makes the intro so good is the superior lifelike movement of the human character and her facial expressions, which are far better than any game I've ever seen. A few minutes after the intro was over I found myself wishing passionately that Virgin and Argonaut had decided to make this a CD movie instead of taking a half-hearted stab at a game. If you know someone who has a copy of Creature Shock you should get them to show you the intro; do it fast, because the game is likely to be returned to the store before very long.

From there the game moves on to an action segment chronicling your approach to the alien ship orbiting Saturn. You view the action from just behind your ship, like in Microcosm or Nova Storm. Alien ships swarm around the screen, and your goal is to shoot them and keep them from shooting you. You'd think that the Virgin/Argonaut team could have at least gotten this simple premise to work, but I guess that would be giving them too much credit. You control your ship with the mouse, and there's no way to select joystick or keyboard control. For some strange reason I still can't find any logic in, your up/down control is reversed like it would be in a flight sim. This is not a flight sim, and this control scheme is completely inappropriate for the style of game. It feels horrible, and even with years of action game experience under my belt I found it practically impossible to control my ship. Apart from the mixed-up directions, the mouse control is also sluggish and mushy. This segment is the worst part of a very bad game, and has to rank as one of the worst games I've ever played. I have a strong feeling that the majority of people who buy Creature Shock will never even see what lies beyond the first segment, not that they're missing much.

Once you land on the alien ship (assuming you hate yourself enough to stick with the flying game long enough) the "action" switches to a walking around and shooting format. Well, that's misleading; first you walk, then when you find a monster you stop and shoot at it. Most of the game involves you "exploring" a series of tunnels and hallways. When a monster appears you remain stationary while you target and shoot with a mouse cursor. The monsters look very nice, even in 320x200, but the game is nothing more than a woefully simple target shoot. It's not fun. It's not even interesting. It's dull and tedious, and without the good graphics and CD sound it could easily have been a shareware game – and not one of the better ones either! I was wowed by the graphics for about 10 seconds, then I lost absolutely all interest in the game. I have more fun changing my color selections in Windows.

Without a doubt, Creature Shock is one of the most uninteresting games I've ever forced myself to play. The graphics, while very good for low-res VGA, can't help but disappoint when you consider how loudly they've been hyped. The one part of the game that might have been slightly fun was systematically annihilated by the most out of place control scheme I've encountered since I tried to play Dune 2 with a full Thrustmaster setup. The rest of the game, while graphically pleasing, is about as interesting as watching the flight patterns of doped-up houseflies. Personally, I'm genuinely insulted that Virgin would release a product like this and think anyone would actually consider it to be a good (or even passable) game. If you see Creature Shock in the store, walk away quickly and find something – anything – else to spend your money on. If you've already bought it, you have my sincere sympathies.


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