CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 8 . . . .December 8, 2006
Montreal, PQ: Kutoka Interactive, 2005.
1 CD-ROM, $29.95.
Minimum System requirements:
Windows 98, 2000, ME, XP
CPU: Pentium II
RAM: 128 MB
Video & Sound: DirectX Compatible
300 MB of hard disk space
OS X 10.2, 10.3, 10.4
CPU: G3 - 900MHz, G4 - 700 MHz, G5
RAM: 128 MB
Video: 800 x 600
Sound: Standard Macintosh
300 MB of hard drive disk space.
Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.
Review by Julie Chychota.
The likeable virtual life forms called Norns have returned! In Creatures Exodus, Kutoka and Gameware Development conveniently bring together the popular Creatures 3 and Docking Station in one easy-to-install hybrid CD-ROM. Like Creatures Village, the companies' first collaborative project, this second release encourages open-ended play, but it takes digital life to a brand new level. Not only does Creatures Exodus introduce an expanded storyline, an extraterrestrial setting with an array of alien creatures, and a choice of three modes to play in, but also it invites players to interact online. With lots of time, a little research, a measure of patience, and a dash of adventurous spirit, a player can accomplish almost anything imaginable.
Essentially, the primary objective in Creatures games is to hatch, train, and breed Norns. Diehard gamers already familiar with the Creatures universe will want to engage in the action immediately after they install the game rather than skim the accompanying PDF file. At 49 pages, the Creatures Exodus Creation Manual is close to double the size of that for Creatures Village, and full of more information than any novice can absorb in one sitting. Fortunately, the game comes with a pause button which allows players to consult reference materials on a need-to-know basis.
For those who want additional "Help and Support," Gameware Development's Web site delivers it in FAQs, forums, downloads, and a searchable Knowledgebase. It is there that an online community whose members have played Creatures series since its inception in the mid-1990s, meets to share sprites (graphic images), add-ons (e.g., Christmas packs and an Egg-Sitter), and code that genetically modifies creatures. They also discuss breeding practices, Norn torture, and wolfing or wolfling runs, that is, the absence of player intervention in a game. Among the other interesting discoveries in the "Creatures Labs" section of the site are keyboard shortcuts; sketches that depict the evolution of Norns' physical appearance; a variety of Norns for download, including immortal breeds; and an invaluable four-page summary entitled "Creatures 3 Walkthrough."
Creatures Exodus offers a choice of three modes of play: Creatures 3, which takes place on the Shee Ark; Docking Station, set on board the Capillata, a smaller ship; or Docking Station with the Capillata docked to the Shee Ark. Creatures 3 does not require a player to enter a username and password, whereas both streams of Docking Station do. Different agents (objects in the world such as insects, doors, toys) are available in each mode; some function in comparable ways. For instance, the Learning Room on the Shee Ark and the Holistic Learning machine on the Capillata both teach Norns language. This reviewer created three worlds, one in each mode, but did not venture online, not having mastered the tools to prevent an influx of unwanted transported creatures. She did, however, successfully export Norns from one world and import them into another.
The inhabitants of Creatures Exodus fall into three main groups: Norns, Grendels, and Ettins. Of course, if players use the gene-splicer or crossbreed creatures, the distinctions between the species may begin to blur. No matter which of the three modes players choose to play in, they must select either a Norn starter family (two pre-trained adults) or two random breed eggs. The computer's mouse pointer is a Hand with which a player can tickle, slap, or lead a Norn. The Norns, themselves, are still as endearing--and aggravating, by turns--as ever. Each one has its own idiosyncrasies: some Norns are notorious troublemakers, hitting and slapping others; others are greedy, grabbing food away from their playfellows. Still others are too sociable for their own good: they cluster and ride the elevator continuously until they suffer a surprise attack from their enemies.
A Creatures Exodus Norn lives for approximately seven hours, an extension of the four- to five-hours given the Creatures Village Norn. The life cycle stages, however, follow the same order: birth, mating, reproduction, aging, death. Unlike in Creatures Village, in Creatures Exodus this reviewer's Norns were "kisspopping" (the Creatures term for mating) left, right, and centre, resulting in eggs galore. It is best to maintain a balanced population, for eggs and young Norns are more susceptible to attacks; also, younger Norns can learn from their elders, which may decrease the time the Hand devotes to training the little ones.
Two other species co-existing with Norns are Grendels and Ettins. The antitheses to Norns, Grendels are hulking red-eyed meanies with violent tendencies who grunt in gravelly tones. Still, they appear to be teachable: two of my Grendels acquired language through the Holistic Learning machine. According to long-time players, Grendels have proven redeemable with the proper genetic modification; some players develop a soft spot for Grendels and actually prefer them to Norns. Ettins, meanwhile, are the "cleaners and caretakers," and "if not very sociable," at least they are not intent on harming Norns (Creation Manual 32).
Ultimately, despite a player's best efforts, creatures will die. That players are motivated to care for these virtual creatures is a great testament to the designers' skills. It is difficult to see these creatures suffer, and it can be heartbreaking when they die (even the Grendels!). Fittingly, departed creatures dissolve into a mist. The game even provides for a means of closure, since players have the opportunity to register deaths and record epitaphs in a special crypt.
Monitoring the status of all creatures in any given world is easy, thanks to an elaborate system of visual and aural indicators. Along with a tiny red arrow, the Heads-Up Display (HUD)--a small window in the top left-hand corner of the screen--identifies the currently selected creature. The HUD also contains "Agent Help," a clickable tool that will reveal the name of whatever object to which the Hand points. User Interface Components are three expandable menus running down the right-hand side of the screen. The Creature, Options, and Inventory menus respectively list all creatures, act as a control panel for sound effects and the like, and store items such as food and gadgets for quick retrieval. "Life Events" and "Favorite Place" or "Warning" icons serve as additional player prompts. Aural cues are more subtle: the music changes from one area of a ship to the next. Overall, Creatures Exodus offers a sensory rich, detailed world.
Kutoka markets Creatures Exodus for "ages 8 to 108" to show that the game's appeal is broad and inclusive. Yet, those outside the "digital natives" demographic might feel as though even if they live to 108 they likely will not master all the aspects of the game. Why? First, three modes of play triple the possibilities, not to mention that every mode possesses unique qualities, which requires players to adjust their strategies accordingly. Second, nurturing a healthy, procreative population of Norns poses a challenge even greater than it did in Creatures Village because here players must keep Grendels from killing their Norns and Ettins from hoarding agents. In addition to the above, agents classified as gadgets and machinery abound, but it is not always clear how they connect or for what purpose, and so construction involves trial and error.
Furthermore, only Norns may activate certain agents. As if the foregoing did not offer enough for a player to attend to, the instruction manual contains a section on advanced play. There, one can find information on Norn genetics, digestion, poisons and antidotes, immunity and disease, fertility, and neurology. In short, the game can be as complicated as a player wishes to make it, ensuring that it remains exciting and fresh. Nevertheless, this very complexity could deter potential players who are seeking to be entertained rather than educated.
Apart from its complexity, two criticisms could be leveled at Creatures Exodus. The first concerns a sentence in the Creation Manual that reads, "All of the initial Grendels are male, and the Ettins female" (32); moreover, the guide presents Grendels as "vicious" (3) and Ettins as preoccupied with "tidying" (32). It seems shortsighted of the creators to have fallen back upon traditional male/female stereotypes to construct these species. Furthermore, Creatures Exodus does contain violence. Now, the language machine only teaches Norns the word "hit" for self-defense, and the level of violence is innocuous relative to the many shoot-'em-ups currently on the market--but pure pacifism it is not. Still, just as the Hand must teach the Norns sensitivity to context, so too parents/guardians will want to teach the children for whom they are personally responsible.
Creatures Exodus will seriously test one's ability to multi-task, but $29.95 CDN is a small price to pay for the richness of the challenge.
Julie Chychota lives and works in Winnipeg, MB, and often thinks it might be nice if real life came with a pause button.
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