Creature Shock: Special Edition

Creature Shock: Special Edition
Game Name: Creature Shock: Special Edition
Media: 2 CD-ROM
Publisher(s): Data East
Developer(s): Argonaut Software
Genre(s): Shooter (FPS, Space and Rail)
Release Date: 1996
Serial Number: T-1304H
Region: USA

Creature Shock Special Edition Screenshot

Creature Shock is something of an oddity of gaming. Though it includes a couple levels of on-rails space shooting, the core gameplay is a blend of 1st person dungeon crawling, interactive movie, and light gun-style combat. As in a dungeon crawler, you wander huge labyrinths, fighting random battles and tougher preset encounters, and occasionally finding goodies. But nearly everything is in FMV, with every movement triggering a scripted sequence, a la Torico or D.

Even the enemies(with certain exceptions) are FMV. In random encounters, shooting your target triggers a sequence of your foe being knocked back, while running out of time triggers a sequence of you getting smacked by the critter. This sounds choppy in theory but in practice it’s surprisingly smooth, with no noticeable load times. In preset encounters you face massive foes who are invincible save for one vulnerable spot. Figuring out a foe’s weak point is easy, but repeatedly shooting it while the creature is bobbing, weaving, and hacking at you is quite challenging.

Creature Shock Special Edition Screenshot

In each level you must make your way through the labyrinth to the boss, avoiding as many encounters as you can along the way while gathering powerups. Sounds fun and interesting? Well, it is – to an extent. One issue is that in preset encounters, it’s not only the enemy which moves, but the view. Drawing a bead on an enemy’s eyes is hard enough without having to fight the camera, and like most console versions of Creature Shock, the Special Edition is compatible only with the standard controller. A D-pad-controlled cursor, fast moving enemy, and viewpoint that won’t stay still can be a frustrating combination.

Moreover, level 2 is a mess, with two or three enemies which are simply too hard to hit. You can blow away most of their health with one of the three bombs you’re allotted, but this feels cheap since you don’t even need to aim. The bombs are okay as a lifesaver, but they shouldn’t be necessary to finish the game, at least not on easy mode. Sadly, they are.

Creature Shock Special Edition ScreenshotTo make it worse, the labyrinth is senselessly confusing: Every turn looks like 90 degrees, but the compass shows that it can be anything from 30 degrees to a physically impossible 330 degree turn. The manual blames this on “a strong signal emanating from the alien lifeform”, but it effectively makes the compass useless and the lengthy dungeon impossible to map accurately.

The game does get better. A lot better, in fact. In level 4 you must sometimes crawl into tunnels where lurk tunnel worms, huge creatures that fill out the width of the tunnels. One hit from them is instant death. They themselves take only one shot, and they’re not difficult if you’re ready for them, but the threat of instant death creates strong tension. Taking one path brings you face-to-face with a monster ant that you must kill quickly, because a tunnel worm is right behind you. It’s a brilliantly presented, cinematic moment.

This cinematic style has an increasingly strong presence through levels 4-6, and the final boss demands all your skill to defeat. The fluctuating camera and lack of mouse support remains a nuisance, but if you acquire a liking for the unique gameplay, you’ll find the last three levels intense and satisfying.

Creature Shock Special Edition ScreenshotThe trouble is what you have to go through to reach those levels. The original PC version of Creature Shock has two sprite-based on-rails shooter levels, which are omitted from most console versions, including the Japanese Saturn release. The USA-only Saturn Special Edition, however, replaces them with two polygon-based on-rails shooter levels which, so far as my research has been able to determine, are exclusive to this version.

But these Saturn-exclusive levels are nothing to cheer about. If they do not surpass Planet Joker as the most atrocious space shooting on the Saturn, they at least give it a damn good run for its money. Draw distance and polygon counts are jaw-dropping poor. There’s no clear visual cue for when you take damage, so to know how you’re doing you must watch your life bar. Bosses have neither a visual cue for when they’re hit nor a life bar, so you have no idea if you’re hurting them until they’re beaten. To top it off, there are some major glitches.

These levels aren’t hard to beat with some persistence, but they aren’t fun by any standard. The game uses a password system, so you can borrow someone’s password to skip the first three levels and go to levels 4-6. But the fact remains: half the game is inexcusably bad.

Creature Shock Special Edition ScreenshotThis port is beset by other issues. During cutscenes, the sound actually cuts out at set intervals. Moreover, the majority of the music was cut. This was presumably so they could fit the game on two CDs, and in many cases the lack of music adds to the atmosphere, but I think it’s safe to say that we’d all rather have music during boss fights and miss the pointless FMV of the hero getting a cup of coffee instead. New options like being able to set the sensitivity of the cursor make up somewhat for these flaws, but this edition is still hardly “Special”. If you’re going to get Creature Shock, you should probably go for the PC or CD-i version, both of which use a mouse(definitely the ideal controller for the game).

Despite my score for this game(I know you’ve peeked), there are people who will enjoy it. In fact, I’m one of them. If you have a hankering for something utterly different, plus a lot of patience, you’ll be pleased with the moments in which this game is like no other. But the two levels created for this edition are so sloppy that to give any higher score would be an insult to the Saturn hardware. The fact that Creature Shock is very much an acquired taste, and a mixed bag even in terms of gameplay, makes giving this low score easier.

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Creature Shock: Special Edition, 3.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating