by Andreas Hagelin


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Atmospheric but obtuse dungeon-crawling, December 6, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

The second RPG/IF hybrid Iíve hit in this yearís Comp, Creatures nails the dark, dour, and dank atmosphere of a grim-and-gritty dungeon crawl, but bugs and custom-engine wonkiness mean I didnít appreciate the game as much as it perhaps deserves (though the second release addressed at least some of the bugs; see the addendum at the bottom of this review).

Letís see, why donít we go last part first. Creatures runs as a Windows executable with a fairly long startup time, and looks like itís trying to shoot the moon in a beauty contest Ė I found the white text on black background too high-contrast to be pleasant, the engine allows words to be broken up between two lines with nary a dash in sight, and there are a fair number of typos (including the first sentence of the walkthrough).

More damning than these superficial considerations, at least to me, the interface is very fiddly. Itís choice-based, though you type a number or letter to enter each command, which in theory should be fine. But the implementation is often aggravating: because the screen updates slowly, and if you mis-type an option youíre taken to a separate screen noting you didnít select a valid choice and which in turn requires an additional keypress to exit, itís easy to start typing a sequence of commands that starts throwing off a series of errors. Options are also often nestled several layers deep Ė each room is divided into four quadrants, for example Ė so doing anything feels like it takes at least twice as many keypresses as it ought to. Oh, and thereís an encumbrance system that Iíd say is an especially irritating example of the type, except every encumbrance system is an especially irritating example of the type.

The bugs run the gamut from small bits of oddness (I was able to heal myself above my theoretical maximum hit points) to hard crashes (trying to equip leg armor when I was already wearing something in that slot reliably broke the game) to a progress-ender involving a lever puzzle in the initial release (later fixed).

In my first go-through I only got about halfway through, which was a shame because I was enjoying Creatures enough to want to see the rest, and thought the prose was actually not bad. It only comes in fits and starts, as you get a couple of paragraphs in between moving to a new room, while taking actions, fighting, or fiddling with puzzles usually doesnít generate much in the way of description. And the premise Ė youíre in a dungeon, have amnesia, and probably thereís a baddie somewhere towards the end you need to stab Ė is barely even there. But these intermittent paragraphs did a reasonable job of creating an atmosphere of decay, age, and unpleasantness which felt like a good tone for a work like this. The puzzles are again nothing to write home about Ė theyíre under-clued and, at least as far as I got, exclusively about opening different locked doors with various kinds of combinations Ė but fine enough to break up the combat, and itís always fun to level up and get new gear.

From skimming the walkthrough, it looks like the remainder of the game involves more number puzzles, more combat Ė and possibly some (Spoiler - click to show)light cannibalism? Ė again, nothing ground-breaking, but solid meat-and-potatoes stuff (Spoiler - click to show)(so to speak). So Iím hoping thereís an update, either mid-Comp or post-Comp, that would let me check it out (like, because of the number puzzles and combat I mean, not the (Spoiler - click to show)cannibalism).

MUCH LATER UPDATE: So I went back to this after the author posted a revised version that fixed the bug that had stopped my progress, and was able to win. It definitely goes on as it began, with the pattern of obscure number puzzles alternated with narrowly-tuned combat continued. The puzzles also continued to be very challenging, though from looking at the walkthrough it looks like one of them didnít fire in my playthrough (Spoiler - click to show)(the text indicated that I was locked into Wilfredís quarters, but I was able to walk right out without inputting anything). And while I was able to get a few critical hits towards the end, which opened up a bit more wiggle room in the combat, in still feels like you need to tackle the enemies in a very specific order to get the right armor, weapons, and healing items you need to win (like, the (Spoiler - click to show)cannibalism does in fact seem mandatory). The writing is still pretty fun, albeit quite bleak, and I found the ending a bit of an anticlimax. I did start to get more used to the interface, though this might be Stockholm Syndrome talking. The authorís got talent but a little more attention to making the game more player-friendly, both in interface and puzzle terms, would go a long way in whatever they do next!

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