A dark, dank environment appears before you. It seems like a small area, if only because the lack of light makes it difficult to see very far. But you hear a faint skittering off to one side, and then a brown mantis edges into view. The “camera” doesn’t move to follow it; it’s stationary, as if you’re watching recorded footage, so all you see is the mantis crawling around. And then, in a flash, the insect is gone -- devoured by a gila monster; it now sits contentedly in front of you, licking its lips with its forked tongue.
The game begins with a voice-over from Billy Bob Thornton, who plays the part of Wade. It sets up the story, which is told in flashbacks (à la Pulp Fiction). A cutscene follows, and the kicker here is the last line from Wade: “Who are we diggin’ up, anyway?” So right from the get-go, you’re captivated by the story; here’s how lead designer Jordan Itkowitz explained the narrative to me:
Because you’re a tarantula and a scorpion, you’re seeing Struggs [Dennis Hopper] and Wade’s narrative play out over the game, and always from that kinda “removed” perspective -- they’re always these giants. But you’re able to go to places and reveal details and see things that the human eye can’t. ... We just continually build the story like that -- multiple layers, all the time. It was really fun to tell a story that way, through the eyes of two really unlikely protagonists.The game is split up into ten chapters; you play as the tarantula in the odd-numbered chapters, and the scorpion in the even-numbered chapters. Basically, Deadly Creatures is a combat-focused action/adventure game. You traverse the world fighting insects and other (in many cases, much larger) creatures, so the combat has to be very well done for the game to be fun. Yes, there’s waggle, but I never found it obnoxious; in fact, it seemed very natural.
Basic strikes are performed with the A button, while a Wiimote motion does a heavy attack. Since the tarantula is more of an “agile ninja,” you can jump with it (press Z); when playing as the slower, more tank-like scorpion, Z blocks -- the game becomes more of a strategic endeavor in that sense. Later in the game, the tarantula unlocks attacks to help it be more stealthy: you’ll be able to fire blobs of silk to trap your prey, and you’ll also get an awesome pounce attack (directed with the IR pointer).
In that vein, Deadly Creatures features a boss encounter with a rattlesnake in the first chapter, which is one of a number of many-times-your-size enemies you’ll face throughout the game. After a QTE-filled fight (don’t worry -- again, it’s not obnoxious), you don’t actually kill it; it’ll pop up at a few other instances -- including the final boss battle. Going back to the dual-angle storytelling style, the end of the game has you fighting the rattlesnake as the tarantula while something else is going on inside a building; you won’t find out what’s happening until you play the next chapter as the scorpion.
Instead, I moved on to the fourth chapter, which took place in the same desert area as Chapter 1. However, there isn’t a lot of backtracking in this game -- you won’t be playing through the same areas as both creatures, but they’ll take place in the same world, and you’ll often be able to see the connections (e.g., “Oh, so there are some webs -- a path for the tarantula”). As I said, the scorpion is more defensive; its tough exoskeleton provides armor, and its pincers can block basic melee attacks. The tail isn’t just used for stabbing; it can also swipe to clear multiple enemies away.
Deadly Creatures seems like it could be a great third-party Wii title, and we certainly can’t have too many of those. It’s one of the most unique games I’ve ever played, and it’s obvious that Rainbow put a lot of effort into it. The game ships next Monday, February 9th, and from what I’ve seen, it’s definitely going to be worth a look.