Creature Shock: A Round Table Discussion
This week on “Storming the Castle”, we would like to present to you a trifecta of terror. That’s right, three unique perspectives in a round table discussion on the early 90’s Sci-Fi/Horror themed DOS game: “Creature Shock.” What? You haven’t heard of it? Yeah, it is rather obscure and depending on what source you believe, it is either the worst game ever made or a cult classic.
Creature Shock Intro:
Creature Shock begins in the year 2123. A spaceship called the UNS Amazon is sent on a mission to Saturn and mysteriously disappears. Commander Jason Barr, aka: “you”, are sent to investigate the incident. What ensues is a mixed genre game that is part space shooter and part survival horror. First, you start by blasting your way through dozens of baddies in a space ship “SHMUP style.” Then, once you reach your destination you traverse through a repetition of narrow corridors with insidious creatures waiting for you around every corner. Sounds like an interesting formula right?
Well, what makes Creature Shock so divisive is the almost constant use of FMV (Full Motion Video). This type of game was big business back in the early to mid 90’s with games like Rebel Assault, Return to Zork and 7th Guest being prime examples of the genre. People seemed to either love this concept or completely hate it. Many claim that “games” that amounted to simply interacting with a movie weren’t really games at all. Others loved them for their ability to “cheat” and give us real filmed actors as well as pre-rendered environments that looked far better than any in game engine of the time could produce. An interesting concept in theory, but does it work for Creature Shock? Let’s find out as our gaming guild of writers, Johnny De Alba, Zack Smith and Paul Potvin Storm the Castle and take a look at Creature Shock:
I don’t normally get pissed off at a game, but when the requirement to beat a level involves carpal tunnel, I’m not a happy camper. Creature Shock, they should have called this game Carpal Tunnel Shock. Now I’m gonna have to use my left hand to pleasure myself. There is no challenge to a game when you are constantly shooting at the first boss, having no idea if you’re damaging it.
Level 1 SHMUP:
Did I also mention that the AI of the first level boss is also really dumb? Most of the enemies can’t even shoot straight either. Oh, I should explain – In the first level you control a piss colored ship. If you remain still, giant orbs will fire photons at you, but their aim is terrible. The real challenge are the ships that look like the Birds of Prey from Star Trek – you’ll know them when you see them, because they’ll come at you like Kamikaze pilots. The real challenge of those bad boys are that they crash into you as their strategy – Oh great going, what a smart AI, this may have worked for the Japanese Empire in World War 2, but this is space – in the future! Come the F’ on!
I started playing Creature Shock with nothing but problems. I tried to run it in DosBox, but couldn’t get the first level to work without crashing. Apparently you have to tweak the DosBox config file to get it to work right; Nice. After many attempts, I got it to work. The CGI in it makes a PlayStation game look like a goddamned work of art. Let’s face it, most PlayStation games aged as poorly as Joan Rivers. To be fair, she has had a face lift that helped contribute to the disaster that’s her face. With that in mind, I can overlook first generation CGI.
Granted, the game is diverse given that you’ll be flying a ship on the first level and blasting aliens with a hand gun on the second level. Imagine Myst mixed with Sewer Shark. Yeah, remember Myst? Ever played Sewer Shark? Two ungodly games that apparently bred and created a retarded hybrid called Creature Shock. I could tolerate Sewer Shark, it was an FMV game where you spent your time in tubes shooting rats – it was actually kind of fun. Myst, on the other hand, was boring.
In Creature Shock, moving around rooms triggers a video sequence that’s nauseating, and confusing. Sometimes you have to click the mouse just to move forward, triggering yet another FMV sequence. Urghh!!! I never had a game make me mad. Don’t even get my started about the bosses you have to face on foot. I could watch the movie Aliens, while constantly shooting at the screen with an NES zapper and have better results. At least the alien will die at some point. In Creature Shock you might find enemies that can’t die – I’m not sure about this, as I only got as far as the second level.
Would I recommend this game? Hell No! If I owned a physical copy, I’d break it. In fact I may burn it to a disk and break it. Oh did I mention that in order to control you’re ship, or shoot at enemies you have to use a mouse? It’s the worst game controller ever made, then again I’m not a PC gamer. Don’t play Creature Shock, you’ll become an alcoholic in no time.
In the words of the infamous George Takei: “Oh My.” Good Lord John, were you drunk when you played the game? First of all, remember, Creature Shock is a shooter. And if I’m not mistaken, most shooters, even ones from 20 years ago, allowed you to simply hold down the fire button to fire. End of story. There is no clicking (unless the game designers just wanted to be complete ass holes). Even the very first shooter of all time, Asteroids, allowed you the rapid fire option. What kind of gamer are you? What were you thinking? Wait! I know…………… You weren’t!
One of Zack’s many failed Level 2 Runs:
Also, remember John, this is an FMV game with pre-rendered visuals. That first boss with the horrible AI was probably just an AVI file meandering back and forth across your screen in loop mode. And come on man, you’re telling me you couldn’t figure out how to finish him? There is this thing called the “INTERNET” that has the answers to anything and everything. Even the most mundane game in the world has a walkthrough. I had the same problem you did when I first got to him. So after about 30 seconds of firing, I paused the game, pulled up a walkthrough and BAM! The answer was pretty simple too: just keep firing at him till he dies!
And regarding your references to Myst and Sewer Shark, I am familiar with them. And while Sewer Shark is NOT highly regarded in gaming circles, I’m pretty sure Myst is. In fact, Myst is so popular that the fans just gave the creators $1.3 million dollars to create a spiritual successor to it! So I’d say we’re safe from getting a “mentally disabled” love-game-child from the mating habits of ancient FMV games. If anything, Creature Shock is a valiant attempt at creating a realistic looking (for its time) game play environment that makes you feel like you are actually participating in a movie.
Alright then, enough of that. Now that I’m done reviewing John’s review, I’d like to give a few thoughts on what “I” thought about this game. And the first thing I must say right out of the gate is: I am biased. Out of the three of us, I was the only one to actually play Creature Shock upon its release almost 20 years ago so that gives me a special perspective. Turns out I am that partisan asshole in Congress that gets bought out by the lobbyists, although, I don’t think they can pay me enough to say that the game play in Creature Shock has aged well. Yeah, the opening shooting level is a cluster Fark of epic proportions. A constant barrage of enemy fire from seemingly every direction with asteroids, alien ships, spiky World War 2 mines (that somehow made it into space), and giant jellyfish that approach you menacingly and then…… do nothing. But the first level is not where Creature Shock bears its teeth. Not in the least.
If you can pass that first level (which took me 5 tries on my first play through, on EASY) you will see what Creature Shock is really all about: traversing creepy corridors with monsters skulking at every bend. It’s all about the atmosphere. This is the part of the game that was interesting to me when I first played it 20 years ago and it is the same thing that is interesting to me now. And let’s not forget the CGI. When I first saw the CGI featured in this game in 1994 and how it was incorporated so seamlessly into the game play, my brain exploded! This was borderline movie quality CGI in a video game. Something I hadn’t really seen at the time. The monsters looked (and still do look) great, and some are truly terrifying. My wife walked into the room while I was playing and immediately asked what year the game was made. When I told her, she said “Wow, that looks really good!” And it does! It’s just a shame that the game controls so poorly. It really is a slow plod through a frequently frustrating torture chamber (literally and figuratively).
I made a valiant attempt at finishing level 2 and after over 20 tries, I simply could-not-do-it. And this was on the easy difficulty! The reason for this is simple: Jittery controls and extremely slow, plodding game play. I don’t know if DosBox was begging me for an old analog mouse or what, but each enemy you fight gives you a very small point of vulnerability in which you must shoot. Meanwhile, the said creature is bounding all over the screen making your targeting (or in this case, targetless) system all the more worthless and impractical. It’s extremely difficult (and in some cases, borderline impossible) to hit the spot you are aiming at. In fact, it’s sometimes maddening. I managed to get to the room before the final boss of level two but there was what I can only describe as a Kirby-slug-Spiderman-hybrid thing that saw fit to chomp my head off each and every time. I’m sorry, but trying to hit a tiny spot on the tail of this giant slug while it is swinging about makes me want to pull out a light gun and blast it to pixilated bliss. Which makes me realize, this game would have been fantastic with a light gun! Calling Jason Lamb! We need your modding abilities! Please Jason! Make this game playable! Oh well, I can dream…
So, yeah, Creature Shock is one of those games where I honestly think you could get 90 percent of the experience just by going to YouTube and watching someone play through the game. Let the guy who posted the videos suffer through the maddening controls and ludicrous difficulty and you can have all the fun just watching. Because as insane as it sounds, there is someone who actually beat this game. And based on the comments under the video, the people watching enjoyed the hell out of it. It makes sense too, because this is after all, nothing more than a glorified, interactive movie. Sit back and enjoy the ride!
So wait. There’s multiple versions of this game: 3DO, Playstation, Saturn, CDi and PC. And we get stuck with the PC version? Ok fine.. but wait.. What? I have to use a mouse to fly? With inverted controls? Fuck this game.
So in conclusion, we have learned from Johnny that Creature Shock causes masturbation problems in men, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, motion sickness, rage quitting, alcoholism and friends to harshly critique each others work. And while Zack mentions that the boss in the first level was easy to kill, Paul never even made it to him. He wasn’t drunk either. He spent more time trying to change the controls around in a non-existent options menu. No seriously, there was no menu (actually there is, but it only adjusts the sound and music volume, woot!). Maybe we can track down a PlayStation copy and give it another go. Ppfftt. Who are we kidding? We’ll just watch the video on You Tube and see the ending that way. If anything, Creature Shock for the PC reminds us that using a controller is never optional.