Product: Impossible Creatures Developer: Relic Entertainment/Microsoft Web site: www.microsoft.com/games/ impossiblecreatures Pros: Creative, new real-time strategy with a twist Cons: Not enough players online Price: HK$250 Relic Entertainment's first game, Homeworld, was a fantastic debut and garnered rave reviews. Now, Relic is back and bringing some impossible creatures with it. Impossible Creatures is a real-time strategy game that finally moves away from the common historical and space themes and into the realm of bio-science. The game is set in 1937, so the technologies are powered by two resources - coal and electricity. An eccentric scientist provides just enough out-of-the-box thinking to create the technology that allows you to combine the characteristics of two animals. By mixing and matching characteristics from two animal types, you can create impossible creatures with which to wage war. Animal anatomy is broken down into seven possible sections: head, torso, front legs, back legs, tail, wings and pincers. I combined a wolverine with an armadillo to create a 'wolverdillo', my thinking being that the front legs and head of the wolverine would give my creature a vicious bite and the shell of the armadillo would give it a good defence when fighting up close. By clicking on the different parts of the anatomy, I can choose if I want, say, the head to come from the wolverine or the armadillo. Another of my creations copied the mythological flying snake. It had the wings of an owl and the body of a snake. Best of all, it spat acid! I also combined a coyote and a frog to create a 'coyrog' and a wolf and a lobster to create a 'wobster'. Creating impossible creatures is great fun, and I spent loads of time just mixing and matching different animals. The possibilities are endless and make for hours of fun. With so many combinations to play with, many games are spent wondering: 'What is that thing? It's killing me!' Once you have created your impossible creature, you can store the blueprint. You can also build any creature from your library during combat. There are pre-built libraries, but they are not half as much fun as fighting your opponent with your own creations. Your creature types can be upgraded by building a workshop. Using the workshop, you can upgrade a creature's attacks, movement and defence. Claws can be made longer and sharper. Poison spit can become more corrosive. At its animalistic heart, though, Impossible Creatures is still a real-time strategy game. You still gather resources to power your buildings and create your creatures. More powerful creatures are accessible once you upgrade your buildings and, as with other real-time strategy games, the player with the most, biggest, baddest units usually wins. It is undoubtedly a lot of fun to see how your invented creatures fare against the inventions of other players. Unfortunately, I'm not finding a great many players online, so you may have to bring your own friends to the party. Graphically, the engine is one of the best I have seen. The ability to smoothly rotate and zoom from any angle is a Relic hallmark. The campaign is your usual fare, with some good production values but average overall. The mood and setting are different from Homeworld. Impossible Creatures is cartoonish and carefree, whereas Homeworld is serious and sombre. Relic is quickly building a reputation for developing creative real-time strategy games with a twist. With Homeworld, it created a fully 3D space; with Impossible Creatures, the twist is the ability easily to create your own customised army and see how it fares, never sure what enemies you are going to face. I thoroughly enjoy Impossible Creatures. Each defeat drives me back to the lab to experiment with creating new monstrosities. I've never had so much fun losing! Any questions or requests on games,e-mail Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org .