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Deadly Creatures

Preview: Look underneath the pavement...

You can't get further away from the Nintendo aesthetic than a scorpion pumping its toxic payload into the guts of a stunned wolf spider.

When Miyamoto looked into his garden he envisioned Pikmin; when the chaps at Rainbow eyed their Arizona backyard they envisioned a gritty crime thriller played from the perspective of nature's creepiest crawlies.

It sounds a little out there, but then it hardly came about via normal means.

"I had a dream," explained lead designer Jordan Itkowitz when we went for a recent playtest. "In the dream I was a snake and was controlling the snake with the Wii remote, side to side, back and forth.

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And I was going through the grass and I saw a mouse, and I reared up with my right hand, the Wii remote, and I struck the mouse and killed it.

The next morning I pitched it to the guys and they all thought it was pretty cool."

Crikey. A quick prototype later and the team realised that slinking around as a snake wasn't as exciting as it was in the dream, and the focus shifted to the assassin-like spider and pugilist scorpion.

Bug bloodbath

Since our last playtest a hefty dose of insect viscera has been added. Pinching and stabbing your foes sends streams of green goo splattering around, occasionally smearing the camera for extra effect.

The fluorescent green blood is all part of a hyper-real take on the insect kingdom that runs through the entire game, the developers acknowledging that although their creature design process begins with fact, certain elements have been inflated and tweaked for a more cinematic effect.

And so we find the scorpion pulling off finishing moves more suited to one of THQ's WWE titles - a series of powerslams and whips that would cause serious spinal injuries if there were only a spine to injure.

The order of the day here is the cracking of exoskeletons to reveal spongy undersides ripe for a sting or a bite.

Not that your enemies take it lightly, Itkowitz also describes encounters with the horned lizard, famed for weeping a caustic blood from their eyes that coats and burns would-be attackers.

Bloody tears. Poisoned paralysis. The constant sound of tiny legs scuttling on baked Arizona dirt.

The creepiness is undeniable, but this is no simple exercise in cheap squeals - there's a heap of sophisticated narrative tricks underneath the hood.

Using a flashback mechanic - you're working forwards towards a mysterious gas station explosion that opens the game - the dual characters also allow for neat intertwining stories.

Sting in the tale

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An epic fight with an army of spiders when you play as the scorpion may play out in the background of the tarantula's take on the same level as he slinks up surfaces the scorpion couldn't.

At several points their paths are set to cross with out-and-out duels between the two - needless to say, narrative tricks will be needed to stop them offing one another: one dead character would probably hinder the two-hander tale. Not that the two will have time for one another once man arrives on the scene.

We pressed Itkowitz for details on the spider vs scorpion vs man encounter, and although he's keeping schtum on Deadly Creatures's major setpiece he did hint that despite his size, a man's toe was fleshy and defenceless - along with 'other' parts of him.

One uncomfortable look from NGamer and sick giggle from the dev confirmed our worst fears about this unconventional boss - but it remains one of our most anticipated moments of 2008.

We're still to see the tarantula in action - complete with pointer-aimed silk-spewing and ninja-like stealth kills - and there is the question of replay opportunities that surrounds any heavily story-based title, but Deadly Creatures is already looking great.

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