Basing your game on creatures best known for their extreme toxicity and partiality to stinging is the very definition of a hard sell. Second only to creating a Noel Edmonds life sim, in fact. The problem with this hard sell is that developers Rainbow aren't natural salesmen. How does a studio with a string of dirt bike racers to its name dip its toe in the waters of third-person actioners? Read on...
Following a scorpion and tarantula as they go about their daily business, the game is split into sections where you control each creature in turn. The scorpion segments really betray Rainbow's motoring past. Three-dimensional action heroes, whether they stride on two legs or scuttle on eight, are not mechanical bikes to be weaved around courses. Instead of dominating the action, ol' pinchy feels flat on the ground, scrapping with other creatures dragging their bellies in the dirt. Bike wheels never leave the earth, but the ground-hugging here doesn't feel right.
It doesn't help that Mr Stingy's moves have more in common with WWE than Life In The Undergrowth. Tail spins and pincer karate chops clash with Rainbow's realism remit. And the attack and damage-taking animations are too rigid, with last-second blocks almost impossible once the poisonous pugilist is in full swing. These moves are silly without looking brutal or exciting. Only Quick Time Event finishers take the wrestling idea to the desired extremes: tearing the wings off a wasp is WWE theatrics at their best.
Our spider fares better. A hookshot-like web move enables level design to climb out of the dirt, with bramble patches transforming into soaring towers and the bleached desert dirt avoided with cactus-to-cactus acrobatics. It takes a few levels for you to unlock all his powers, but once you have pounces and eye-webbing, spider combat actually begins to feel like something that would get David Attenborough's blood pumping. Blinding a lizard before squirting it full of toxins is Mother Nature at her vicious best.
In fact, the game as a whole improves as it progresses. Scorpion combat trudges to the bitter end, but the shift from common bug enemies to lizards and rats offers more spectacle. Indeed, the rat finishing move is the game's goriest moment - a sting to the neck before the stinger is buried so heavily into the rat's skull that it pulls out with a meaty 'thwunk'. More than this, the move from desert dirt mounds towards civilisation sees the appearance of human artefacts to jazz up design: a doll's house full of black widows is a goosebump moment.
This interaction between nature and man forms the backbone of Deadly Creatures' experimental narrative. While scorpion and spider are largely without dramatic motivation (although the spider repeatedly battles a rattlesnake with a vendetta), a human story develops in the background. The tale of two treasure hunters - voiced with Texan drawls by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper - is hardly Oscar-winning, but curiosity in how they'll impact the tale does spur you on.
By the end of the game the amount of human contact is less than we'd hoped, limited more to booming conversations from the duo above (watch out for some comedy pumice/poo confusion). Rainbow are far better at incidental pieces of level design: crawling across a sleeping man's boot, traversing an abandoned truck or seeing a bloke's arm hanging into a level like some alien totem. Saying that, the climax - basically Shadow Of The Colossus meets, well, Dennis Hopper - is a must see.
We know that game development isn't handled chronologically, but it's almost as if Rainbow learned what they were doing as the levels passed. Sadly, this means ideas from the dump-o opening third (scorpion combat, the brown colour palette) hover over the whole game like a foul smell, but fresh ideas do arrive. Not a great game, but it creeps into some interesting places. What remains a hard sell is an infinitely easier rent.
You'll see interesting sights, but this doesn't capitalise on the ick factor or the thrill of seeing our world through a fresh set(s) of eyes.