Note: This review was originally published August 11, 2005
I’m sorry, did you happen to see my spaceship? I could’ve sworn I parked it right here!
In the vast sea of stars drifts the massive spaceship Ark. Built by the mysterious ancient race known as the Shee, the Ark was once a symbol of hope as the Shee ventured deep into space in search of a new home. Now, abandoned by its creators, the Ark is home to colorful and positively weird little creatures known as Norns. As a devoted Norn caretaker, the spaceship gives you the perfect opportunity to turn a technological marvel into your private petting zoo.
Following the series tradition, Creatures: Exodus is all about raising Norns. From teaching them how to speak to taking care of their medical needs, you will be in charge of all aspects of your Norns’ lives with the goal of creating and maintaining a healthy population. The game is a self-proclaimed experiment in “artificial life”. Each world you create will be a simulated ecosystem powered by an intricate web of machinery. Genes from each parent will be mixed and transferred to baby Norns, causing your Norns to eventually evolve across generations. Starting with just a couple of Norns, you will have to unlock the secrets of the Ark and help your pets thrive in a dangerous environment.
What do you mean it was overtaken by Norns? I haven’t even finished paying off the loan I took to buy that ship… What is a Norn anyway?
You can start Creatures: Exodus with either a pair of educated adult Norns or two eggs ready for incubation. The game does not have specific missions or objectives. Instead, Creatures: Exodus plays as a free-form simulation. Players cannot control the Norns directly, as they are designed to behave as independent creatures. The Norns are capable of learning and responding to their essential needs such as eating and sleeping on their own. Given enough time, they can figure out how to operate the devices located on the spaceship and become able to interact with each other. The player’s role is to serve as a guide, assisting Norns in their struggle to survive on the Ark.
Players can help Norns learn through a simple punishment and reward system. When the Norns do something correctly, you can reward them by tickling them. Serving as positive reinforcement, tickling makes Norns more likely to repeat the action. Similarly, if they do something wrong, you can punish the Norns by slapping them. You can also guide your Norns around the various sections of the ship by holding their hands. This allows you to steer Norns away from danger or take them to a toy or device you would like them to use.
However, the most effective and perhaps the most entertaining way of interacting with Norns is to talk, or rather type, to them. Creatures: Exodus allows you to type in simple statements to speak with your Norns. For instance, you can type in phrases like “eat fruit”, “push button”, or “retreat” to ask your Norns to perform certain actions, not that they will always do what you say. You can also ask them to how they feel by typing “express” so you can better respond to their needs. Just like us, Norns are not born with an inherent knowledge of language. Creatures: Exodus offers a number of ways for you to help Norns lean how to speak. For instance, after hitting the F1 key, you can click on interactive objects to reveal their names. Nearby Norns hear these names and learn how to pronounce them after you click on the object a number of times. You can also send your Norns to the language school or let them learn from each other. While the Norns will never be able to understand truly complex statements, the incorporation of speech does add a great degree of depth to the game and might even make your relationship with your Norns feel more real.
So let me get this straight… You are telling me there is a spaceship full of critters aimlessly drifting across space? There better not be any scratches on my ship when I track down these Norns, that’s all I got to say!
The spaceship in Creatures: Exodus is designed as a self-powered ecosystem. The ship is capable of generating energy and sustaining a steady growth of plant life. Besides Norns, two other major creature types, Grendels and Ettins, inhabit the ship to terrorize Norns and irritate players. The notorious Grendels invade the homes of your peaceful Norns, attacking and killing your cute and cuddly pets with no guilt, shame, or mercy. While harmless to your Norns, Ettins are a whole other source of frustration as they sneak in and steal technological devices. In order to provide your Norns a safe living environment, you have to take measures to keep these pests at bay. You cannot take Ettins and Grendels by the hand and guide them to different sections of the spaceship as you can do with Norns. However, the game does allow you to tickle and slap these creatures, helping you at least temporarily keep them away from Norns. It is also possible to teach Norns to fight off the pesky intruders. Finally, the ever-amazing spaceship itself comes to the rescue with devices specifically designed to fend off Grendels and Ettins. For instance, some doors can be locked against Grendels, Norns, or Ettins, limiting access to certain areas. Alarms can be configured to go off whenever an Ettin or Grendel is nearby. Weapons can be operated to shoot at approaching intruders.
There is a multitude of gadgets, toys, and tools scattered around the spaceship. Many of these devices have a simple function and they can be used by the player or other creatures. For instance, next to the incubator, there is a machine that produces slices of cheese when it is clicked by players or operated by Norns. The simple devices can also be connected to other devices to perform more complex functions. Many of the devices have input and output ports. By connecting these ports, you can configure machines to operate jointly. As an example, an alarming devices that goes off when Grendels are nearby can be connected to a machine that fires dirt balls. The result is a weapon that will automatically start firing whenever Grendels are nearby. By strategically positioning this contraption, you can prevent Grendels from getting close to your Norns. It is possible to create more sophisticated combinations around the ship, allowing players to automate tasks and better protect Norns.
Creatures: Exodus also offers online gameplay options through the Docking Station component included in the package. The Docking Station features the Capillata, a smaller spaceship launched to find the Ark. Players have the option to play the game solely on the Ark or on the Capillata add-on. The game can also be played with the Capillata docked to the Ark, making all the different environments accessible. The online components of the game are contained within the Capillata. After going through the sign-up process on the Gameware Web site, players can logon to chat with other Norn-keepers. It is also possible to transfer Norns from one player’s world to another through the Warp system. Finally, players can create permanent portals between their world and another player’s world. Norns can freely travel through these portals and players can have up to ten portals in their worlds at any given time.
Creatures: Exodus has the amount of content that can keep players occupied for a long time. Between the Ark and the Capillata add-on, there are plenty of areas to explore. There is a multitude of devices that are waiting to be discovered and connected in numerous ways. Players can even unlock bonuses that can improve the efficiency of the more sophisticated machines in the game. Online gameplay options allow players to share their love of Norns with others. However, Creatures: Exodus is certainly not the right game for everyone. If you are looking for cutting edge graphics, the colorful 2-D world of Creatures: Exodus will probably not be very appealing. If you prefer your games to have specific missions and objectives, and at least some semblance of a storyline, the free-form gameplay of Creatures: Exodus might be a nightmare. Most importantly, the sheer amount of interactive tools and machines across the spaceship can be very daunting. Creatures: Exodus is one of those games where even reading the manual is not quite enough. You should expect to spend quite a bit of time reading device descriptions as you play the game to figure out what all the different gizmos do. Even after learning about the tools, you will still have to spend time experimenting with different combinations to find effective ways of connecting devices. The lifecycle of your Norns will also require a good degree of patience. You should be prepared to take the time to properly educate your Norns and be willing to repeat the process as new generations are born. Creatures: Exodus has a fairly steep learning curve that can easily leave players bored and frustrated. However, if you are willing to take the time to understand the mechanics of the game and the idea of helping a species survive in a hostile environment appeals to you, Creatures: Exodus has a lot to offer. Rumor has it that some very lost Norns in a distant galaxy can really use a caretaker.
Final Grade: B-
Windows 98, 2000, ME, XP
Macintosh OS X 10.2, 10.3, 10.4