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GDC08: Abandon Interactive's Freaky Creatures


Today (and by 'today', of course, I'm talking 'earlier Tuesday', whereas for many of you reading this as it goes live, it'll be Wednesday already) I saw a vibrant new MMO called Freaky Creatures. By the end of my session with the creative team, I said this, and I quote: "You guys will hear this a lot from now on, so let me be the first: this is like Pokémon, but far, far cooler."

And it is. Freaky Creatures has a lot going for it, and it sounds like they're getting it all right. Given that the game has been in development for over 5 years now, Abandon Interactive has had the advantage of watching many an MMO rise and fall, and they're making sure they don't make the same mistakes. Read on, O Intrepid One, and lemme 'splain some things to you.

Gallery: GDC08: Freaky Creatures | 15 Photos

What is Freaky Creatures? At its heart, it's a one-on-one monster brawler, but it's an MMO because your opponents will come from other users online. Here's how it works: You go to your local game emporium and see on the shelves a brand-new set of toys: two fist-sized monster figures encased in a pack. On closer examination, you find included a flash drive. Toys and a flash drive? Intrigued, you pick up a pack for the cost of (as the team assures me) less than the average retail price for a PC game.

When you take it home and open it up, you immediately start playing with the toys, making them fight each other. That's what you do; that's what everyone does. And right there, you know most of what you need to know about Freaky Creatures. Like the Battle Beasts of yore, it's just fun to make monsters fight each other. In this particular case, your two toys are merely physical representations of potential digital homunculi, ready to be employed in the service of your fevered combative imaginings. They're stored in that flash drive, along with a random assortment of parts and powers -- 25 parts per creature, and 20 powers.

'Parts' are a good catch-all term for the weapons that you can attach to your critter. These are in the form of wearables such as horns and tails, and equip-ables like brass knuckles or swords, though the game makes no distinction between the two forms. 'Powers' are abilities that augment your beast's initial attack, in ways that we'll get to in a minute. It's worth noting here that the flash drive also contains the game installer, and is reusable -- you can wipe the drive and have a drive with a capacity of -- and here Abandon was unable to be conclusive, as the storage capacity remains undetermined; stay tuned.

At launch, there will be 10 creature types available for purchase. In the gallery screens provided here, you can make out a few of them. There are two of these creatures per pack, and uploading them to the game server permanently unlocks those creature types for you. Endless variations on these types can be customized -- by the team's count, over 3 billion -- but no other types are available until you purchase them, which you can do for cheaper than the flash drive version, which is necessary for the first installation. Furthermore, once you've unlocked all 10 types, an 11th type will make itself accessible to you that you can't buy off-line. Abandon says that this type will be spoken of mysteriously on the accompanying website until someone finally manages to unlock it.

Speaking of game-to-Web interaction, the future looks bright: rather than mere leaderboards (though the team promises those a-plenty), or stats columns, the site will be fully functional, featuring the ability to track your creature's stats and victories, create teams of critters, trade Powers with other users, and a wide range of other functions. In fact, one could argue that, while combat is the heart of Freaky Creatures, the website is its circulatory system. Rich interactivity is in the offering, and it's about time. Abandon says they plan to continually update with almost weekly content -- new Powers, minigames, social network features, etc. And there is a mobile component to consider as well! Take your creature off the Web and onto your cellphone! Let me not get ahead of myself here, but that's pretty sweet.

To return to the heart, then: once you've customized your creature, you can choose its location. The conceit here is science fiction, with the overarching story being one of galactic exploration and battles over limited resources, fought by proxy in the form of these modified monsters. Your beast will have a location of its own, a 'lair', in which you will be able to drop food, toys, and even a little pet to keep your guy happy. The team was quick to point out that happiness is only a factor when not actively in battle -- it's just a fun addition to playing with your creature in his lair, Black and White-style (there's even a hand that you use to pet your creature). Other players' creatures can come visit, and that's when battle is joined. Combat is initiated consensually, by invitation and agreement, and here's where Freaky Creatures gets you.

The combat is turn-based: you're shown a divided hit chart with sections for the head, both arms, the body, and a tail. Clicking on one of those sections chooses your attack. Once your opponent has chosen, you're both able to see how this initial attack will be borne out. There are 5 types of damage in this attack, each with its own effects: physical, energy, poison, fire, and ice. Once both initial attacks are chosen, you can choose to employ a Power, which modifies your chosen attack. If, for example, you see that your opponent's attack is energy-based, you might choose to use your energy shield Power to mitigate its effects. So, the initial attack is blind, the secondary attack is with full knowledge of what's coming at you. Once both of these attacks have been chosen, they're played out with amusing and charming animations: a poison attack will have your creature keeling over and coughing, while an electricity-based attack will convulse him with shocks, cartoon-style. They're fun to watch, and don't at all overdo it or go overboard. Additionally, the character models are clean and well-detailed. They are based on system specs in the lower- to mid-range, so few, if any, users will be left out.

At the conclusion of the battle (which at its upper limit might be as long as 15 minutes, a solid amount of time to feel fulfilled by combat), you might level up, but you have the option of also increasing your creature's stats, or stealing a Power from your defeated opponent. After this step, it's back to the lair for both creatures, where the winner preens and struts, while the loser sulks and needs comfort. This too, like the happiness mentioned before, is merely cosmetic; you can choose to fight again immediately with no penalty.

All this for the initial cost of an average PC game, and a monthly subscription of $5.95 per month. This game looks to satisfy on many levels: those looking for a quick combat session can find one easily, no need for the sometimes-overwhelming need to spend hours on end grinding; the purely collectible status of these creatures with their billions of customization options, like Webkinz on hi-octane; the visceral fun of monster mayhem. What's not to like? Freaky Creatures has a tentative ship date of the end of Summer of this year for PC and mobiles; sorry, Mac users (damn!). We'll have more coverage of this exciting game as it gets closer to completion. The die-hard geek in me won't let me close this post without making a final unnecessary comment on what I imagine will be a hard-to-put down game: Abandon (Interactive) all hope, ye who enter!

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