I Really Wish I Didn't Have To Write this, you know. Not because it's quite late at night and I really ought to be in bed (although that is true), not because I don't really know where to begin (although that's true as well), but because June's absolutely starving to death and try as I might, I just can't convince her that eating a carrot would be a good idea. One more anguished look from her and I might burst into tears. I wish she'd pay attention to what her little brother Hud is doing - he's eating more or less everything, the greedy little lardarse -but she seems more interested in the complexities of submarine navigation than the basic concept of eating to stay alive. Meanwhile, Sassy (her mother) has developed an unpleasant cough, and since she's getting on a bit I fear it may spell the end for her. Not that her Chusband' Tim gives a toss - he's too busy cavorting with new girl Mandy on a secluded desert island somewhere. The filthy little bugger.
What the hell am I on about? Creatures, that's what. Didn't you read the headline, knucklehead?
It's life, Jim
Creatures, billed as the world's first commercial artificial life experiment, has caused something of a stir among boffins, computer programmers, and the sort of polo-neck wearing Nigels who write Ccyberlife' columns in broadsheet newspapers. Even Douglas Adams (erstwhile Hitchhikers' Guide bloke, and a bit of a computer nerd on the sly) has been quoted as saying that Creatures is more exciting than the recent discovery of life on Mars. Since he's not the type to be taken in by empty hyperbole, it's clear that something rather special is going down here.
And indeed it is. My initial reaction upon reading the basic idea behind the Cgame' (if you can call it that) was cynical to say the least. Raise and nurture a race of authentic digital animals? Teach them tricks? Teach them to speak? Breed offspring? Two words immediately sprang to mind: CSea Monkeys'.
Remember Sea Monkeys? They used to advertise them in kid's comics, years back. Usually a little ad on the Desperate Dan Pie-Eater's Club page, if my memory serves me well. Beneath a large drawing of some alarmingly human-like 'Sea Monkeys' sat a list of quite flabbergasting claims. Sea Monkeys, it said, were intelligent, complex creatures that lived underwater. You hatched them from little shells (which would be sent through the post) and then sat back and watched as they swam, frolicked, formed co-operative street theatre companies, built their own Harrier jets, and generally set about laying the foundation for an aquatic utopian civilisation which would thrive for centuries in your bedroom fishtank. It was bollocks, of course: I never actually saw any myself, but I have it on good authority that they were little more than lumps of some lichen-type substance, shoved in a shell - and were more likely to be found poisoning your goldfish than bravely leading mankind into the Age of Aquarius.
Thankfully, Creatures doesn't appear to be a con. And if it is a con, it's a bloody entertaining one. I could crack on for ages about the difference between CArtificial Intelligence', and CArtificial Life' (which is what you get here), but really, all you need to know is this: these things are fascinating. And very, very live.
All you need is love
You're provided with six eggs at the start. Your task is simply to breed as many natural offspring as you can. Everything else is up to you; after all, they're your kids. It's a good idea to teach them a few basic concepts to start off with (such as eating - which is where I failed with the aforementioned CJune'), and once you've mastered that they'll be more receptive to performing more complicated tasks (the on-screen world they inhabit is crammed with stuff for them to tinker with), or expanding their vocabulary (if you're clever, you can even get them to tell you what they're thinking). You'll also need to keep an eye on their health (which can be examined in terrifying detail - right down to the minutiae of their biochemical make-up), their mental state (ditto), and their common sense (ie. making sure they're aware of the many dangers that await them). It's a never-ending task - probably the closest thing to a Cparenthood simulator' there's ever been. And, as with parenthood, what you get out of it is directly related to what you put in. Neglect your 'Norns' development and they'll be fairly unstable, stupid, and uninteresting. The moment you start genuinely caring for them, the satisfaction levels fly through the roof, and it becomes almost impossible to tear yourself away. I defy you not to feel a profound sense of loss when one of your Cfavourites' (you can't help having Cfavourites') bites the dust.
And if you don't start doting on the newborn babies (which inherit some of their parent's characteristics, good or bad) like an over-protective, dewy-eyed mother, then I suggest you take a look at yourself and ask why am I such a callous, loveless shell of a person? Longevity is guaranteed once you perfect the breeding process: you'll be determined to make each generation Cbetter' than the last - and that's a never-ending challenge. I haven't even mentioned the Internet aspect yet (you can Ctrade' creatures with other prospective breeders, or download new Cplug-ins' from the CyberLife site), but you can rest assured that this is about to explode.
Parental advisory: explicit cuteness
As you can see, the CNorns' are also stomach-churningly cute. Don't let that put you off. Creatures is the most enchanting program I've seen in years. I'll repeat my earlier point -how much you get out of it is up to you. Do bear this in mind when you look at the rating I've given it, which reflects my gut reaction. I'm not the soppy type (I rooted for Scar in The Lion King, yet I think I'm in love with my CNorns'.
Which is more than I can say for most people. Scary? Slightly. Spellbinding? Completely.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode