Playing Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal is a little like being stuck in a leaky boat: you do your best to stick your fingers into the holes, and just when you think you have it beaten, a new leak appears, which requires a whole new yoga posture to reach. While a bad experience in real life, to have the feeling engendered by a game is another, quite pleasurable matter.
Creeper World 3 (by independent developer Knuckle Cracker) is a hybrid of game genres, mixing elements of a real-time-strategy game with the concepts of a tower-defense game. The enemy is the titular Creeper, a hostile fluid-like adversary that oozes over the battlefield, gradually enveloping and destroying the player’s forces. The player must keep the Creeper at bay by setting up base with a command module and using collectors and relays to deploy an energy network that will support the player’s war devices. These include offensive and defensive equipment such as cannons, mortars, shields and nullifiers (devices that destroy Creeper emitters which stops the Creeper emerging from that point). Everything must be within a set distance of this network, or it will all fall inactive and be overwhelmed by the Creeper.
The narrative of the story follows on from the earlier Creeper games. If you are unfamiliar with those, it is enough to know that you play Commander Skarsgard Abraxis, slowly waking up from a five billion year cryo-sleep to find himself alone on a spaceship with the computer A.I. Lia. Lia fills you in on what has been happening, which is basically the fall of every human civilization over that period of time, the Creeper always ebbing and flowing in a tide of destruction that cannot be resisted. She is also instrumental in teaching you what tools you have in your arsenal and their purpose, which is a very pleasant way to introduce a player to the game mechanics. Your available gadgets and weapons increase mission after mission, drip feeding more powerful equipment to you which gives you more options for your next encounter with the enemy.
The game does seem quite complicated initially, and the tutorial, while going a long way to assuage too much head scratching, still tripped me up a few times, but I did get there in the end. I found it somewhat soothing placing the energy network and various weapons, and without wanting to use an obvious pun, it did flow nicely for me, even as I was exterminating the flowing enemy. It’s also a game where the tension builds the longer the level goes on. If you don’t get a good foothold before the Creeper reaches your base, you will have your work cut out trying to gain enough power to keep your ailing cannons going. If the Creeper is particularly close and deep, you might find that a wall of cannons is simply not enough to hold back the tide.
Graphically, the game looks basic but the more you play, the more you appreciate the simple colours and shapes, and the relentless flowing of the Creeper as it gets nearer and nearer to your base. The clean, colourful look does give you great feedback on what resources are flowing along your network. Various coloured blobs and symbols whizz along the connected nodes and it doesn’t take very long for you to guess which does what. It’s great to see what is going on at a glance and where any bottlenecks might be or Creeper damage done.
The levels you encounter all have varying layouts that tie in with the storyline. One particular world had been decimated with an Orbital Mass Driver, which led to the battlefield being three large craters, the Creeper oozing up and filling each one simultaneously. Another world might be more mountainous or more flat. This variety does force you to change your tactics depending on the type of terrain you face. A more open landscape leaves your installations exposed, while one with some higher terrain will mean that the Creeper will take some time to get to that height. As you progress in the game, you will gain technology that lets you terraform the landscape to aid your abilities. This allows you to fortify and repair existing ruins, or to even build a beachhead upon which you can slowly advance into Creeper territory on a bridge of your own making.
Creeper World 3 comes with a powerful level editor/generator called Dial Map Device. On first impression, it looks pretty complex, but the great thing about it is you can just fiddle to find out what effect a certain setting might have on a level. Once you have generated a map and then beat it, you then have naming rights, so that you can name your creation and other players can then find it in an online database. Even if you don’t name it, a map generation code can be given to others so that they can reproduce your map themselves to see how they fare. There is also an “I Feel Crazy” button that gives you a random map. On top of this, if you feel the need, you can also script your own enemies and missions using the CRPL programming language included with the game. All of this, with the above mentioned storyline, gives the game a massive dose of longevity.
I enjoyed playing Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal. There is enough complexity and ability for user tinkering to keep anyone that the game seduces happy for a very long time. It is clear that a lot of thought and design has gone into its creation. The only things that dragged on me a little were some parts of the tutorial not making things clear enough and the music, while fitting and well created, gets old pretty quickly. Beyond that, if you like the visual style and premise of the game, I think you will find a game that will certainly reward you for your time.
Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal can be purchased for both PC and Mac from the creator’s site here, where you’ll also find links to other purchase points and links to the previous games in the series. It is currently going through Steam’s Greenlight process, so it may also appear on there very soon.
Reviewer: Casey Douglass