Those of you who regularly listen to the Diecast, over at Shamus Young’s place of e-residence, may recall that last week — in between rambling about Goat Simulator and under-representing Netrunner — I briefly mentioned playing a game called Creeper World 3. The third game in a series by developer Knuckle Cracker — the third game by Knuckle Cracker, period — Creeper World 3 was recommended to me by Blues-friend Varewulf.
I was a little standoffish with regard to Creeper World 3, initially: I disliked the idea of jumping into the third game in a series with no prior knowledge, and the low-fi graphics certainly didn’t sell me on the idea. But Varewulf did, and got me to download and try the freely available demo. My brief exposure to which not only alleviated my worries, but actually got me fairly interested in the game at large.
I put off buying Creeper World 3 at the time because I opted to wait for its (then-already-imminent) Steam release. And as that happened two weeks ago, hey! Here we are.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, high.)
Creeper World 3 starts off as it intends to go on: in space.
I see a lot of fancy galaxies and spinning planets in Creeper World 3’s opening menu, with the former representing gameplay type choices and the latter holding the more options-oriented fare.
Creeper World 3’s options are… nothing to write home about, really. There’s some video options, some audio sliders, controls that I can’t parse yet. Colour customization, for some reason? I won’t claim to understand this, but it’s probably for something cool.
Settings are settings, loading is loading, web takes me to the website, the credits are locked, for some reason, and the DMD is… the Dial Map Device, I guess? It looks to be a selection of user-made levels, which are probably really cool for people who’s already completed the actual campaign missions. Knuckle Cracker seems to think they’re cool, however: in the constellation of planets that is the various gameplay options, the DMD is nothing less than the sun.
Of course, solar systems pale in comparison to the galaxies afforded to Creeper World 3’s actual campaigns. Or, well, I think it’s campaigns. The ‘Arc Eternal’ galaxy makes a good case for being the main story campaign, the name being in the title and all that. ‘Tormented Space’, ‘Prospector Zone’ and ‘Alpha Sector’ are all tantalizingly locked behind the requirement of beating ‘Arc Eternal’, so that strengthens that idea quite a bit. ‘Colonial Space’ appears to play into the whole user-made-map thing again, and ‘Projects’ is actually the map creation tool needed for striking out on my own.
I dig that all this is in the main menu so clearly, but simultaneously, I don’t feel like messing around with any of it just yet. Instead, I decide to just jump into the Arc Eternal galaxy.
No, but really. I’m jumping into the actual galaxy.
Slowly zooming in on a rotating galaxy, the story of Creeper World 3 is told via the medium of static text. Here, I’ll summarize it for you: once, mankind took to the stars, and everything was pretty cool. But then ‘the Creeper’ showed up, and kicked humanity’s collective ass from here to the Galactic Core.
A few (thousand) humans managed to survive, beat back the Creeper, and re-establish human civilization. Phew! But then a few centuries after that, the Creeper came back. Oh no! It kicked human ass, humans fought back, seemingly killed the Creeper, re-established a civilization of some sort… You get the idea.
This pattern apparently repeated itself a lot.
Time of writing, the ‘last of the great human empires’ has succumbed to the Creeper. All seems lost… but where the might of eons of civilization has failed to stop the relentless advance of the implacable Creeper, maybe — just maybe — one man can turn the tide.
Alright, so it’s a pretty silly conceit. One man against the unstoppable eons? But I’ll admit to being pretty hyped at this point, no lie. Come on, then, let’s meet this amazing warrior of survival!
And the last, best hope for humanity is… a middle-aged space captain with short, swept-back blond hair and matching beard. Called Skarsgard Abraxis. I make a mental note to forevermore call him ‘The Most Scandinavian Man In The Universe’.
Skarsgard has a brief conversation with Lia, his talking spaceship. No, that doesn’t make any more sense in context. The conversation is confusing, dropping names and referencing events I’ve never heard of, and I can’t help but feel that this is all a big callback to either previous Creeper World game. That’s what I get for skipping those, I guess.
To summarize: Lia informs Skarsgard he’s been in suspended animation for eons. Eons. Eons are long, you guys! Do you know how long an eon is? I didn’t; I had to look it up.
Skarsgard takes in this news as best as he can…
…before being fine with the whole thing a few seconds later.
Anyway: Skarsgard is — that is to say, I am — currently in the Inceptus system. Skarsgard-me wants to leave this system, because it’s empty and it sucks, but he can’t, because there’s something inhibiting space travel on planet Carcere. But planet Carcere is shielded, and the key to that shield is on the unshielded planet Tempus nearby.
Or, in other words: enough of this narrative introduction nonsense. Let’s see what the Creeper World 3’s gameplay is all about.
This is apparently what Creeper World 3’s gameplay is all about:
Staring at this small 2-by-3 patch of land on the planet Tempus — the only area of interest on the entire planet, it would seem — Skarsgard notices two things. One, the key to unlock Carcere’s planetary shield is indeed right her. And two, there’s a Creeper Emitter right next to it. Of all the lousy, rotten…
The Creeper Emitter — the little purple blob next to the key — doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything right now, mind. Is this the dangerous, all-consuming Creeper I’ve heard so much about? It takes me a few clicks to realize the game is actually paused, frozen in time as Skarsgard and Lia talk about the situation.
I half-heartedly click through the story, listening to Lia explain and Skarsgard mope. Suddenly, the story ends, time resumes, and the Creeper Emitter starts spewing forth a wave of purple… stuff. Ah, so we are talking about a Zerg Creep situation! The Creeper rapidly expands, forming itself to the contours of the crevasse the Emitter is in.
Alright, so what’s my next move? Skarsgard and ship-Lia are content to stay in orbit, out of the Creeper’s range… but what I can apparently do is send down a Command Node from the ship, in order to establish an automated base of operations on the ground. This will allow me to fight the Creeper and retrieve the shield key… somehow.
I select the Command Node from the bar on the bottom of the screen, ‘Orbital’ tab, and make with the landing.
‘Excellent.‘, the game tells me. ‘Now build ten collectors around the Command Node. They’ll help you collect energy.’
In the same bottom bar, ‘Structure’ tab, I now find a small green circle construction called a Collector. I click on it, and drag my mouse cursor across the map. I see a transparent image of the collector under my mouse cursor, projecting a white-and-sometimes-red pixelated circle around itself.
When I mouse the collector close enough to the Command Node, a green line appears between the two buildings. I take this as a sign, and click to place down the collector. The building and the line solidify… somewhat, as the Command Node starts sending out little balls of ‘energy’ to it.
The bar on top of the screen informs me that Creeper World 3 plays by Total Annihilation resource rules: instead of your sum total of resources mattering, it’s the amount I gain per second versus the amount I spend that’s important. The Command Node generates a certain amount of energy on its own, but the collector nodes add to that energy generation… based on the unique area they cover once completed. Which is what the circular shape around them represented. Clever, clever.
I build several more collectors. Most of them I connect directly to the Command Node, but it doesn’t take me long to figure out that collectors can also connect to other collectors. This way, I slowly build a network of energy gathering devices, one at a time.
While the Creeper keeps doing its expansion thing.
Building ten collectors unlocks me a building in the Weapons tab: the Pulse Cannon, a weapon required to fight back the slowly advancing Creeper. I need to attach these cannons to the energy network in order for them to be supplied with ammo, which the Command Node creates using — you guessed it — energy. The cannons do not actually further the network, though, because they’re lazy like that.
I slowly advance my network to the really remarkably passive Creeper. The cannons I built for ‘defense’ earlier are seen gathering dust, and probably wondering about their life choices. Cannons I build on the front lines are more effective, however, blasting the Creeper into clouds of purple dust with each shot.
But wait! The back-line cannons can actually lift off and fly to the front lines, re-joining the network there and actually earning their keep! Excellent!
Finally, I get close enough to the Creeper Emitter to build a short-range weapon called a Nullifier. The only weapon that can destroy Creeper structures, it’s slow to build, difficult to place, and it takes a long while to carefully (audibly) spool up. Creeper pours forth from the Emitter all the while, desperate to destroy the weapon before it fires, but my dozen cannons are on-point.
Finally, the Nullifier fires! A red laser beam shoots forth, both the Emitter and the Nullifier explode, and I claim victory over this silly world. Onto the next one, Skarsgard!
Second world, remarkably much same as the first. I land my Command Node, I place my collectors and my cannons, Creeper flows from the Emitter through the cracks in the rocks. Simple stuff.
I receive a new structure on this world: the Relay, which builds longer and faster networks than the collector at the cost of not actually collecting energy. With it, I’m able to rapidly expand across the map, hemming the Creeper in before it even so much as becomes a threat.
Alright, granted, the Creeper does roll over a poorly placed cannon one time. My bad, my bad. Contact with the Creeper does cause the cannon to rapidly take damage and explode after seconds, so I can see why it’s bad stuff to be near. Call it a learning experience.
The large red structure in the bottom right of the map is something called a Warp Inhibitor. It’s basically a Creeper Emitter Extreme, and it’s what’s keeping Lia and Skars in this dull solar system. I blow it to smithereens…
…and just like that, we make for the next system.
Three worlds in this system, only one of which is shielded. Its key is split over the other the worlds, though. I get to pick the attack order myself? Fancy.
On the world Telos, I unlock the Reactor structure, which is essentially the opposite of the relay: all energy, no network. Beyond that… I start out in what’s essentially a castle, and the Creeper doesn’t. There are three Emitters here, and I beat them handily.
One interesting thing I notice: blowing up a Creeper Emitter leaves behind a glowing circle of some sort. I’m unsure what it does at first… until I try placing a cannon in it. Turns out this zone of residual power boosts the effect of any structure placed in it: collectors and relays cover a wider area, power generators generate more, and cannons…
But it’s not until the fourth world, Far York, that Creeper World 3 really connects for me.
See, up until this world, I was halfway wondering what all this fuss about the Creeper was even for. Sure, it’s spreading purple goop that damages on contact, but it spreads slow as balls and it’s neatly confined to existing terrain layouts. What’s the big deal, am I right? Just throw up some walls, put a few cannons at strategic choke-points and we can all kick back and sip martinis in this far-off space-future hellscape.
But Far York puts the lie to that idea fairly quickly. See, this world starts out like this:
Before becoming something more akin to this:
Are you seeing it yet? The Creeper doesn’t just ‘confine itself to existing terrain layouts’. The Creeper flows. It flows, and it stacks, and it slowly bubbles up from its Emitters in the deep earth.
It turns out that Creeper World 3 actually has a fairly robust simulation of height built in. Ten levels of terrain height, to be precise, all quickly and immediately identifiable by way of different colour. The Creeper, behaving like the weird killer liquid that it is, slowly builds up over time, growing higher and higher and eventually spilling over even the most well-built barricades. The reason it wasn’t all that scary in the previous levels was because I always started in high, fortified ground, and the Creeper spawned from the lower, boxed-in levels. But in this level… well, I still have the high ground, sure. But the Creeper pits in this level aren’t so much confined spaces as they are a disaster waiting to happen.
Luckily, I just so happen to get some mortar launchers in this level. Those deal extra damage to Creeper the deeper it’s stacked. Convenient!
Still, I feel I understand the threat a little better now. The Creeper’s real danger is that it’ll continue building over time, if left unchecked. As long as there’s solid ground to flow on and barriers to slosh against, the Creeper will always be a threat to everything I build. It works well as a mood-setter.
Which is why it confuses me a little that the next level apparently has chasms that tunnel into the depths of space.
Not to mention the mysterious blue ‘Anti-Creeper’, which (when sprayed) provides a slowly dwindling safe area where the Creeper cannot spread. Perfect for making footholds into difficult territory and flying some cannons and mortars in… maybe less perfect for conveying the sense of a relentless, mindless, unstoppable destructive force that no single human empire over the eons managed to stop.
I mean, I’m doing an okay job at it so far.
But, then again, that’s what I thought before I saw the Creeper pits. Maybe the Creeper has additional tricks up its sleeve that I haven’t seen yet. I should probably just stop writing and play on for a while; maybe the next world will show me something else that drives the Creeper’s unstoppable, relentless nature home for me.