Creeper World 3 has the best monster of any game

What’s the best video game monster? Stop and think. You’ve probably thought of something bristling with claws, which snarls as it rushes to bite you, or some skittering horror that lurks in the shadows. Perhaps it’s a shiny robot or a soldier with particularly fiendish AI. These are all understandable choices. They are, however, wrong.

The best monster is in Creeper World 3 [official site]. It is gunge. It has no weak point to exploit. It has no face. There will be no victory. There will only be gunge.

Exposing another bias of mine, I feel the need to surround any comparison of a game with the tower defence genre with caveats. Creeper World 3 is clearly a form of tower defence, but describing it as such risks doing it a disservice. Bluntly, it’s not that boring.

Most tower defence games are about an hour long at best. At least, that’s as far as I ever get before losing a round and not caring enough to try again, or winning a round and not caring enough to watch another line of guns mow down another orderly queue like an unusually proactive shop assistant. Call it an acquired distaste.

In Creeper World 3, “tower defence” only truly describes the opening act of a level. Each takes place on a different planet, and tasks you with securing some key artifact and usually a key to the next world. You examine the map from above, place your headquarters, and dot the surrounding landscape with power generators before setting up your defences. So far, so tower defence. But your goal isn’t merely to survive; it’s to build up your forces and counter-attack, wiping each map clean of your foes. You have the run of the map, and enemy movement changes with its surroundings, so stock formations and cold calculations of optimal damage are out. Your tactics need to be more… hell, I’m going to say it: fluid.

For this is the main reason Creeper World 3 is unlike anything else out there. Your enemies are not soldiers, or robots, or alien beasties dumbly marching to someone’s doom through your gauntlet. The vast bulk of the force opposing you is comprised of a sinister purple goo. Not goo taking on various forms. Just an inexorable tide of deadly liquid, mindlessly destroying everything in its path.

What’s difficult to convey is quite how compelling this is. Easily misunderstood as a gimmick, the Creeper is instead a uniquely challenging opponent. In theory it’s highly predictable, and a quick read of the landscape will give you all the knowledge needed to bottle it up, but even the slightest complacency can spell disaster.

Where discrete units would be easily spotted breaking from ranks, it’s frighteningly easy to overlook a tiny trickle of Creeper. Fluid dynamics being what they are – and the game has a complex and convincing model – it’s a short step from there to a critically breached base overflowing with malevolent gack.

There are more threats, introduced regularly and comfortably with each level of the campaign. Runners flit about some levels firing disabling shots at your buildings, and corrupted human technology punts out aggressive sentries on others. But these really serve only to distract and weaken you. Most of the hostile tricks are essentially alternative ways to deliver the Creeper or make it harder to control. There is only the goo.

What’s most surprising is how effective this approach is. My natural supposition, particularly with tower defence, would be that a game ought to introduce more monsters, and that shooting endlessly at stacks of gunge would get old. But Creeper World makes a strength of it. There’s plenty of variety, and some deceptively fiendish threats, from the complications some levels introduce – one with an indestructible network of tubes the Creeper can rush through, another with an orbiting planetoid that pulls it in, your extremely high walls be damned. To counter all this is a colourful box of toys for the player, most of which are critical on their introductory level. Taken together, they offer a robust set of options for most situations, with even the more puzzle-y maps generally offering as many solutions as you can dream up. Rapid fire cannons hold the line but struggle with volume, while mortars are slow but cut into deep purple puddles and fire over walls. Patches of ore are mined and distributed along the same networks as your power grid as anti-creeper, a precious blue antidote sprayed or dropped from bombers to thin out distant streams or establish beachheads before flying your turrets over – almost all of your active weapons can be moved once placed, and carry a private store of ammunition for emergencies and/or dropping recklessly into a puddle, hopefully clearing a path for others.

That power grid itself is a major strategic concern, as generators and infrastructure are instantly destroyed if bepurpled, potentially cutting off your guns, while ore must be siphoned back to base (themselves also mobile, and in most cases multiple, opening further tactical options) before use. Aircraft both offensive and logistical round out options I often neglect, and a research system unlocks midway through, adding another asset to secure and protect, just in case you were worried about things ever being simple. It’s all rather pretty too, in an unpretentious kind of way. Lively sprites and bright colours complement a clear and efficient interface, and there’s equal satisfaction to be had from watching your turrets sniping Runners and cutting down Spores.

But through it all, there’s no forgetting that it’s the sheer relentless tide of murderous gunk you’re fighting. It constantly builds pressure both figurative and literal and at times becomes almost hypnotically compelling,

The plot does a great deal to drive this home, a remarkable achievement given that it’s completely unobtrusive, and that many developers wouldn’t have bothered with one at all. It’s the year Literally Billions From Now and you’re the last human. Not the last survivor of a battle, not the last human on Earth, but the last human anywhere ever. Your refreshingly non-wacky AI companion explains that your current situation makes Dave Lister’s look positively idyllic, as you’ve woken up after a mysterious substance called Creeper has destroyed all humans, all their works, all their civilisations, everything. And this has happened repeatedly. Any time some survivors rebuild, the Creeper comes back. The humans invent a countermeasure, the Creeper circumvents it. In the handful of cases where humanity got too clever, the Creeper simply waited. Whether it takes a decade or thousands of years, the Creeper will simply pull a galaxy wide Tremors on us and wait for us to forget, or convince ourselves that it’s gone.

Again and again, everything has been wiped out by the same unstoppable tide. No explanation, no quarter, no hesitation. This is not some localised crisis or a simple war. This stuff you’re shooting at wants to obliterate you, and it will keep on coming forever.

And this is where an odd thing happens. Through its refusal or inability to communicate, the Creeper takes on a personality in your mind. Its absolutely indiscriminate genocide is so not personal that playing CW, the mood underflows and becomes bizarrely more personal. Aha! I see you there, sneaking around that sliver of land the shield doesn’t quite cover. Nice try, gunge! What! You dropped a spore on my mines! You bastard, you knew I needed them. Ha, didn’t think I’d bomb you THERE, did you?

It is a silly thing, and I can’t fully explain it. Through screen after screen, the endless soupy tides form a giant purple tabula rasa onto which I paint a hateful face, and I take a possibly unhealthy delight in stamping on it. Be it the easier missions where speed and sheer firepower allow a systematic cleaning of the board, or the harrowing defensive maps where even the walls you’ve shored up with terraformers struggle to contain the flood, each is unusually satisfying to purge. And that’s without even counting the bonus maps, and many created by users.

Of course, all I can ever do is briefly, pointlessly poke the gunge’s imagined uncaring eye. The gloop will outlive me. It doesn’t matter.

From this site

42 Comments

  1. 1FSTCAT says:

    I played the heck out of this game several years ago. Definitely got my money’s worth out of it. Put at least 40 hours into it. It really is a different kind of game. There’s nothing else like it!

  2. Kefren says:

    All three Creeper World games are great. I quite liked the way the second one flipped into side-on.

    The games really should be on GOG so more people can play them. I can’t even remember where I bought them – either direct, or on an old account on Gamersgate. Either way I loved them but have lost the exes and details, so will have to consider buying them again!

    • Canadave says:

      CW3 is on Steam, for what it’s worth, so it’s pretty accessible.

    • florus says:

      All 3 Creeper World games are available on steam. Free Steam keys if you buy or bought it straight from the developer: KnuckleCracker. Its sequel Particle Fleet is also available. Bit different from the Creeper series, but still in the same spirit.

      • wu wei says:

        Finally getting Steam copies of CW1 & 2 was fantastic. I kept losing my copies and having to beg for them again.

        If anyone else is keen:
        redeem Creeper World
        redeem Creeper World 2

        • benkc says:

          Oh, thanks for these links! I had no idea CW1+2 had been released on Steam.

          And yeah, these games are great. I’ve been playing them since the first one was new. Particle Fleet didn’t quite scratch the same itch for me, though.

  3. CaptainHairy says:

    Very glad this game gets a write-up. I am hopelessly, terminally bad at any kind of strategy game, but this one still grabs me back in for a few levels every now and then. It is bafflingly compelling for a game where you essentially plonk tower defense items into a static 2D map and try to stop Dave Benson Phillips’ nightmarescape from seeping in.

  4. Someoldguy says:

    Slimes, oozes, molds and jellies have been happily killing adventurers since the original D&D. There’s nothing so satisfying as watching a party confronted by a creature who is virtually invulnerable to their usual attacks and forcing them to get creative or die.

  5. Canadave says:

    I really enjoy the CW games, and CW3 especially. I really appreciate how most maps will give you a brief period of calm at the beginning, where you feel like you’ve got time to establish yourself. Then before you know it there’s a ton of Creeper flowing straight at the most vulnerable part of your power grid and like a chump you’ve only stuck one cannon there. So you’re watching as your other cannon is re-positioning itself agonizingly slowly, trying to build more generators in safe (for now) locations, and stressing over having enough power left to shoot what defenses you do have. It’s brilliantly tense.

  6. Hensler says:

    I always liked the turtle in Contra SNES, because it’s a turtle.

  7. Hensler says:

    Recco playing two games earlier before start play Creeper World #3?

    • Canadave says:

      Not really necessary. CW3 is basically a refined version of the first game, and it does a fine job of introducing the mechanics. There are some loose plot connections, as I recall, but you should be able to pick everything up from the context.

    • mpb says:

      You can start with any of CW1, CW2, or CW3. In 2, you can save the game in the middle of a level. In 3, you can save and remap the key bindings. In 1, neither. 3 has the most value per hour played, IMO. I started with 3. I then played 1, but clearly preferred 3. I’m now playing 2 and enjoying it much more than 1. If you are only going to play one of them, it should be CW3.

  8. gwop_the_derailer says:

    All games have the best monster – me!

  9. OttoVonFoo says:

    It’s a fantastic game. And there’s a 4th… Particle Fleet. Very similar to Creeper 3, but with your bases being (essentially) star ships. Super cool fun times battling purple evil in space.

    link to knucklecracker.com

    • KDR_11k says:

      I don’t like Particle Fleet as much due to the capped nature of all the aspects. You cannot build more guns than you have on your ship blueprints, even if you have the resources to pay for them. Spawners have a hard capped amount of particles they release and shooting those particles just makes the spawner rapidly replace them so ignoring a spawner never risks getting flooded but actually destroying a spawner means getting close and having it spew constant streams of particles at you while you need to use your weakest ship to do the damage and try to squeeze your combat ships as close as possible so their targeting logic prefers the particles that are an actual threat to the lathe ship doing the destruction. Also you quickly secure a chunk of the map where you can safely build replacements for any ship you lose so it feels like a battle of attrition that you’ll inevitably win (because you can destroy enemy spawners but you can replace anything you lose), the question is only how long it takes you.

  10. Gothnak says:

    My friend shared his collection with me, this was the one game i couldn’t stop playing. Finished the whole campaign, the balance was amazing.

    • Premium User Badge

      dnelson says:

      And when you’re done with the regular campaign levels, there are thousands of player-made levels in the Colonial Space zone, including inventive “play as creeper” levels, where you control emitters and spore towers! Set your filter to maps with a rating of 8+ to just get the cream of the crop.

      • Gothnak says:

        Yeah, i started on those and then his collection de-linked… :(… I’m going to pick this up and particle fleet when it is on a super competitive offer :).

  11. YogSo says:

    Hey, Sin, even at the risk of sounding like some kind of sycophantic bot, I wanted to say that your sporadic articles have become one of my favourite RPS features as of late. They are always interesting to read, even when they are about games that aren’t my cup of tea, like last month’s article about Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead or the one before about Master of Orion 3. I hope you keep writing about ecclectic, left field games for a long time, and that I’ll be able to keep reading about them.

    • Premium User Badge

      Benratha says:

      Seconded!
      Thanks Sin! I didn’t even realise there had been a CW1 or 2 to be honest…
      Also ‘gack’ is now firmly entered into today’s lexicon. I will be using it as much as possible :-).
      Additionally “In the far future there is only goo” has a certain ring to it?

      • Sin Vega says:

        Aw, thanks, both of you.

        I did keep thinking of variations along that exact line, too. Something about the endless sea of purple obliterating everything makes it hard to resist.

  12. Tony M says:

    I can’t parse those screenshots. Is it set in space? Is that purple stuff the ocean? Or is it all the creeper? The lines seem to be indicating terrain, but I don’t understand the terrain. Maybe should just go find a youtube vid

    • Vesperan says:

      Tony – think of it as looking at topographical lines on a map for your terrain – hills, valleys, ridges etc. Then the creeper is essentially water piled on top of the terrain. It flows down to low points where it will then slowly build up until it reaches the next topographical line, then the next etc. The sources (fountains?) of creeper are specific points on the map – generators. The main aim is to drive a path through to those generators and cap them like a well. Then rinse and repeat for the entire map. Different levels have variants – e.g. asteroids attacking you etc.

      And yes, some maps are essentially in asteroid fields (i.e. islands of creeper to jump between).

      I’ve enjoyed all three Creeper World games, but have always felt that a little more randomness would have been good. Too often you set out your defence line – hold it, then just build a massive force and crush the creeper.

      …which is exactly like every other RTS I’ve enjoyed, but nevertheless – I would have enjoyed having more “armies” of creepers flung at me where I’m vulnerable, rather than a rising flood (in general).

  13. Tiax says:

    How does Particle Fleet: Emergence compares to Creeper World 3? I understand it’s some kind of spiritual successor, so maybe I should start with it?

    • 1FSTCAT says:

      Particle Fleet is decent (bought it last night after reading this post!). I think Creeper World 3 is the best one of the four, though.. I would start with 3 and then do Particle Fleet.

      • Tiax says:

        Many thanks for your answer, I’ll do that!

        • Heliocentric says:

          I’d go beyond that, and suggest you try the particle fleet demo after trying CW3 and see what a disappointment PFleet is.

          • benkc says:

            Also, after playing CW3, if you enjoyed it, I really recommend trying CW2. CW1 isn’t really worth going back to, as CW3 is the same basic idea much refined, but CW2 being side-on rather than top-down makes it a much different game. I prefer the top-down take on the idea, but CW2 is definitely fun in its own way.

  14. k47 says:

    I’ve had what you are describing with Infested Planet. It’s also the game I go back to time and again every year or year-and-a-half.

    I see some similarities with that game when looking at the trailer for Creeper World 3. Basically, “here’s a map in which the enemy starts with advantage to expand (or has already expanded), deploy your resources tactically to somehow take it back”.

    I may give this a try, but can someone that have played both games (Infested Planet and Creeper World) tell me how they compare aside from what I glanced?

    • Gothnak says:

      I played Creeper World 1, then 3 and then Infested Planet. Tbh, i played Creeper World 3 tons, the progression was perfect, no level was ridiculously easy, and the slow increase of complexity is rarely seen in a computer game.

      With Infested Planet, the first 3-4 levels were incredibly simple and the player just wandered through the level blowing stuff up. I got bored incredibly quickly.

      To understand CW3, you need to understand the huge number of things happening, any of which can scupper your whole plan and the huge array of options you have to defeat them.

      You have to balance energy income, with build speed and ammo regeneration, ore income with ore use, a network of energy pylons, understand terrain and how the creep flows, work out how to get from asteroid to asteroid, take out flyers, take out stunning units, take out super creep, use mega weapons, start in multiple places, watch out for moving gravity wells, use shields, mortars, line of sight cannons, create your own anti creep, rebuild the terrain entirely etc. In later games you can upgrade almost every aspect of what i have talked about, and that costs a third resource. Oh and then you have the creep spawners that you kill, you use them to power up any single object you place to make a super version of it.

      Infested Planet to me (And i could certainly be wrong) was move chaps around and shoot the alien swarm as it got close using an array of weapons.

    • mpb says:

      Within the last 12 months, I first played Infested Planet (71 hours) and then CW3 (173 hours). When I played IP, I enjoyed it more than any game I had played in a long time. However, after playing CW3, I guess I would have to say I enjoy CW3 even more than IP. The biggest advantage of CW3 is that it has much greater variety in level design. You can also save and restore games in CW3, whereas I seem to remember that IP lacked a “save game” feature. Being able to save makes it easier (and time efficient) to experiment with various strategies. CW3 also has thousands of user made levels, many of which are very interesting and challenging. Free, unending, high quality DLC. I have probably spent more time playing user made levels than I have playing the levels in the main campaign.

    • Ceraus says:

      I too played every CW game and Infested Planet, and the latter is the most CW-like game that’s not CW or Particle Fleet.

      While I prefer CW3, Infested Planet is a very good take on the genre, and I wholly recommend it. I have bought its expansions but have yet to play them because I’m afraid of becoming hooked. CW3’s endless content stole endless hours from me.

  15. phanatic62 says:

    Thank you for writing about CW3. The whole series is great, as many here have already said. I started reading this article and had to stop mid-way through the second paragraph to go pick up with my old save and continue the endless battle.

  16. Heliocentric says:

    I’m glad to finally see CW3 get a cap tip here, sadly particle fleet is not as customisable, without completely throwing out balance.

  17. Snowskeeper says:

    CW3’s last mission (or, er, the last full mission, I guess–the one with the towers beaming data into the universe) was incredibly disappointing, given how things had gone up to that point. The game encouraged you to move slowly, planning every advance so that you didn’t leave any weakpoints for the Creeper to exploit–leapfrogging turrets, building collectors and relays to keep your infrastructure functioning, doing research with the Forge, etc. And then suddenly you’re dumped into a situation where there’s no time to do that; you have to dash right to the center and kill everything before the world explodes.

    It’s not a paradigm shift or whatever. You’re doing the exact same thing; it’s just that suddenly you have to do everything really, really fast, or lose. That was frustrating to me. I don’t know, maybe other people found it more entertaining.

    • Ceraus says:

      Farbor! When CW3 gameplay switched to a race against time. (Then the last mission goes back to “progress at your rhythm”, but with actual enemy reinforcements for the first time.)

      I played CW1 and CW2 first, and loved that Farbor shook up my comfort zone (few players feel this way, though). It also sparked a 200-hours-long obsession with speedrunning the game, and you might recognize my name from the top scores.

      • Snowskeeper says:

        Let me rephrase things, a little:
        I don’t think Creeper World was necessarily a game about moving slowly and carefully. That was certainly one way you could play, and it worked very well, but it wasn’t the only way. My issue with Farbor was that it forced you to switch to behave in one very restricted way (couldn’t even go after the other Emitters; you had to dash straight for the middle), with very little room for maneuvering.

        I don’t recognize your name from the high-score board, although that’s more because I never looked at them; I do, however, have vague memories of you being involved with some of the help threads I looked up once I realized I was stuck. Thanks for that.

        • Ceraus says:

          Ha! cool. I did wander around the forums a bit.

          Yeah, my opinion about Farbor is far from the consensus, as most people don’t like the gameplay switch. Whole game has you stake out territory, then the second-to-last mission makes you rush a beachhead. Ouch.

      • Gothnak says:

        Farbor was bloody annoying… It did make me realise that i had been playing the game imperfectly for the whole campaign, but i liked playing it that way. It’s like i hate building a MASSIVE force in RTS’s, i like the weird units with special powers and taking my time, hence i never play Multiplayer.

        After looking online i did finish it in my next attempt, but it was the worst level in the whole game.