EA Games Spore
You can be a winner in the game of life!
- Diverse gameplay, lovely for fans of sandbox games, creature creator is impressive
- Some of the phases aren't fleshed out enough, lack of more structure to the gameplay might upset some
Spore is a good game held back from greatness by a few flaws and gameplay mechanics that won't appeal to everyone. But there is plenty to like about the game and if you dig its particular style of open-ended gameplay, you'll definitely enjoy yourself.
Price$ 99.95 (AUD)
As is the case with all of Will Wright's games, Spore is immense in every sense of the word: in terms of scope, ambition and length, the game reaches for and, for the most part, meets its lofty goals. It's an incredibly innovative title that attempts to chart life itself from its infantile beginning to its end. And yet, much like life itself, it's not exactly perfect. It has some issues that keep it from fully tapping into its vast potential but it's still one of the most original and interesting titles to come out in this or any other year.
A Whole New World
It's been a long time since life on the planet Thoria emerged from the primordial ooze. In the intervening years, a civilisation of four-legged reptilian carnivores--coaxed carefully along the evolutionary ladder by my guidance — has come to dominate the planet; they've even managed to go off-world and have encountered three alien species within the local cluster of stars around my home planet. Soon, I hope to guide my creations to the centre of the galaxy.
That was my first experience with Spore, as I led my creatures from the mud and the muck to the stars and the galaxy beyond. But the best part is that soon, you may encounter my marauding conquers during your own time with Spore and taste their bitter wrath courtesy of the game's multiplayer portion. Being able to create digital life is one thing but to set it loose upon the world to prosper and multiply is quite another thing altogether.
The Flavor Of Life
Spore's gameplay is a little hard to describe but in a nutshell, you create life over five discrete phases of development--Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization and Space. Each phase has its own set of goals that need to be completed before your species can evolve and move onto bigger and better things. The big decision that determines how this will all play out is what your created life forms eats. If they eat plants, then they'll take on the role of a friendly, diplomatic species that will work its way through tribal and civilisation phases using good will and a strong pocket book. If their diet consists of meat, however, and they'll frequently resort to wiping out whatever gets in their way as a means of conflict resolution.
Spore's first stage is set in the ocean at a cellular level. At this early stage you mature as a species by roaming around and eating other creatures, which eventually lets you move onto dry land to live as a more advanced being. This is when you begin to add the final physical details that will define your how your species looks and acts. Throughout the creature stage, you'll uncover new body parts, such as different types of legs, arms, eyes, and weapons that you can use to customise your creatures before you head into the tribal phase where your creatures begin to build primitive cities and evolve. Overall, each of these early stages offer a great deal of variety, and the creature creator, which almost counts as a game in and of itself, is supremely easy to use.
From there, you hit the tribal phase, the first of the last three stages of Spore development. These latter stages take a rather decidedly different tack from the earlier epochs of evolution. You're quickly shuttled away from basic evolutionary tasks like deciding which type of arm might be most beneficial to slightly more complicated game mechanics that clearly have their roots in real-time-strategy games. In the tribal and civ stages, the objective is not to survive and evolve but to take over the world--literally. You start out in a region and must first bring that under your control using one of several different means: you can pursue diplomacy, war, or in the civilisation stage, economic or religious methods. Then it's on to conquer the rest of the world and bring it under your influence.
Unfortunately both of these later stages seemed fairly lightweight to me. Without the creature evolution system that was present throughout the earlier stages, both the tribal and civilisation phases felt like a barebones RTS game that was tacked on at the last minute. You are afforded the ability to still meddle with nature through simple tasks like designing vehicles and buildings, but on the whole, these activities lacked the depth and fun that's found in the more complex creature creator. Thankfully, the tribal and civilisation phases are relatively brief; the typical player will probably get through both in about three or four hours.
The Final Frontier
So what's a species to do after leaving behind its primitive beginnings and working its way up the food chain until they've conquered the world? Head out into space, of course. The space phase, which constitutes the end game, is where the real meat of Spore lies; once you've become the sole rule of your home planet, you roam the galaxy in a single vessel — you can either design your own or use a premade one by either Maxis or other players — with little in the way of preset goals. You are encouraged to do certain things, such as taking on missions that require you to eliminate alien planets, plant colonies, and fetch individual species from far away planets but these are all optional.
The space phase is the one that truly encapsulates the sandbox style of gameplay that was highly touted in most of the Spore previews. Missions are almost unnecessary and really only serve to fill your coffers for things like repairing ships and adding new parts. There's also a lot of content here as getting to the centre of the large Spore galaxy will probably take weeks: there are literally thousands upon thousands of solar systems that lie between your home planet and the centre and exploring them all can take a long time.
Gotta Catch 'Em All
As if that weren't enough to occupy your time, there is the social networking aspect of the game. By default, all of the creatures you're given access to from the moment you begin the game has been designed in house by the developers; however, each player is allowed to contribute to the massive index of creatures called the Sporepedia. With tens of thousands of users submitting their own unique designs, the shared galaxy that you can roam around will no doubt fill up with new creations very quickly. And as clever users have already demonstrated, the Creature Creator is quite flexible and holds a ton of potential.
After spending some time with the game, I've come to the conclusion that Spore isn't something everyone will agree on. I've no doubt that some gamers will hate it after the initial appeal wears off because they might see the game as being too simplistic. While the individual phases are interesting, they aren't as full featured or as well thought out as they could be. But I'm also sure that some gamers will instantly fall in love with its unique style of easy going gameplay. On the whole, Spore succeeds in its mission and while it does falter in some places, those who adore this style of game will definitely find reasons to fall in love with it.
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