Review by Sir Garland
"Five games in one! Five really low quality games, unfortunately."
Spore! I bet you've all heard of it. It was hyped beyond belief, and unfortunately fails to live up to the hype at all. This game is split into five different stages, so it only makes sense to review the gameplay (which should be the main attraction) in five different parts.
However, first I should mention the graphics and customization. This is one of the game's big selling points - it offers "limitless customization". You can choose what your creatures, buildings, and vehicles look like. This is very nice touch, and would make a good game even better because of the personalization available. However... the gameplay is abysmal and there is an almost complete lack of challenge, strategy, or replay value. It is kind of nice to play a game with units that you've designed yourself... until you realize that the gameplay itself is amazingly shallow. Playing a shallow game with pretty units is only marginally better than playing one with pre-built units, and not as good as playing most any game that picks a genre and does it halfway decently.
Now, let me tell you about the gameplay.
Cell Stage -
You play as a single-celled organism. Anyone who got this game expecting some sort of realistic evolution system will get a taste of how Spore treats realism when you see your cell with fully formed human-like eyes. Okay, fine, an acceptable use of dramatic license if it makes the game better. Unfortunately, all it does here is make the cells look like rather strange fish. If you've ever played any of the Feeding Frenzy games, you know what this stage is all about. Eat fish... err, cells that are smaller than you and avoid ones that are bigger.
There is also a very crude combat system in place for cells of the same size - hit them with your mouth before they hit you with theirs. You can also opt to play as an herbivore, which means that instead of going after other cells you need to find plants to eat. When you eat something, you get DNA points that you can spend on a *very* limited selection of upgrades.
This probably sounds like a bare-bones summary, but it is actually the gameplay that is bare-bones here. It is nothing more complicated than you could find ten versions of for free on flash gaming sites, it just looks prettier. I think there are a total of 6 different parts you can unlock by defeating foes that happen to be carrying them. Once you've eaten enough, you can move your cell into the creature stage.
Creature Stage -
A marked improvement over the cell stage, but still barely interesting. It follows a similar plan for carnivores - eat things to get more powerful. This time, however, there is some variety in the upgrades you can purchase... but you will basically always have enough DNA points to buy the best of everything you managed to unlock, killing any real strategic planning in your evolution. There is no penalty for dying, so basically as a carnivore the point of this stage is to keep attacking things and buying upgrades you unlock, which increase your offensive ability or durability. The combat system here is quite simplistic - click an attack and your creature will attack, always hitting and always doing the same amount of damage against all enemies.
Playing as an herbivore (or a friendly omnivore) is a bit different. You get DNA points by singing and dancing for other creatures. I really wish I were making that up. Anyway, you find a creature, walk up to it, and click on a social action (sing, dance, pose, or charm). Which action you pick first doesn't matter. The other creature will then do one of those four things, and if you mimic the creature successfully by clicking the proper button, the friendship bar goes up. Get it to the max to get some DNA points. Once you've collected enough DNA, either from socializing or eating enemy creatures, you progress to the...
Tribal Stage -
Very, very weak. This is below the quality of your average free flash game. You control a tribe of the creatures you evolved in the creature stage. They function as a village. The first thing you need to do is hunt or scavenge for food. Tell one of your creatures to do so and they will automatically gather food until you tell them to stop. The customization here is the weakest in the entire game - you can buy the best of everything for your tribe at the very start without running out of money. You can unlock more items later by conquering other tribes, and you can immediately purchase them.
Basically, this stage is like any of the really old real-time strategy games, only with no reason to pay attention to resource management (the only resource is food, which you will always have plenty of if you have one or two gatherers, even on hard) or base building, and only four units. Spearmen, axemen, torch-bearers, and healers. Hooray for diversity. Click on the button to produce a baby member of your tribe until you can't produce any more, then send all of your creatures to destroy an enemy village. Repeat until finished.
You can also play as a more friendly tribe. This road to victory is only slightly less strange than the singing, dancing creatures of the previous stage - you get instruments which you can bring with you to play for other tribes, charming them into liking you and thus not needing to destroy them. The actual method for playing music is similar to the previous stage, just mimic what the other tribe shows you and you will win without any trouble.
Civilization Stage -
The best stage in the game... which is saying something, since this is also a really stripped-down real-time-strategy game. You control cities and spice geysers, both of which produce money. With this money you can build either offensive units or economy units. Offensive units are split into either military or religious units, which are, oddly enough, almost functionally identical - a musical instrument is as good at killing your enemy as a missile launcher. Build more units to take over more geysers, then move on to taking over enemy cities. There is a very, very basic diplomacy interface here - you can compliment the other civilizations, which unfailingly makes them like you a bit more. That's about it, you can also insult them (no reason for ever doing so is apparent) or declare war on them, which you could also do simply by having one of your units attack one of theirs.
Playing as an economic civilization is somewhat different. You can produce vehicles that travel between your city and the city of another civilization, earning both of you money. After enough trade has taken place, you have the option of buying the city from the enemy. You can customize your units to a very limited extent - you choose what balance of speed, power, and durability they have. Aside from that, you have ground units, sea units, and air units. After you control the world (usually done by the power that is unlocked once you get six cities... which causes you to instantly win, no matter what. Literally.), you move on the the fifth and final stage of the game.
Space Stage -
The longest, most complicated, and least well thought-out stage of the game. In this stage, you play as a member of the species you have been with all along, except now you're piloting a space ship! You can build colonies on other worlds, but curiously these colonies don't actually provide you with a stream of income... instead, they provide you with spice, which can be picked up and traded with other planets. You can also attack enemy planets or defend your own from pirates or hostile empires.
Oh, did I mention that you'll be doing this all by yourself? Even though you apparently command a galactic empire, you have a SINGLE ship with which to build your empire. Having an empire of a hundred planets is hardly better than having one of five planets, because planets can only store so much spice at a time, and you will always have to pick up and deliver the spice yourself.
Probably the worst feature of the space stage is the Grox Empire. They control the are near the core of the galaxy. Doesn't sound like too much, but they control basically everything in the Milky Way that isn't in one of the arms of the spiral - thousands and thousands of planets. Remember, you have to do everything yourself, too, so conquest is completely out of the question. It wouldn't be difficult, you would just have to spend a few years or so of real life time doing the same thing over and over again. By the way, you'll have to stop many, many times to defend your planets against pointless attacks by enemy empires and pirates, as for some reason your galaxy-spanning empire can't manage to field more than one ship at a time.
This leaves one feeling as though the 'epic' story of their race is completely unfinished at the end of the game. No matter what you do, no matter how good you are, you still have to expand your mighty empire one planet at a time, and whenever you decide to stop playing (there is no actual end to this stage, it just keeps going on until you get fed up and quit) there will be a huge, hostile alien empire ready to destroy your civilization as soon as you stop looking.
After all is said and done, there is no good way to feel as though you have "finished" the game... which is somewhat appropriate in a rather unpleasant way, as the designers obviously didn't finish it either. The customization is kind of nice, but after a little while you will realize that you're playing an amazingly shallow game, the strategy and mechanical customization aspects being so thin that all you can really do is make the generic gameplay look as though it is at all deep.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 09/11/08
Game Release: Spore (US, 09/07/08)
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