Review by Rand_Of_Andor

"Spore doesn't reinvent the wheel, but does it put it to good use?"

Rewind time back to a year ago. Spore was being hyped as perhaps one of the most interesting titles seen in years. Being made by visionary game creator Will Wright, famed for the fantastically successful The Sims series, the entire world watched with baited breath, patiently hoping the game would fulfill everyone's expectations. But was Spore everything it was promised to be? The short answer is “no”.

Story

The story of Spore is next to non-existent, though Will Wright's games have never been very powerful in this department. The basic premise is that you are the result of panspermia, the theory of exogenesis that life is the result of seeding from another location; a meteorite chugging through space crashes into a planet, and from a shard of it springs life. This is where you come in; a cell, you, has to fight to survive and evolve by using your cell's natural skills to advance.

This eventually leads to your cells becoming dominant, and your newly evolved creature crawling from the ocean onto land to continue survival and attempt further progress. Herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore, your job is to survive and advance. Over time, your species gains a stronger sense of sentience, and gains intelligence. This phase, the Creature phase, ends after your creatures develop sapience.

The progression here is relatively obvious. Your species becomes a tribe, then eventually unites to a civilization, and finally brings the entire planet together to explore the stars and all the potentialities it holds for it. The story is not original, but the progression is interesting to observe, even if it lacks any real story

Final Score: 7/10

Graphics

Spore is a nice-looking game, but it's certainly not a cutting-edge title in the department of graphical abilities. The world is a colorful and entertaining look at the Universe, and it is when you enter the Space phase that you will probably gasp at the game's enormity. The sheer scale of it is absolutely terrific to watch. The very land you first crawled out upon when you began the game, once incredibly gigantic, is a tiny blip on a miniscule spheroid floating in one of several thousand others like it. There are occasional graphical glitches that I encountered, but they were for the most part few and far between.

Final Score: 8/10

Gameplay

This is where the title both shines and simultaneously falls flat on its face. There are five distinct parts of the game, all of which could be called different games. They are called Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization, and Space, and each of them have different objectives but an overall similar mission to survive. They are supposed to be connected to one another, but the problem is that they each feel very lone and disjointed. Players will receive advantages in gameplay based on earlier choices, but they all feel very skin-deep, and so the connection between each phase of the game is nigh non-existent, and therefore requires the player to use quite a bit of imagination. Imagine a game in which you slowly progress from cellular lifeform to space-faring civilization; Spore is not that game. Not really, anyways.

The Cell phase is associated, as are three of the others, with one of three overall gametypes; you begin the game as either a carnivorous or herbivorous cell, with the opportunity to become an omnivore later on in time. If one is a carnivore, their basic objective is to eat other cells, or find husks of “meat” lying around to devour. If the player's cell is herbivorous, its primary function is to eat small bits of plant found, usually drifting in the water. As this is done, players gain DNA points, which they use to “upgrade” their cell with new features, be it spikes to ward off would-be attackers, flagella to speed up movement, and even interesting functions like a pod that emits an electrical shock.

All around, the Cell phase is one of the most interesting phases in the game. This is because unlike later stages, placement of cellular additions is important in whether or not they function properly. A spike on your back end will do your front end no good, for example, and thus the same amount of spikes can have different effects depending on whether you place them in strategically helpful areas of the cell.

The next step is the Creature phase, in which you begin as a small two-legged creature, with the objective of gaining intelligence. Characters' creatures are awarded some skill or ability depending on their dominant behavior during Cell stage, but it's small and doesn't help much to bridge the gaps between the almost completely different games. The basic premise is that like the Cell stage, you must attempt to survive and propagate through one of three styles, again through carnivorous, herbivorous, or omnivorous means. As you survive by eating fruit fallen from trees, other creatures, or a combination of both, you will gain DNA points. Players can gain a larger amount of DNA points through specific means; Carnivores can kill a certain number of creatures to extinct the species, and herbivorous species can use abilities gained through limbs and creature additions to socially mimic other creatures and enter into a friendly relationship; both reward large amounts of DNA points, and both allow the player to use the creature in question's nest as though it were their own.

The massive problem with the Creature phase is that everything that is attached to your creature is not affected at all by placement. Each part has a specific value attached to it, but this value is not changed or made less if the part itself is not noticeably used. For example, you can attach two mouths onto a creature, each with 3 in the Bite skill, one put at the front and the other at the back. Altogether they give the maximum value available for skills, 5, but only one mouth will ever be attacking. As such, there is no strategic placement required for one to succeed, and appearance feels far too aesthetic to be entertaining.

After time and a slow gathering of DNA points is accrued, your Creature gains intelligence, at which point you advance to the Tribal stage. The Tribal phase may very well be the most skin-deep, un-fun part of all of Spore; it is basically a very, very simple RTS, with the objective of becoming the dominant force of one part of the continent by a possible three means, by conquering all other tribes, allying with them, or a mixture of both. Players no longer have the ability to alter their creature's basic biology, as it has basically been “locked in”, but they can now be outfitted with pads, helmets, hats, masks, and other assorted bits of clothing or what have you. They then have to gather food and increase the size of their tribe by hunting animals and fishing, in between trying to reach their main objective of dominance.

There are several problems with this; as with the Creature Creator, there is no strategic placement of items required. A plate put on your back that increases defense will do so no matter where you are attacked. In addition to this annoyance, most of the items do not fit very well onto creatures in the slightest, and very often end up making your people look completely goofy and ridiculous, either with most of the parts hovering oddly above your creature's skin or sinking into the creature's body. None of anything comes off looking like something you'd want to use, and as such it's simply less fun than putting a full-on creature together.

As for the basic gameplay, it really is far too basic. You have your main hut, which allows for six members, which increases for each tribe that is eliminated or allied, up to a maximum of twelve simultaneous tribe members. There are various smaller huts that you can buy which can be interacted with by your tribe to give some item for use in the game, like a stone-axe hut to equip your people with weapons, or a didgeridoo hut to let you better socially interact with others. However, there are too little options, and none of them feel particularly fun. You're just trying to get enough food to get the maximum number of people to roll over the enemy, or just outfit them all with instruments and gain a better social link. It doesn't feel immersive, and at the end of the day when it's time to move to Civilization, you're jumping for joy.

Civilization is the result of when your tribe owns the bit of continent of their upbringing, and is somewhat similar to tribe in that you are tasked to ally or defeat all of your enemies to advance. The better part of this is that there is more of a fast-paced and entertaining gameplay involved. There are nodes of spice all over the world, and each one is used to convert to money, which can be spent on units or upgrading cities with houses factories, entertainment buildings, or stationary turrets to fire at would-be invaders. So it is readily apparent to many that the name of the game is controlling spice nodes to power a stronger standing army, either to defend oneself or destroy opponents.

There are three vehicle types, Land, Sea, and Air, though in the beginning the player is restricted to the former two. The designer here held the same basic principle of the Creature stage, in that placement of parts doesn't really matter for anything other aesthetics. The creator is a real blast to use, in that you're finally getting around to making your own tanks, battleships, and planes, but the sad fact is that no matter what you crank out, they are all of them going to use the same attack animation, an odd-looking heat-seeking cannonball of some sort. It's really disheartening the first time you put everything together to see them head out onto the field and do the same thing as everything else; it ultimately feels like your customization is hollow and pointless, because you receive no rewards, and the game doesn't properly depict your creation.

Gameplay here is fast and furious, and players will often find themselves in a constant war with more than one opponent at once. However, few of these ever give a real challenge, and conquering the entire planet takes even the most casual gamer under an hour at most. The combat isn't especially horrible, if bare bones, but any strategy that could really be worked with the mechanics goes out the window because the enemy is never really difficult enough for them to be used. The diplomacy here is also very plain, with no depth whatsoever, and leaves a bit of a hurdle for the player to jump with their imagination.

Once the player conquers the planet, they move onto the final and fabled Space Stage. They design their spaceship, and for the first time leave the confines of their home soil to experience what lies beyond it. And boy is it a beast. The scope of the player's first journey into the vastness of space, even on subsequent playthroughs, is undeniably breathtaking, and is certainly one of the best aspects of Spore. The entire planet is shrunk as one ascends outwards from the atmosphere, and for the first time (or not, if one paid particular attention to the sky) the player sees the other planets in their home solar system, one of countless thousands. It is a sight to behold, and one of the most impressive moments that I have ever experienced in gaming. As the player expands, it gives a sense of sameness, but also a great feeling of individuality.

There are several problems with the Space Phase. First, and foremost, is the difficulty. One will ascend to the stars thinking that they are going to have it easy, when an absolutely massive empire sitting a couple parsecs from them mercilessly devours the budding civilization. This is the case for nearly every single playthrough of the game that I have ever experienced, and is a constant annoyance for most players of the game. I know, it sounds interesting, like a good challenge, but it's not. The difficulty is unforgiving unless you have upgraded your ship to a godlike status, and the combat is clunky and difficult to manage.

This is all interspersed over almost constant ecological collapses and pirate raids on planets. It disgustingly detracts from exploring the universe and expanding, which should be what Spore should be all about, and leads to an overall feeling of annoyance and disappointment. This can be solved by looking for mods that bring these to an acceptable level, but without them the game is nigh unplayable.

Final Score: 6/10

Sound

The overall ambience of Spore is carried well, and does well to immerse the player. There are a minor assortment of bouncing tunes, but there is nothing in the game save for a few cinematics that carry any sort of melody that will clearly catch your attention for future playthroughs. The addition of allowing the player to customize their own theme is interesting, and workable enough, though they often just come out sounding less than what the player was attempting to put together.

Final Score: 8/10

Play Time and Replayability

Spore is unique in that each and every playthrough can be as unique or different as the player invests. That is, one can put together an entirely different-looking species with entirely different-looking equipment. The main problem with this is that, again, it feels more aesthetic; sure, you may be able to completely change the look, but the playstyle all around leaves you rather confined to a certain manner. It feels different, but not different enough to bring a completely individual gaming experience unless the player makes a very active decision to do so. However, it must be noted that this is a wide step up from most more linear titles, at least in terms of how main objectives are carried out, and it does leave each playthrough feeling fresh, if only for a short period of time.

Final Score: 7/10

Final Word

Spore is part toy, part game. If you enter it expecting more game, you're going to be crushingly disappointed, because in all honesty, there is little game here. Instead, you have to approach it expecting to spend large amounts of time exploring, customizing, and overall just playing around. It's a terrific experience, and also a saddening miss from what was expected of the world in general. It is original, while also hackneyed. It is beautiful, while also rather unsightly. All in all, it's a mixed bag, but as long as you go into it expecting little, you'll come out more entertained.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/20/09

Game Release: Spore (US, 09/07/08)


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