Review by one_gundam_war

"Not Reason Enough To Throw Out the Wonder Bread"

Spore. Quite possibly one of the most anticipated games in PC gaming history. And while it caused many a gamer to invoke the name of "Daikatana," the frequent previews and the Creature Creator led many to not give up on this. The question remains: All hype aside, is Spore a good game?

Note: Due to the nature of this game, the nature of this review is different from my others.

The Cell Phase: This was my favorite phase of the game for the simple fact that it feels as though the species itself is evolving. As the player eats and grows, more components are unlocked. As my species grew, I needed to use my accumulated DNA to adapt to the increasing defensive capabilities of my prey. It truly felt as though I was evolving to adapt to new challenges. The Cell Phase also marks the beginning of the appearance of larger, rarer, creatures that the player can choose to attack. Unfortunately, the Cell Phase also marks the beginning of the unresponsive controls that plague the rest of the game. Overall, while the Cell Phase is the shortest phase of the game, it also proves to be the most focused and driven.
Gameplay of The Cell Phase: 8.3

The Creature Phase: Ah, the Creature Phase. Where your species develops and gains a style of its own. The gameplay in this phase revolves around seeking out other creatures and either befriending or destroying them. The former involves targeting a foe and using your attacks (determined by the components on your creature) until one party falls. The latter involves seeking out foes and mimicking their actions until they like you. Both lead to the same outcome: DNA points and unlocked components for use in the Creature Editor. And, as anyone who tried the Creature Creator knows, there is quite a bit of variety as far as components go. Unfortunately, most of these body parts are either identical statistically, or have seemingly random statistics (apparently webbed feet allow for effective charging...). As a result, the unlocks are almost purely cosmetic. As such, the Creature Phase devolves into the equivalent of a Diablo-clone, replacing the "phat loot" with "cool arms". Thus, the Creature Phase marks the beginning of where Spore loses its focus, and suffers for it. As far as controls go, while they are far more responsive than the Cell Phase, the method of control focuses more on preparing the player for the Tribal Phase than allowing the player to feel as though he or she is the creature.
Gameplay of The Cell Phase: 6.4

The Tribal Phase: This is probably my least favorite portion, at least for carnivores. This phase revolves around seeking out nearby tribes (nests with a faster respawn rate) and either befriending or defeating them. Also, replacing DNA is the food resource. Unfortunately, a lack of simple AI packages results in the player being forced to micromanage the gathering of food, a task that can be very tedious during the reconstruction phase of a failed (or successful) attack. The Tribal Phase also marks the beginning of the decline of variety. Until this point, every species the player meets seems noticeably different, at least from a combat standpoint. With a simple glance, the player can tell if a creature is an herbivore or a carnivore, and whether or not it is a capable combatant. Unfortunately, all the flavor of these creatures fades away, and the player is left with foes that can only be distinguished by their appearance. As such, battle largely becomes a matter of supplies and mass assaults on single targets. Furthermore, many of the characteristics that a player might have cultivated in the Creature Phase (such as glide capabilities) are largely ignored outside of idle animations. The controls are the standard style for this type of gameplay, but I do feel the need to comment on the camera. While the perspective can be rotated, the minimap cannot, resulting in awkward navigation if the player deviates from the North-facing perspective. While not a massive issue at this point, this becomes more of an issue later on.
Gameplay of the Tribal Phase: 5.0

The Civilization Phase: Fortunately, the Tribal Phase is immediately followed by the Civilization Phase. The reason I like this phase so much is that it marks a return to the focused gameplay of the Cell Phase. The Civilization Phase involves the player maintaining cities and gathering resources so as to defeat the other factions of the player's species. Fortunately, resource gathering is largely automated, leaving the player to focus solely on city management and the player's preferred method of combat (religious, militaristic, or economic). As a result, the gameplay feels very driven and player focused. This phase also presents the vehicle and building editors to the player. The vehicle editor is clearly the superior of the editors due to every component providing a noticeable, and expected, bonus to the designed craft. Another point that Spore needs to be praised on is that the victory types aren't exclusive. On my first game, as a militaristic species, I managed to achieve an economic victory by simply amassing enough resources for an ICBM launch. This is a feature that should be adopted by more 4x and strategic games. The camera issues of the Tribal Phase are compounded due to the curvature of the planet, but are rarely noticeable.
Gameplay of the Civilization Phase: 7.8

The Space Phase: Space, the final frontier. This is the most sandbox-esque of the game, and it shows. The player truly does feel as though he or she should be portrayed by William Shatner, Nathan Fillion, or even Ben Browder. However, the Space Phase suffers from the same lack of depth as the other four phases, making Nathan Fillion the most apt actor. Gameplay consists of flying a UFO around the galaxy, exploring and making contact with other species. As the player progresses, the player gains more abilities that can allow one to "play God" if they so wish. Unfortunately, by this point, most players will have lost interest with many of the earlier phases. The movement controls are very tight, but the combat controls are awkward and rely upon rapidly clicking enemy UFOs and hoping they are in range. The camera, unfortunately, remains a nuisance. However, due to the addition of the Radar, the minimap is largely unneeded. Players will either love or hate this phase, depending upon what they were expecting out of the game.
Gameplay of the Civilization Phase: 7.0

The Whole Package: Overall, Spore's greatest weakness is that it seems as though the developers took a single game, The Space Phase, and broke it up into five parts. And, much like when trying to carry a cubic meter of platinum, more is not better. For while the strength of each person should theoretically allow for the lifting of said cube, there just isn't enough room for everyone to get a good grip. Spore's biggest problem is the lack of synergy between its components, but I will get into that in the next section.

A sandbox game can't have a story, you say? Preposterous. However, I should preface this by saying that I am not using this in the traditional form of a story, and instead am using it as an addendum to the gameplay section.

Spore's story is one of the evolution of a species from a microbe to a space faring race. And, for the most part, it gets it right. The player really does feel like an alien who is watching an experiment. However, this tale of creationism seems to have had a few too many authors.

One thing that Maxis got right was the concept of "consequences." Your activities in a phase will grant you a bonus for all future phases. And, until the Space Phase, it does this very well. If you are very combative during the Cell Phase, you will start off with a bit of an edge in the Creature Phase. Destroy the ecosystem as a Creature, and you start with a more combat focused set of initial technology in the Tribal Phase. Keep it up and you get to start off with a strong military in the Civilization phase. And this is true of the other routes through the game.

Unfortunately, that is where it ends. While you get some nice perks for the Space Phase, that is it. Your species seems to forget its entire history, and you have Kilrathi and Kha'ak who suggest making friends and procuring trade agreements, even if their metaphorical Ladder to Heaven was made out of the bones of every other species on their homeworld. More on this in the next section.

This is definitely a pretty game. Maxis managed to use the standard assortment of shaders and filters that every other developer used, but actually make something that doesn't look like it is plastic wrapped. Furthermore, the editors are very intuitive, thus allowing anyone to make a good looking species with minimal effort.

However, much like with every other facet of this game, this breaks down around the Space Phase. Hearing a bloodthirsty berserker speak in Simlish with a cutesy-wutesy image just makes it seem as though all previous events existed solely for statistical purposes. Ironically, while Maxis managed to make a game where fur, scales, and skin are distinguishable, they failed at making the nature of a species distinguishable.

While I doubt that I will be playing through the entire lifespan of a species ever again, I do see myself popping back every few months to play God with a few random planets in my galaxy.

As for playtime, I was able to complete my first game in about eight or nine hours. It should be noted that I went at a leisurely pace for all but the Tribal Phase, so tack on an extra hour if you enjoy that segment.

Overall, this is one of those games that you play every few months, but rarely play through multiple completions in a single week.
Playtime/Replayability: 7.1/10

Final Notes:
All in all, it appears that the hushed invocations of "Daikatana" were not unfounded. Maxis tried too much in too short a period of time, and instead of creating a single masterpiece, they phoned in five pieces of mediocrity.

Spore is an amazing game from a technological standpoint, and I am sure that we will be citing it as one of the pivotal games in history. But much like the original telephone was nigh useless, this game feels more like a proof-of-concept than an actual product.
Final Score: 7.2/10

Final Recommendations
I am going to break this up into different audiences.

If you love 2001: A Space Odyssey, buy this now.
However, if you actually watched the entire movie, as opposed to the opening sequence, I would suggest waiting until this is 20 or 30 dollars.
If you read the books (the entire series) and are a fan of Clarke, I would suggest looking into an indie-game equivalent. There just isn't enough depth here.

If you are a fan of The Sims, SimTower, or (to a lesser extent) SimCity, buy this when it is 30 or 40 dollars.

If none of the above applies to you, wait for a demo, or buy it when it is 10 or 20 dollars.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/08/08

Game Release: Spore (AU, 09/01/08)

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