Review by ElDudorino

"18 years later SimEarth just isn't as fun"

Okay, before I get started I'd like to apologize because it's probably my fault that Spore isn't a very good game. Anytime I allow myself to get excited about a game that's been hyped up for a year or more, it ends up being mediocre. I thought I had learned my lesson until I saw the Spore video and all that youthful excitement just came flooding back. Then I got the game and, as I should have expected, it fell short of the mark.

Visually, the game is pretty decent. It has an almost cartoonish feel to it that makes it fun to look at, even if the graphics aren't great on a technical level. The high level of customization present in many aspects of the game also contributes to making the game something you'll probably be pleased to look at. Sound isn't especially impressive, but at least it isn't generally obnoxious. It's just there, and on occasion a creature might make a really endearing sound effect or something.

As far as gameplay goes, it has to be broken down for each of the five games which make up Spore. So let's do that.

The Cell Game is a two-dimensional, top-down adventure wherein, after having chosen to be either a meat-eater or a plant-eater, you swim your little unicellular organism towards food sources while avoiding other cells which consider YOU to be food. As you eat, you will grow in size to the point that you can no longer eat (or even see) your older food sources, but you will find new ones... in addition to earning the attention of new enemies. As you grow you can also customize your cell's appearance and add new parts which you have acquired from the "bodies" of other cells. This game is so simple that it could have been created in Flash, but it's also a lot of fun. In fact, it's my favorite part of Spore. Unfortunately, it only lasts a matter of minutes and offers extremely little in the way of content.

Next up is the Creature Game, wherein you move to land and upgrade to three dimensions. Your creature becomes exponentially more customizable at this point, gaining access to arms and legs and an assortment of weapons and other body parts as well as gaining an adjustable spine. The editor lets you make some really cool creatures if you put your mind to it, and functions quite well for the most part. Unfortunately, the editor is the main appeal of this phase; the game itself is pretty bad. You wander from one pack of creatures to another and each time decide whether to befriend them or kill them. Befriending them means watching to see which of four social actions they take (Singing, Dancing, Charming or Posing) and copying them. It's even less interesting than it sounds. Killing creatures means pressing 2 on your keyboard to charge or clicking its icon on the screen, then alternating quickly between pressing 1 to bite, 3 to strike and 4 to spit poison. It's a lot like combat in World of Warcraft, except instead of having 20 or so attacks you have 4. The controls also become very awkward in this stage, and your creature will frequently do the wrong thing or get caught behind something, or run into invisible walls. After maybe an hour or two of this, you graduate to the next phase.

The Tribe Game is a real-time strategy game like Age of Empires, which means that the creatures living in your small village act as units which can be selected and commanded to perform certain tasks such as fishing, hunting, gathering fruit or fighting, and the goal is to wipe out or ally with every other village. If you created a crappy creature in the previous phase, this is where the game will let you know. Fortunately this phase can be beaten very easily even with the worst possible creatures just by using your special abilities intelligently. Based on whether your creatures developed as carnivores, herbivores or omnivores you will have abilities which allow you to befriend or eradicate the other tribes easily, and you may be able to wrap this phase up in under an hour. This phase of the game is also pretty pathetic; even the earliest RTS games were much more sophisticated than this. There are very few unit types and almost no differences between them, and there are really only a few things you can do in the game. It's probably best to just skip through this mode as quickly as possible, which luckily is pretty easy to do. Once you come to dominate your region, you will move on to the Civilization phase.

The Civilization Game is also a real-time strategy game, but all of your units are vehicles which you design. At this point it no longer matters how you created your creature; its appearance will be entirely cosmetic and will not affect gameplay. This phase is not unlike the previous phase, except that you must come to dominate the entire planet either with military force, economic ingenuity, religious conquest or a combination of the three. Once you learn how money (the only resource) is earned in this game, even hard mode is a breeze, particularly if you choose economic conquest which allows you to simply buy every other city in the game. This phase isn't particularly bad except that there just isn't much to it. If it seems enjoyable though, here's a tip to prolong the experience: Don't develop your cities! This way your income will remain very low, making the game harder and bringing you down to the level of your incredibly stupid opponents. Either way, once the world is yours you will move on to the Galaxy Game.

The Space Game is where the bulk of the work put into Spore must have gone. In this expansive phase, you control your ship in a manner not unlike the Creature phase, except that you can fly now. There are far too many things to do in this phase for me to list them all, but the ones which feature prominently are the terraforming and colonizing of planets and the conquest of other galactic empires. Unfortunately, this phase once again suffers from gameplay issues. Your ship will sometimes disobey your commands, particularly when you're adjusting the camera, which constantly resets to a view where you cannot see anything useful. Battle is incredibly awkward and eventually consists of you flying in a circle while holding the mouse button down and keeping your cursor positioned over your enemies, and is always the same thing. And despite the number of options available during this phase, the game becomes exceptionally monotonous because your colonies are under attack from pirates and other empires almost constantly and you're forced to spend all your time defending them until you can afford to place enough turrets that they might be able to look after themselves short-term. Then when you decide to start attacking other civilizations, you'll find that taking over their planets is almost impossible because your weapons are completely ineffective in the early game. Fortunately you will eventually gain access to more powerful weapons which make conquest less frustrating, but for the first few hours of play you will likely be stuck with weapons which are utterly useless for capturing star systems. If you can look past some of the monotony, the space game is reasonably fun for a while, but you'll probably grow sick of it sooner or later because:

This is the buggiest game EVER. Okay, so maybe Quest For Glory 4 was the buggiest game ever. But this one's up there! Once you hit the Space stage, you can expect this game to crash every few minutes. It seems to crash more when you aren't saving (at least for me with my luck), so save constantly. But man, after a while it just feels like it isn't worth it anymore. Aside from the crashes to desktop, you may find situations where your spaceship cannot leave a planet it's on. In the tribe game you may find that, when activating your superpower, your village chief freezes in place and becomes unable to perform any actions until something (hopefully) kills him. And in the creature game, you may think you're clever when a large enemy is chasing you and you lose it by running through a gap between two trees which is too small for the monster's mass, but just remember that if your camera view shifts to where you can no longer see the creature it will actually pass right through any obstacles in its way. Everything about this game screams poor quality control, and it's amazing that it ever made it to shelves in the state it's in. But the abundance of bugs is something that you can avoid altogether by just not picking this game up, because there just isn't enough game there for it to be worth buying.

As far as individual ratings:
The Cell Game gets an 8/10 for the 10-20 minutes of enjoyment that are present.
The Creature Game gets a 4/10 because the creature editor is great but the game itself sucks.
The Tribe Game and Civilization Game both get 5/10 scores for being way too easy and simplistic.
The Space Game gets a 6.5/10 because there's a good amount of cool stuff to do, but you won't see most of it because of the monotony of space combat and the constant raids on your star systems, not to mention all the bugs.

So if you're like me and you were really looking forward to Spore... well, you probably already got it, so I'm sorry. But if you've been on the fence, my advice to you is either to stay away from the game or at least to read a few more reviews before you make any rash decisions with your money. Video games are expensive, and in this case I don't think it's worth it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 09/17/08

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

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