Review by NuclearBanana

"Short on gameplay, big on ideas"

Since it's reveal in 2005, people have been waiting anxiously for the release of what was widely thought to be the greatest game of all time. It was an astounding concept, it integrated revolutionary technology, it looked smooth and continuous from microscopic to galactic, and most of all... it was an extension of the user's imagination. Even with all the hype, the publishing by EA, and threat of becoming vaporware, spore was released to the public and met most of its promised goals. Among its major disappointments include the cartoonization of models, the entire exclusion of underwater environments, removal of many of the procedural mechanics for complex creatures, and the horrid micromanagement later in the game.

After playing the game I was surprised that it had exceeded my expectations, yet still left me with so many negative opinions. Nonetheless I found it to be an enjoyable game with many strong points. So let's go through this piece by piece.

Cell stage: 4/5

Ah to become my first cell. What an oddly joyous beginning. A simple stage that was entertaining primarily for one reason: simplicity! In comparison to the demos shown before release, the cell stage is now much easier to comprehend, even if a bit silly. Other cells are easy to pick out from debris and plant bits. Plants are disguised as nodes attached to bigger nodes attached to one big node that you can eat as you grow larger. Customizing is a snap and can be done as many times as is desired. Cells aren't too complex, but hey, they are cells... though I was disappointed that the cells shapes were limited to spheroids. Another advantage over the demo is the impression that you really are growing in a larger environment. Creatures in the background gradually become part of the foreground as menacing titans, later to be tiny specks not worthy of chasing down for a snack. My cells squeaked and winced and made cute sounds exactly like a single-celled organism shouldn't and this made me very happy. While wiggling about in the fluid dynamics of the environment I noticed that the development team had strongly pushed for the "cute" impression. It was like buying a puppy! But then it grew up into the creature stage and started needing more food and making messes on the carpet.

Pros: Cute, funny, simple, fluid dynamics
Cons: Little customization, goofy giant eyes on everything

Creature Stage: 3/5

The next stage was the big event everyone wanted to try out. Unfortunately, it left people feeling a bit hollow. There wasn't any complex leveling system -or any leveling system for that matter. It was entirely a smash and eat; eat and charm; repeat as desired game. Now this isn't so bad, really. It's empty, but not bad. Creatures still performed beautifully and there were no time constraints into moving on to the next phase. I could take my time sneaking about and exploring the land stealing food or new parts from my enemies. I spent much of my time exploring the continent, picking up bones to get new parts (terrible idea BTW) and discovering races of creatures I myself had previously made in the CC. Unfortunately this all became very tedious. Picking up bones for my parts was very unrewarding, and being required to do this every time I start a new game is not fun. In fact, the only other way to get parts was to either cause another species to go extinct, or to dance the night away until another species like you. I found the latter to be very tedious, though pleasantly challenging for a predator. (My efforts won me a very lucrative adaptability trait.) Still, spamming the "charm" animation over and over really made me wish I was playing something more rewarding. Like... something else. Anything else. Pathing was also horribly flawed. When clicking on the minimap creatures would often get hung up on a steep slope and waddle back and forth and then get stuck crawling at a snail's pace down a steep incline (as opposed to just falling off.) Finally, I found it disturbing that I can appear at a nest with one other creature laying an egg, mate with it, and then *I* lay the resulting egg. This is not natural.

Pros: Anything can look good!, Can be challenging depending on how you want to play, some original physics intact
Cons: Pathing is buggy, play is repetitive, picking up bones is a terrible idea, everyone is a hermaphrodite

Tribal Stage: 2/5

The tribal stage was a nice concept, but lacks a lot of depth. I found it to be somewhat like age of empires. (But the only thing you gather is food, the only building you can create is a barracks, and you can only make militias.) You use a food resource to produce more members and gather resources to eventually influence other tribes. When making my first tribe, I had just finished the introductory materials and created a new tribesman. The little bugger ran madly in circles while two other grown adults -apparently- beat each other up for sport. SURELY these creatures would never make it into space!! Though it was funny, my experience of my creatures now became one of an RTS and my mind went into C&C mode. Decorating my tribesmen became more of a matter of tactics rather than style, since I now no longer laid eyes on them individually. Possibly because of this I found this stage to be insanely weak, as I was no no longer designing new material nor experiencing anything other than a weak RTS. There was also very little in the way of progression. You didn't create any instruments or huts, they simply added to your inventory after defeating a tribe. I flew through the stage as quickly as possible, since there was no joy in playing this stage.

Pros: Cute
Cons: Boring as hell

Civilization Stage: 3/5

Once I finished the tribal stage I was treated to a little cinema where my tribesmen gathered to discuss the best way to unite the planet. I knew right away my little guys were a chip off the old block when one of them burst out with a giant "pie" icon floating above its head. I was then overwhelmed with content creators and quickly realized that the bulk of the game was indeed centered around this stage. Though the stage itself was rather bland, the added bonus of being able to produce pimpmobiles, roman style buildings, Final Fantasy-esque airships, and the rebuilt Titanic made it a very entertaining stage. In fact, I was so bothered by the tedium of micromanagement that I wanted my town mayors work on world domination while I spent more time constructing the next big thing! I did enjoy watching my citizens line up for free money, though. My people weren't going hungry! There was a lot of uncertainty when it came to which ally would be strongest, so I was kept on my toes when it came down to trading and social politics. I found that as an economic society, I was very weak to attacks from a single sea vessel sitting outside of the range of my turrets firing at my city. None of my skills could aid me as I had no military vehicles and bribe only works on groups of vehicles of two or more! (Stramone, stramone, stramone....)

Pros: Biggest outlet for creativity
Cons: Also boring, economic playstyle vulnerable to loopholes in AI logic

Space Phase: 3/5

Space! The final frontier! And also the most complex stage. I set myself down and made an awesomesauce space jet and took to the cosmos. I quickly realized, however, that the scope of the game at this point was SO large, that it wasn't really worth playing all the way through. While the idea of being able to populate a near endless supply of worlds with whatever I want sounds great, I found I don't get any time to do this! I'm usually in the middle of terraforming a planet or looking for that elusive rare artifact when pirates decide to invade my territory or life decides to die off on some planet somewhere. What's worse, there is no way to effectively eliminate ecodisasters or pirates. They are constant distraction that only gets worse as you acquire more planets to micromanage. I could handle attacks once an hour, but not every 5 minutes. In addition, the number of militaristic races in the galaxy is staggering. (I played this on medium difficulty, though, since I heard the game was too easy.) If you aren't a worshipper of Spode, you are an edgy warboss with something to prove. Fortunately I started off next to some treehuggers, party animals, and bureaucracy, so I had some important starting allies. I had a hard time managing my abduction beam as well. It would seem all beams follow the same targeting mechanism, so abduction beams will try to suck up anything that can be scanned - including buildings, vehicles, or allied fighters. Spode help you have a large lump of looted cash falls into an allied town or into a grove of trees. The badge system was fun, but I found myself needing more and more for expensive technologies that I really wanted, long after receiving the title of Omnipotent. You would think being omnipotent would grant you diplomatic immunity, but it doesn't. And if you EVER encounter the Grox, you might as well start over as you are never getting a days' peace afterwards. I was also disappointed with the number of abilities that required repurchasing. It really cheapened gameplay, since it forces you to spice grind. I'm the kind of guy that likes to sit back and create. I thought that's what Spore was about. But instead I got treated to a micromanagement hell!

Pros: You can pretty much do anything, finding rare items and galactic formations is fun
Cons: Buggy abduction beam, no time to do anything, civ expansion too cumbersome, titles mean nothing, consumable ship abilities mean grinding spice to play how you want, micromanagement hell

Overall comments and criticisms:

Phase shifting: Between phases you are given the opportunity to do whatever you like as long as you like before finally going on to the next stage. This is convenient given the short amount of time it takes to upgrade your brain.

Timeline: There are too many irrelevant bits of information stored on my harddrive. I don't care how compressed the files are that keep track of this information... navigating a series of thousands of battles, encounters, takeovers, and technology upgrades is tedious and annoying.

Stability: Personally, the game runs just fine for me. However, I have a vanilla Windows XP Pro operating system with circa 2004/2005 technology. The game was likely designed with this exact chemistry in mind. This game has been reported to have numerous problems with hangups and crashes in different areas. I can't say from experience where, but I can say it is very slow to load the solar system when leaving a planet sometimes (an area of reported crashes.)

Publisher: EA is the worst possible publisher. Electronic Arts consistently destroys games both in content and production. EA forced developers to leave out certain elements and content creators to be added in later as an expansion to make more money. This brought opinion of the game down a notch. In addition, the DRM on this game brought the Spore community to its knees, effectively making it a rent-to-play game; even if most people never have to change hardware or use another computer. This only encouraged pirates to crack the game faster and has thus far become one of the most pirated games ever. This was a horrible shame to happen to a game with as much potential as this one had.

Recommendations: While everyone has a different playstyle I found that the game would be much more fun if I could just sit back and watch things work. If there is a patch that allows me to completely eliminate or otherwise SEVERELY limit disasters in the space phase I would be totally satisfied with this game. As it is, I feel like I worked toward a goal I can't enjoy.

Total Score: 6/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 09/17/08

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

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