Review by Great_Khan
Spore is not the future, nothing like it.
Every year there's a lot of disappointing titles released by major studios, already this year has had a few, but with the release of Spore it seems as if 2008 has a winner. This game, released by the legendary game designer Will Wright, may very well be the worst game I've played in years. I'm not going to come out and call it the worst game this year, because you never know when somebody with a budget of $30 is going to come out with the next Big Rigs, but when it comes to making a big game with lots of funding and support I really can't see Spore getting toppled in the woefulness stakes.
Spore is easily one of the most horribly redundant and worthless games released in a long time. The grand total of five games present here are all in danger of being outdone by flash games. That's right, flash games can do what this does. Sure, not quite as pretty, and never all 5 at once, but as a whole free online games have done everything this game does years ago, and often much better. To makes things worse, the makers of the game seem to think their creation is something revolutionary and important.
All 5 games on offer are pathetic, poorly made, joy-free sloppy wastes of time. The only thing that is somewhat well designed is the creature creator, which of course is available for free as a demo, thus rendering the price tag on this game completely unnecessary. Why pay for an awful game placed around a well made piece of technology, when you can get the quality part for free? However, while it's well made, it has a flaw; it's boring and completely pointless, but more on that later, for the minute lets focus on these "games".
Spore gives you 5 types of game to show your species' evolution from single celled organism to space conquering super mutant. Supposedly, each phase is designed to affect the next, but this is rubbish and lies. Firstly, your range of options is worthy of mockery, at the end of each stage you are ranked into one of a grand total of three different categories. Which is laughable enough considering how much this feature was hyped up, but things reach a new level of hilarity when you realise nothing is affected by what category you were bundled into. The minor differences from how you played each stage are of little to no importance by the next round.
Does being a carnivore effect the Tribal phase at all? No. Does being aggressive in the Tribal stage mean that the space stage will play any differently than it would if you we friendly? No. There is no lasting effect from each of your developments. None at all. Being aggressive in the tribal phase doesn't mean that you're pigeon holed into being aggressive in the civilisation stage, it just means your first city is of a different type, by the second city you take over you'll be able to completely change your technique. Being a herbivore doesn't prevent you from making a giant death bringing vicious creature, it just means you can't eat what you kill. It's all horribly shallow.
The first stage is the cell stage; this is your basic "Avoid big things, attack small things" flash game. It's got some snazzy graphical effects beneath you, things make cuter noises, and your movement isn't as smooth as the online games, but it's still effectively the same thing. In this stage you can eat meat, or eat vegetation, or eat both by choosing to have a carnivore mouth, a herbivore mouth, or both. As you go along you'll get the ability to have spikes, excrete poison slime, and electrocute your attackers. It's simple, it's not terribly thrilling, but sadly it's by far the best part of the game. Still, it's a good thing it's so short, since it is such a basic repetitive mini-game they couldn't possibly lengthen it out any longer without it being terribly annoying.
The cute noises you hear from the outset of this game pretty much set the tone for it, everything is disturbingly and awkwardly cute. Giant insectoids make noises which fail to be more startling than a doves coo, and space creatures no matter how vicious and cruel talk like middle aged lunch ladies mumbling about coleslaw. It's just too cute and cuddly, much like Pokemon once it went to TV, or Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 in comparison to the earlier ones. It's a family game, it's expected to be bright and colourful, but Spore, much like those other games goes too far into the world of fluffiness and alienates its players. You feel far more embarrassed when controlling your four armed tiger with horns than anyone controlling a four armed tiger with horns ever should. Spore crosses the line into the realms of being far too kiddie.
The creature stage introduces us to the first of your content design sequences that each of the stages have, the creature creator. There is nothing wrong with how the creature creator is made, it's smooth, it's easy to use, and you can create pretty much anything you want, on a technical level, it's pretty much perfect. When the problem with the creature creator becomes apparent is as soon as you realise "Hey, I don't want to make creatures, I never wanted to make creatures". Think about it, all the awesome videos of Spore you see on youtube, they all pretty much revolve around two things; making Spore monsters look like genitals, and making Spore monsters look like things from movies and games. How many people actually have an original monster they've thought of, designed in their brain that they would like to see a vaguely similar depiction of in a game, with sweeter, less aggressive sounding noises of course? I for one don't know anybody who does. The system is fundamentally flawed in that sense, there really isn't any desire to use it, making your own creatures really isn't fun. Basically, the most enjoyable thing is to try and make things look vaguely like things you've seen in movies, and that gets dull pretty quick.
So anyway, a hypothetical, let's say you do have a monster you've dreamt of that you'd like to see a rough representation of walking around a fairly boring looking environment, and you go ahead and create it, the game throws a curve ball at you, it'll most likely suck horribly. Sadly, unlike the cell stage, where having spikes meant that where you have spikes strategically placed, you will have some handy pointy weapons to stab with; the Creature stage weapons are fairly irrelevant as to location and number. What you add now functions as a more RPG style turn based type thing, one set of claws will give you a certain attack, having 2 sets of those claws doesn't mean you have twice as much clawing ability, you'll still only be able to use that attack once per it's allotted time, and your second pair will merely be ornamental. Yes, on an actual functional level this is pretty much exactly the same as every Action/RPG type game ever made. Instead of equipment determining your attacks and defences, you have body parts... Basically, it's a really crappy Diablo, really pushing the boundaries. What you do is in reality very unrelated to how well your creature functions, soon enough you'll realise that randomly tacking bits and pieces with good abilities all over your creature is the best way to make your beast strong in the game, and it'll end up looking like a hopeless mess. It's exactly the same technique of every RPG ever made, you find more items and attach them to yourself; you get stronger. Sure, instead of new shields and new swords it's now new mouths and new claws, and you can actually see what changes, but it's still the same damn thing, Spore is about as revolutionary as Kid Rock's terrible use of sampling famous songs in his own songs, and almost as bad. So, in order to have the strongest abilities, you'll quickly discover that you'll need to use body parts which work best rather than look right for your creature, and as you start loading it up with all sorts of defensive plating and horns where possible it becomes pretty hard to keep your beast coherent. The result is that your options are look coolish and suck, or look horrid and be powerful. This leads onto a lot of creatures with virtually the same equipment, but which merely look different, the fact is the user content that is created really has no impact beyond what you visually see, the game is unchanged. Sadly, this theme of pointless user creation is mirrored throughout the game in every stage from here on in, nothing you do carries over to the gameplay in any way beyond visuals.
Once you've made your pointless and ugly creation, the creature stage pretty much blows. You walk around, eating food to survive and either befriending or killing other species you encounter. If you eat vegetation, you can eat all the trees you find, but nothing really prevents you from still creating the ultimate badass creature which dominates all other creatures you see, you just can't eat their remains. Carnivores can of course only eat meat, and surprisingly, they're the only breed which can be difficult, namely because often you'll find after a while your opponents can get pretty strong, and you have no choice but to try and fight them. Omnivores can do both, making them a desirable type, since you have all the freedom in the world to kill weaker things and befriend stronger ones. This is made even easier thanks to the game giving you unlimited design changes, so whenever you find something you want to kill, change your creature to have more weaponry, and when you find something you don't want to fight, change it to have more social elements. Nothing in this game has any influence as to what happens after it, considering this is what the entire game has been advertised and championed for, it's really disappointing. The level of freedom you have simply outweighs the influence of your evolution, you can look like a goomba one minute, and an AT-AT the next, there needs to be some limits in place. You get more decision making in a shooter where you have to decide between carrying a shotgun or a machine gun. Despite the hype, this game does not take the world of gaming a step forward; instead it takes it backwards, with less focus on providing enjoyment, and more with pointless content creation, kind of like a flash dress up game with more options and more sharing.
Where this game expects to become well loved is in the online sharing of content. In each of the stages, rather than playing against just the standard Maxxis designs you get to combat the inventions of random players from around the world. As good as this sounds, like the creature creator, with some further thought you'll realise just how pointless and uninteresting this feature is. Basically, everything user created functions exactly the same way as the pre made Maxxis stuff, just it looks different. Most creations made by other people aren't particularly interesting, which is no surprise, since nothing you'll create will have any meaning to anyone other than you. No, nobody is on the other side of the planet, looking at your monster and saying "Wow, that monster is cool. I should buy that man a drink". It doesn't happen, nobody notices what you've created, and nobody cares about what you've created. Sadly, the creature stage is probably where the building of game elements is most fun, because the rest of the stages just get worse...
Tribal and Civilization phases are pretty much interchangeable, you have a tribe/Civilization which needs to take over all the other tribes/Civilizations in the world. This is done by, again, with the huge range of possibilities this game prides itself on, one of two options. You can simply overpower your opponents and take over their land, or you can befriend in a time consuming and annoying system of giving gifts and for the tribal phase playing songs, which functions exactly the same way socializing did in the previous stage. In other words, the game involves spamming units until you kill off your target, because being civil is just a waste of time. It doesn't affect anything trying to be civil, other than the fact it's more time consuming and requires more effort. Being civil in the Tribal stages merely decides what type of city your first one is when you start the civilisation stage. This basically doesn't affect your game at all, since you can make all cities you take over in the future into what ever you want. This is mirrored in the Civilization phase where however you played the missions has only a insignificant and rudimentary effect on your space stage efforts.
The worst thing about these stages, apart from their glaring shallowness, is that they are the weakest, simplest most asinine strategy games I have ever seen. For some reason Mr Wright figured if he buried them within 3 other games people wouldn't mind that they are the least refined games of the type released since... well... I honestly can't remember any game more primitive and shoddily constructed as these phases are. These are as much intelligent strategy/RTS games as Jaws was an accurate portrayal of marine biology. Hell, when they made these modes they recognised that it was so very repetitive and long winded that they actually put a weapon in the civilization stage which wins the game instantly which everyone automatically gets. It's an in game "all your base are belong to us". It serves no purpose other than to be a mercy card for the players who they knew would be feeling vengeful disgust in ploughing through city after city for a couple of hours.
The next thing you'll notice here is just how useless the content creators from here on in are. You get to construct new buildings for your race, with no effect other than they'll look different, they don't even pretend to have any functional use. You'll get to design uniforms, which involves awkwardly covering your ill-fitting-for-wearing-clothes creatures with hats where ever they'll fit, making your already decrepit looking monster that little bit more mangled. You get to make boats and aircraft and tanks, all of which will look like a mass of guns. No joke, attack power is determined by how many guns you have on your vehicle, so logically, a tube covered in thirty different kinds of randomly assigned weapons will work the best. Like your creatures, if what you make looks good, you're working on a pathetic piece of technology, if it looks like a munitions dump on wheels; you're set. This is horrid mess of bad design and pseudo-inventive desire to have as much user involvement in set pieces as possible continues to lead the game down a path of no effort on the game, and the misguided assumption that players will find a way of making it fun themselves. This is flawed logic since all of the content creators in the world can't change the fact that everything you do merely affects the visuals, not the game.
So, after all of the more mini game-like stages are done, you're left with the big one, the jewel in the haggard crown of Spore, the one sent to save this terrible game from universal mocking, Space. I'm not sure how they did it, but the guys at Maxxis have managed to make the awesome world of colonizing space absolutely abhorrent. Oddly enough, it's not because of Spore's common theme of over simplifying the life out of everything. Instead, there's too much stuff going on. The thing is that everything that happens in the space stage needs a lot of micro management. This is mainly due to the fact you have a single ship to control, meaning nothing can be automated. Colonizing planets requires at least three or four visits to a planet with fairly measured placements of expensive objects on the surface, and delivering wildlife to the planet, all the while it's possible that a planet may die off because of disease, resulting in you having to go kill diseased animals for a few minutes. Warring with planets basically means that you'll constantly need to be revisiting your own worlds to defend against enemy attacks, which are pretty constant. It's kind of like territory war in GTA: San Andreas, just you can't lose your life, every time your ship dies, you'll respawn a new one. Kind of makes you wonder why your colony couldn't make two ships simultaneously. Keeping up relations with friendly species also requires fairly frequent visits to their planet. All the while you have to be doing little missions so to progress your game forwards, which generally revolve around picking something up, or killing some animals. Theres just a huge number of boring, small things that you need to be doing constantly, it's not as over simplified as the game has been until now, its just far too many things to be dealing with at once. It seems like it would have been far better set out as a RTS style game rather than the way it is now.
The space stage is set out in a similar way to an RTS, as you click to move from star system to star system and planet to planet, but it's got its own differences. Firstly, you only have one unit, so you have to do everything that happens, so all combat has to be dealt with in a very detailed way. There's no way of simply telling your ship to fight the four ships in an area, you need to manually go after them individually, and shoot them down with whatever weapons you have. And no, theres none of that easy, click once and your ship will automatically keep shooting the same guy, no instead you have the awkward control scheme of manually chasing after your opponents and shooting them by manually aiming at them. Sure, it sounds more fun than an RTS style (Admittedly, it probably is), and the designers clearly wanted to make combat more exciting (Admittedly, it probably is), but it's not user friendly in the slightest, it requires more effort it's still not thrilling, because it's not a thrill based game, and it gets really annoying having to track down enemy craft every time you get invaded. So the slight gain of combat being a little more exciting is more than countered in combat being a time consuming process requiring far too much effort. Not to mention it's disgustingly awkward to do, for some reason, Maxxis decided to map the zoom button with the change altitude up and down button, so you literally cannot get a good camera angle on your ship without moving it away from the battle.
The difficulty in getting a good look at your ship and surroundings is made exponentially worse once you get out into the universe. Everything is just awkward, for whatever reason, you can only travel fairly short distances from star to star, and the stars are scattered about in a three dimensional order. This certainly makes everything seem a lot more like space, but it's hard to determine which stars are close and which ones are far. Camera movement is awkward to say the least, and it's easy to get lost. Again, since zooming is mapped to your ship moving up and down, it's impossible to get a good overview of where you are, so you'll start using the directional keys to look about, which just gets you more and more lost as the entire perspective changes. This also happens when you use ridiculously ineffective home planet finder function. It really should be renamed to the "Get you lost in space" function. Where you're heading is also very hard to determine, since you can't get a good look at your surroundings it can be difficult to find the location of what ever star system you're searching for. The game maps out paths to places with a series of coloured lines, but it really doesn't help much, since they often seem to be awkwardly mapped and confusing to use.
On the plus side being mindlessly aggressive won't win this one, in fact, you have to do the opposite and be friendly. This is less because of the option being more enjoyable to do, and more to do with the predetermined main enemy that you have to take over/befriend is simply far too large to beat via waging war. Luckily, diplomatic approaches for the space stage are actually more enjoyable, if still slower, than fighting. This is mainly due to fighting being so horribly disgraceful and unlikeable rather than diplomacy actually being enjoyable. In order to befriend other species you'll need to fly about, doing little chores for them (Killing the infected species, stealing something they want from someone else), setting up trade routes, and generally helping them out as much as possible, which translates to more excessive micro-management. Yeah, it's terrible, but it's still eons ahead of the combat.
Spore manages to offend me in more ways than just that it's a disgrace to the world of games, it's the fact that it is pompous enough to pass itself off as groundbreaking, inventive and taking the world of gaming further into the future. In fact, it's doing the opposite, it's going backwards, the games get simpler, and there isn't any focus on gameplay or atmosphere at all. This game is taking the most basic premises of games, and just editor spamming the living hell out of it. Sure, your game will look different every time you play it, but really, Spore will always play basically the same. This is the same sort of passing off artificial aesthetic improvements as actual advances in the gaming world that you get from the most hardware hungry first person shooters; it's just more pretentious about it and actually believes its changing the world. It's the same thing, all the modding, all the user development; it's all just decorative; the game is still the same boring husk of a game. The sad fact is that all the modding that is easy to do is utterly useless. To be honest you get more out of a level editor on a skateboarding game, or a scenario editor in an RTS because in that case what you create actually has a use, the experience actually changes, nothing you create in this game has a purpose, nothing about the experience changes, it's all about making things look different. There is no scenario design, because there are no scenarios, there is no level design, because the level you play on is unimportant. It's the video game equivalent of a six year old changing her Barbie's dresses, and that shouldn't appeal to anyone besides six year old girls. Avoid this like the plague that it is, a plague hiding behind a mask of cute and cuddly noises.
Rating: 1.0 - Terrible
Product Release: Spore (AU, 09/01/08)
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