|Genre||Over-hyped God Game|
|Score||5 Gameplay: 6
Fun Factor: 4
|Buy from Amazon|
Spore was released a few months ago to much hype and anticipation. It was the game to end all simulators, featuring gameplay from the individual cell level to the entire universe. Will Wright and crew demoed the game more than two and a half years ago in what seemed to be a ready to release state. But the game would be delayed, and delayed, and delayed again, leading us to a September 2008 release. Spore was my must play game of the year, and play it I did. Was it everything it was supposed to be cracked up to be? Definitely not. Was it a disappointment in my eyes? Definitely yes. Please Greg, tell us why.
Spore is broken up into five stages of gameplay: cell, creature, tribal, civilization, and space. Each of them is drastically different from the one before it, though the gameplay tends to be so dumbed down there's generally little learning curve. Let's examine each stage individually.
In the cell stage, you control a tiny little creature by pointing around the screen and clicking on a 2D plane. Your creature swims there, eating up anything small enough along the way. As you eat, be it other microscopic creatures or mini plants, you gather DNA points which you can spend in a level editor to add new creature parts. These parts include flagella, spikes, and even electric shocks; all in the name of advancing your creature and being the king of the cesspool. This stage plays a lot like flOw. What's cool is that one minute you'll be swimming away from a giant creature, and the next, you will have evolved into a larger creature so you can go eat them. It's quite satisfying. Though pretty easy.
The next stage is the creature stage, which pretty much plays like a lite version of World of Warcraft. Your cell level creature has evolved out of the water and now small bands of you are roaming the landscape. You run around in a 3D world discovering parts that you can add to your creature and meeting other species. When you meet a new species, you can either ignore them, fight them, or befriend them. This stage is level based so often times it is wise to ignore some creatures until you are stronger. Fighting them means slamming on the 1, 2, and 3 keys to use your moves (which are chosen by what parts you have on you creature, like a spike) and befriending them means doing a little dance with the opposition until they gain your respect. This stage is incredibly repetitive and goes on for a few hours of this.
Tribal stage is third, now this is a dumbed down version of a real-time strategy game. The game has gotten away from the individual aspect (in fact, you can't modify your creature any more except to add "clothing") and now focuses on your group of creatures. You have a home base where you can build a small variety of buildings. If you want to be a friendly tribe, you build musical instrument buildings where your tribe can get some flutes and run over to a nearby tribe and impress them with your musical abilities. The other tribe asks you to play a certain instrument and you just press the corresponding key. Exciting. Otherwise, you can be warlike and build weapon buildings. I conquered one species but mostly stuck to befriending. Either way it was again repetitive.
Now for the civilization stage, which plays similar to a real-time Civilization-esque game. Because of my actions of being a peaceful tribe in the previous stage, I was forced to be an economic superpower. Basically there are these spice mines around the world (which you can now fully see) and you go mine the spice and build some cities. Your objective is to conquer the world in whatever means you have, but since I was economic, this just meant spending gobs of money buying cities from other civilizations (which all seemed to reach this stage at the same time I did...). Even when another species was attacking me, I had no way to fight back except to buy their city. I spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to build some kind of war vehicle to no avail. Oh, that reminds me, you basically spend most of your time in this stage designing buildings and vehicles, something which got really old after the fifth building. This stage is incredibly easy and essentially requires no attention.
The final stage is the never-ending space stage. Since you are the reigning civilization on your planet, you head out into space (in a ship you design) to expand your realm even further. This is probably the most unique stage with some reminders of Star Control 2. You can travel all around the solar system, galaxy, and universe, doing missions for other civilizations, destroying species, terraforming planets, fighting space pirates, the list goes on and on. It sounds awesome, but there are some really annoying problems. First of all, terraforming planets is pretty fun, but you are really limited in what you can do, as you have to slowly gather all the different terraforming tools and buy tons of replacements. What could have been awesome, is instead kind of obnoxious. The second major problem is that your home planet and allies are in constant peril. They are always demanding you show up and save them from some pirates or some random species on their planet is about to die out and you need to save it. So much potential, but it falls flat.
Fun Factor: 4
Without going into so much detail again, the first stage is definitely the most fun, and then things fall off quickly. The space stage is all right, but glaring gameplay problems ruin things. There's also no incentive to stay in a stage longer and advance your creature or civilization as once you beat it, the next stage is so different that what you do from then on won't matter.
Graphics and Sound: 8
I have a fairly old computer but Spore still managed to run on it pretty well. That was a pleasant surprise. Now since there are five stages of gameplay, the graphics can wildly differ from stage to stage. Let's also look at these one at a time.
Generally your created creature grows bigger but also takes up less room on the screen as the camera is pulled back further and further. I personally thought the cell stage (first) graphically looked the best. Bright colors, vivid creatures, lots of little particle effects, and great looking foregrounds and backgrounds. The creature stage not only plays like a cheap World of Warcraft knockoff, but also looks like one. The third stage, tribes, definitely looks the worst. You're suddenly asked to slap a bunch of nasty looking shields and masks on your carefully designed creature so you can barely recognize the anymore. Everything looks really bland too and the tribal dance animations are horribly lame.
Things improve at the civilization stage where you finally get a look at the entire planet you've been running around on the last few hours. But once you reach this stage you'll pretty much never see your creature again as he is only shown during cutscenes or conversations. Instead, you move around in little cars you design. The space is pretty beautiful, and comes close to the wonder showed off by the cell stage. It's interesting to explore all the different planets and see their procedurally designed surfaces. It is definitely cool to "pull" the camera back to its highest available level and gaze at the universe.
No story except for what you make it, which can be difficult considering the scale of the game keeps growing bigger and bigger as you progress. Supposedly there's a story in the space stage if you play long enough but I was so worn out that I just couldn't go on. Won't affect the overall score.
Hype killed this game for me, well, that and the fact that Spore just isn't that much fun. There are some points where I smiled like when my creature imitated 2001: A Space Odyssey and banged a bone against the ground, but there are entire stages where I didn't enjoy myself at all. I'm not really sure how great the replayability even is considering once you get to the space stage, the look of your creature doesn't matter, though I suppose you could be a herbivore or a religious civilization to mix things up. Most stages have glaring flaws and the fact that the transition from stage to stage is so drastic is also disconcerting. All in all, Spore is decidedly mediocre. It is essentially four mini-games with a space simulator slapped on the end. I think I've learned a valuable lesson.