Overrated Game I Played this Generation - Spore

Spore CoverThis is a new series of articles I originally planned to cram all in one, but it's much easier to complain one at a time, unleashing my disgust for one popular game all at once.  I will admit this is intended to be a bit flamebaitish, but I hope it brings in some comments!

Spore is back in the news after the completely uninspired named Darkspore was announced as some sort of multiplayer action title.  I really don't know anything about the new game, but it did remind me how much I loathed my original Spore experience.

I could go on again about how Spore was one of my most anticipated games ever and how much it let me down, but I'd rather talk about what appears to be my disconnect from the rest of the video game review industry.  The game has a Metacritic score of 8.4 aggregated from 75 reviews while I gave Spore a 5 out of 10.  Two reviewers gave it a perfect score (including my personal much-hated G4TV) and there were only five sites that gave it a score under 70 (including Destructoid which I seem to line up with more often than not).  Spore was an uber-hyped, blockbuster game published by Electronic Arts and devised by the mastermind of Will Wright; were reviewers afraid to trash the game or did they honestly like it?  And if they liked it... what happened to me?

One review quote that stands out is from Games Master UK, which is a magazine so the full review is unavailable, but this one line appears on Metacritic:

"Spore is more than the sum of its parts. A lot of parts."

This is their clever way in saying that all those disjointed game modes came together to produce something greater, which I would say is the total opposite.  If you don't remember or never played Spore, the game is broken up into levels that distinctly separates each stage of life into a particular type of game.  The first stage is essentially a Flow ripoff where you swim around in a 2D plane eating stuff and avoid being eaten.  The second stage is a World of Warcraft clone and brings you out of the water and on to land.  The third stage is, in my opinion, a very poorly designed real-time strategy mode that dumbs down everything to the extreme.  The fourth stage is a bit like Civilization except described by me as "incredibly easy and essentially requires no attention."  The final stage sets you off into space and is very free roaming (but by this point I was too burned out to keep playing).

My point is the five stages are all very different and have little connection to each other.  When you finish a level, it's very obvious you're about to move on to something new and the only thing that keeps you connected is your creature.  Additionally, instead of excelling in any one area, we just have five poorly designed, weak imitations of the real thing.  Spore is like a sampler pack of different types of beer: there might be one or two flavors you actually enjoy, but you're stuck with all the other bottles too, and the good ones are gone before you know it.

Spore Tribal StageSo obviously I don't share the same opinion about the game as a lot of professional reviewers, some of whom even called out exactly what I did and still gave it a score around 90%.  I guess our standards are just a bit different.

Curious enough, the average gamer like me isn't so quick to heap praise upon Spore as the user score on Metacritic is just 4.6.  Granted, a lot of the negative scores are just complaining about the invasive Digital Rights Management EA employed (also echoed in over 2500 1-star reviews on Amazon.com), but a decent number have many of the same complaints as me: that Spore was simply disappointing and never lived up to the massive hype.

Spore is nearing its two year anniversary, and it was about two years before Spore was released that I discovered the game and watched its early previews at the Game Developers Conference.  I wanted Spore so badly and I put it up on a pedestal, the only thing it possibly could have done was come crashing down in a blaze of unrealized glory.  And that's exactly what happened.