Sunday, September 28, 2008


If ever there was a bigger game, I haven't known it. Maybe in the hardcore world Halo 3 got a little bit more hype, but never before has a game attracted so much media attention, with any and every media outlet running something. This game feels like it has been in development since the start of life itself and reviews have been insanely mixed. I don't mean like they gave it average scores but some give it a 10, others a zero. For a while I was tempted not to give it a score, but that would go against VG protocol. Enjoy the review!

System: PC

Type: Sandox / RTS / Space Explorer / Action

Graphics: 9.5/10

Sound: 8.5/10

Gameplay: 7/10

Story: 9/10

Multiplayer: 9/10

Overall: 8/10

As games go, Spore is very ambitious in it's scope, taking you from the dawn of life right past modern day and into a galactic civilization whilst still including a new approach to game design. It includes a piece of sophisticated model creator software, a real time simulation of player activity on four million planets and basically 5 games to play through. Even Civ doesn't do half of that. So, definitely full marks for effort, the four million planet statistic alone is quite impressive.

The game is, as you probably know, split in to 5 distinct stages. The cell stage, the creature stage, the tribal stage, the civilization stage and the galactic stage. I could give individual reviews for each of these stages, but this would miss the point of the game completely and this review would become very negative very quickly. That is because, with the exception of the galactic stage, which I will come to, all of the stages are very repetitive and simple. You would not be very surprised to find any of them, perhaps with less graphical flair, on an online game site. I did, in an earlier post, give some details about the first 3 stages, so I won't explain them. However, for the uninitiated the Civilization stage is a real time strategy game. However, it is very simple with a very limited number of strategies (3). Even these three strategies are just different names for the same task. Instead of shooting a town, you buy it out, but this is still done with tanks going over to it. It is quite fun sending tanks around with air and naval support, but it is not very challenging or at all thought provoking.

Then you design your spaceship and the galaxy is your oyster, well sort of. When you first take off, you will see your set of tools with loads of empty boxes for other stuff. And there is some really cool stuff there, there is teraforming equipment, teleportation stuff, weapons, and with four million planets and an internet of generated content, where can they go wrong? Then you are told to do some fedex mission, they're not great fun, but they do allow you to advance, collect more money, buy more stuff to do cool stuff with and add some direction to it. That's fine.

You meet other Civilization's, and in the same way as it is good in the earlier stages, it is awesome to be engaging in diplomatic relations with yours and others creations. It is a thing I will end up touching on again and again, but seeing other peoples stuff in your game is, for the most part, a treat. However, then they start demanding tributes. If the game is Civ 4, well that is the point; defending your nation, however, it can be tiresome. In Spore it is worse than tiresome, prepare for a rant.

Another race demanded tribute from me. Anyone who has ever taken a history lesson will know, appeasement is not the answer. So naturally, I declined. Next thing, about 4 races have declared war on me. Fine, if I had a number of units to control, but no, you have ONE SHIP. If you want to defend your planet, you will have to fly that single ship all the way back there. They will attack with maybe four ships, WHICH CAN REGENERATE HEALTH. Finally, I destroyed them using a tactic of my-gun-has-a-marginally-longer-reach-than-yours. On the plus side they dropped some things worth money. However in one instance, and I make no exaggeration, the absolute second I had finished picking stuff up, my planet came under attack again. Once again I defeated them, this time, I thought I might attack them. So I went to one of their (many) planets. About 4 ships again attack and slowly I beat them. Except this time, more keep coming. So you ignore them and attack their cities, their turrets shoot you, their ships shoot you and at the same time, they have launched ANOTHER attack on your home planet. Who thought that was fun?!

Rant over, but it is unacceptable game design. Or lack of. Even if the ships that are attacking me are works of art from someone with too much time, it is unacceptable. The space stage has an imperial ton of potential, but it is all wasted on some lame diplomatic model which expects you to control a galaxy with one ship.

The gameplay isn't without its moments. Everyone will remember the first time an asteroid field collides with your planet in the creature stage, and later when you meet an epic creature, watching it destroy everything that gets in its path including the animals that were killing you. Watching your enemies run in fright is awesome. Then, finally, being able to take down the epic creatures in the Civilization stage. When you first play through, and you don't have a clue what is happening, it feels like I imagine what a creature would feel. “What is going on?” This is a great feeling.

Visually, the game looks great. The worlds are really interesting, if a little stereotypical of retro sci-fi with their vibrant colours. Obviously, the most visually impressive element is how it can simulate how all these creatures walk, attack and even do the Stomp! There are the occasional graphic errors, but for a game generating so much animation on the fly based on what the user does, these are easily overlooked.

The game includes sun rises and it is really interesting to see how you emerge from being a creature, where days and nights span out in immeasurable lengths, to the Galactic age, where you can whiz between the two and see where the day and night end. This gives you a sense of evolution and linkage between the different mini-games. Another example of this linkage is looking at the history of your creature. It is a pleasure seeing how your tiny little creature evolved into some three legged behemoth that you ended up with. Despite this, the mini games can feel a little detached. This is largely due to the fact that what you do has little effect on the next stage. If you are a herbivore in the first stage, peace might be the best option in the stages following. Whereas carnivores will be forced to attack. However, that is basically it. What would be really interesting is to see if you could have scavenger creatures, stealthy creatures etc. It isn't that the game doesn't build these features in, but you can't progress through these strategies.

For example, in the tribal stage, it is true that you can run up and steal the other camps food. But, to advance to the next stage, you must either wipe them out or ally with them, thus making it a tribal only feature for gathering food rather than an actual strategy. What if, to win, you merely had to outlast the others, as is the case in real life. It is really easy to see how this could be expanded in to both the stages below it and above it. For example, if you were fast in the cell stage, maybe in the creature stage it was easier to steal food from dead animals and run off before the rightful owner came and attacked you. Another thing that would benefit this is a bit of emergent evolution. Instead of, “You have chosen X route, that gives you this special power”.

The game is very polished, as I mentioned, the creature animations from a technical perspective at least, are hugely impressive. The audio in this game is also equally well done. The sounds are very believable, even if the munching on the dead animals sound is a little disturbing at first. The music is both dramatic and clich├ęd when you evolve.

Spore, in addition to the main game, includes a host of editors. These are, as expected, great fun to mess around with. Finally, being able to paint individual parts of something that the creature creator was just crying out for. This is, if I am honest, where most of the fun is coming from. If you enjoyed the creature creator, I would recommend this game, the other editors are fun and it is great to be able to try out all your different creatures, vehicles and buildings in an actual environment. The game also includes a few other editors, including the national anthem editor, which felt a little tacked on and cramped within a clustered window for one stage. I would have liked a flag designer.

However this is far from a serious problem, the biggest problems with this game are the individual stages. No single stage is, in a word, fun. That is a pretty serious accusation to be making, and it isn't entirely true. But they are only as fun as simple addictive mini-games can be. They are easy to play, but they offer little in mental stimulation, except the space stage. However, for reasons stated above, someone messed that up.

Obviously this game will be milked by EA, so hopefully they will fix all of the stages. What do they each need, well the first 4, depth. Just add some more strategies, or at least the potential for more. The space stage, just fix it. Don't make the AI annoying, if you have to, get rid of it. At least let me build space ships to defend my home planet. Let me explore the galaxy in peace.

In conclusion, you must think carefully about this game. On the one hand, the editors are great fun, you will almost certainly not be left dead in the water with this title and it is definitely not without its moments. In this review, I have somewhat stuck to the negative aspects of it, but this isn't because they are the dominating aspects when you are playing, but this game was hyped so much, it is just a huge disappointment. There are some moments that you wish you had captured by camera, like when you lead your pack in to battle against a stronger species and bring it down. And the sense of ever zooming out to get to a grander scale is fantastic, but the unification of the stages is often missing and there is a huge amount of lost potential with this incredible game.

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