Spore Review

11 Sep 2008  by   Paul Younger
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There are a few games this year that are attracting the attention of the gaming world and Will Wright’s Spore is one of these. Creators of the Sims series, Maxis have done rather well over the years and this is a big title for EA. The Creature Creator, which was released as a stand-alone product, gave gamers a taste of what was to come in the full game and it’s gone down well, despite the influx of boob and willy creature movies that appeared on the Interweb.

The premise behind Spore is to create a civilisation from the ground up starting with the Cell Phase. In fact it’s so in-depth that you start out as a single celled organism swimming about in murky pools which makes up the first part of the game. By eating your way to a new level and picking up body enhancements you can add new body bits to your organism. Throughout this process players mate with other organism which are the same species as your creation, and once mating occurs you can enhance your organism with different traits such as fins, spikes, poison or electricity for attacking other organisms. This whole process takes about 20 minutes and feels rather repetitive.??

Assuming you’ve done everything right, and you can’t really go wrong, players then migrate to land on the planet they chose right at the start of the game, this is the Creature phase of the game. Once on land the development process begins again but this time it’s all about searching for other creatures and either attacking or befriending them to enhance your DNA and improve your own creature race.

When exploring other creatures are encountered, some will be easy to defeat and others will send you back to the creature creator to come up with something a little more powerful to defeat them. This part of the game is all very cutesy with lots singing, dancing and posing to impress others. It’s kind of like playing a very cute MMORPG with skill bars for actions or attacks while collecting DNA points to spend on improving your creature. The Creature phase is longer than the previous phase but again, can feel very repetitive.??

As you can see there’s a pattern emerging and next comes the Tribal Phase where the game starts to get a little more interesting. Your creatures now have bigger brains, and items such as weapons and musical instruments come available to either aid you in attacking or charming the other inhabitants of your created world.

At this point he game changes into RTS mode and after the first couple of phases this comes as a slight surprise as the control and view system changes slightly to a standard RTS viewpoint and control method. Again, this phase is relatively short, especially if an aggressive stance is taken. I will say going the aggressive route appears to be a lot easier than trying to ally with the other races on the planet.

Like almost every other RTS under the sun, resources are important to keep your tribe happy and food is the currency at this level of the game. Send out the tribe, kill some unsuspecting wild animals and feed your tribe. The tribe can then produce new babies for the price of 10 food and once you’ve around 10-12 tribe members you can go on the charm offensive, or rampage, depending on which route you take. It wasn’t long before all other tribes were eliminated by destroying their main hut and it was time to move onto the Civilsation phase of the game.

Sticking in an RTS-like mode, this phase adds air, sea and land vehicles and a full global view of the planet. Again we took a war-mongering stance and started creating our first land vehicles and city. Using the building creator you design your main city building, entertainment, factories and housing structures. Factories make your population unhappy while entertainment buildings increase their happiness so a balance needs to be found.

A new resource also comes into play, Spice (homage to Dune?). This new source of wealth vents from the ground and these nodes, which are dotted around the planet, are ‘captured’ by one of your vehicles. This then provides a steady stream of income to create more vehicles and improve your cities.

The Civilisation level was actually quite easy to complete as an aggressor. After a few land attacks with souped-up buggies sporting big guns and knocking out the blue civilization, air vehicles became an option. With so much Spice pouring in, thanks to capturing all the Spice nodes early on, air vehicles could be churned out and it was simply a matter of flying around the planet and eradicating every civilization that had dare set their foot on the IncGamers World. Die scum!
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With the IncyGamers gang now fully brained-up and all other civilsations crushed under our mighty fist of fear, it was time to conquer the Spore universe and begin our conquest of the Spore Universe.

Spore comes into its own at the space stage, it’s not until you reach this level that you can truly appreciate what Maxis are trying to achieve and once again the game’s controls change as you become the captain of your civilizations first spaceship which is pieced together in the ship creator. Like all the other creation processes your spaceship’s body, cockpit, weapons and propulsion is all pieced together and with the USS IncGamers now created it was time to reach for the stars.

Moving away from the RTS model, the game shifts to controlling your new spaceship which is handled with the mouse buttons for movement and mouse wheel for altitude. It’s not until you start moving the mouse wheel to take you out of orbit that you realise the scope of Spore. The higher your ship climbs, the more of the Spore universe you see, and it’s immense. If you thought conquering your own world was a challenge, it’s nothing compared to what lies ahead. Find new planets, colonise, and reach out to the other civilizations in the galaxy; the Spore universe just became vast.

And this is as far as I’ve got having played Spore for nigh on a week now. I have mixed feelings about the game so I’ll address them now before making my final verdict.

The attraction of Spore is the ability to create your own creatures, vehicles and housing, and through the pre-defined templates, components are dragged from the parts menu into the vehicle creator creature or housing creator. Spore boasts about the ability to be free with your creations but that is a slight exaggeration. You have to work from the template parts to piece together your creatures, vehicles or buildings, so there’s a limit to what you can pull off and how creative you can actually be. Having said that, there are not many games that give you this level of freedom.

Throughout Spore the game encourages you to achieve with a ‘level-up bar’ at the bottom of the screen and this does drive you to keep playing. Once I reached the space stage and realised how massive the universe actually was, there was a sinking feeling inside. The game had just become huge and I knew progress from here on in was going to be at a much slower pace. Now this can be viewed as a positive, who wants to play a game that’s going to be easy? However, it does beg the question as to whether Maxis should maybe have dropped the earlier stages of the game. I’ll be honest here, the first few stages can get tedious, especially the creature stage.

Maxis may have been better to begin the game at the Civilization stage, increase its scope and allow gamers to create their creatures with the Creature creator at this stage of the game but at a more advanced level of development. There is really no desire to go back and start a new race and go through the early stages of the game all over again and this game is really all about galactic exploration /conquest.

The community of Spore players will drive this game thanks to the in-built Sporepedia which is your connection to other Spore players. Spore fans can share their creations and make them available to other players. Creations are downloaded from the Spore servers and added to your game so there’s going to be some weird and wonderful buildings, creatures and vehicles appearing in your copy of Spore. This is a huge part of the game but it’s still really too early to say how successful this will be and whether it will keep Spore gamers hooked. So far it appears to be working but if interest wanes then so does the content. Let’s hope gamers stick with it.

Gamers looking for immense graphics are not going to find them in spore, the game does look good but has obviously been designed to be as compatible as possible which is, in this day and age, a plus. The game’s quirky style works well in lower resolutions so Maxis has achieved their goal.

Spore is not an easy game to pin-down. The early parts of the game are easy to complete, and once you reach space, they’re almost throw-away. These early phases in themselves do not make Spore a great game and are in fact too simplistic. Spore only gets juicy after a few hours play and its here that you start to see Will Wright’s vision. I would have loved to have played against other Spore players in real-time in one huge universe, the space strategy Time of Defiance is a great example of how this could have worked, now that would have been immense.We have to mention the DRM issue that is obviously an anoyance. Three installs maximum and you have to call EA. Not a great move by EA and it’s not exactly stopped the game being pirated within 24 hours of release. Please stop adding this to your games EA, it’s a right pain for those customers who legitimately purchased the game.

At its heart, Spore is essentially a space conquest game, but it’s no Masters of Orion. Spore is a game that will appeal to the masses and its success will be down to Spore players who keep the content fresh and interesting for others to enjoy.

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