I’d like to start this review with a disclaimer: I’m not here to review the DRM and the debacle it’s fueling online. That’s for some one else to deal with. This is a gaming site, period. With that out of the way, let’s get to our Game du Jour, Spore.
What is Spore? Is it a god game? An evolution sim? An arcade game collection? A creative toy? All of the above, at least to some degree, and then some. Let’s start with the first part you’ll get to when you boot up your first planet: Cell phase. Many people call it a spin on Pac-Man, but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. Pac-Man is very simplistic in that you run around the same maze, over and over, with almost no variation whatsoever. Cell phase, on the other hand, is different each time, depending on how you play it. Sure, you’ll see the same cells in every game, but your interactions with them will vary greatly based on how you’re playing your current creature. My first species, the Budillas, were herbivores. I ran from anything with so much as a spike on it, and used the ‘jet’ part to get to plant buds faster. My second species, the Jobaba, were carnivores, and I learned that I needed to be faster and more agile to catch my prey, so I focused on more flagella then spikes. My third species were the Bluubies, and they became omnivores once I secured the proboscis mouth. The proboscis can’t eat the meat blobs floating around, but it can be used to feast on living critters and plant buds. There are only six parts to collect in this phase, but they each add to your creatures’ personality.
Once you’ve accumulated enough DNA points, it’s time to crawl onto land and begin my favorite part, Creature phase. There’s just something about being able to wander an alien planet as a customizable critter that pleases me. You’ll be much more conservative about what parts you slap onto your creature here then you ever were in the Creature Creator, because of the cause-effect nature of it all (as well as the DNA costs). Again, reflecting my three main species, the Budilla got all sorts of parts based around charming, posing, singing and dancing, in hopes of befriending as many species as possible. The Jobaba, on the other hand, got the biggest, meanest jaw I could get, two types of feet (they’re quadrupeds) and a pair of huge wings so they could swoop in from the sky and make their kill on whatever they so desired. It was here that I learned the tit-for-tat association between jumping and gliding. You can have all the glide in the world, but if you can’t jump worth a lick, it’s useless. The same for jumping; it doesn’t matter if you can jump to the moon; if you can hardly glide, it won’t do you any good. The Jobaba had one pair of feet for charging and one for jumping, as well as the top-tier wings, so they were lethal.
The Tribal phase was probably my least favorite. I didn’t enjoy the musical mini-game that comes from trying to befriend your neighbors, and conquering them isn’t much easier. The musical mini game involves arming your creatures with instruments and playing a Simon-says game with the other tribes. You need your Chieftain to lead the band, and you also need as many of your tribe members as possible for maximum effect. However, this leaves your village unguarded and can hamper your food gathering efforts. All in all, it’s a micromanagement headache.
The Civilization phase is better, but not by a whole lot. You do get to flex your creativity again, as you design your own vehicles and buildings. You can even write a national anthem for your critters (music-wise, anyway). I played religiously as the Budillas, and it took me about an hour to convert every other city on my planet, so this isn’t the longest phase. Military cities do seem to be at an advantage, though, ov
er economic and religious cities. How are the other two supposed to fight back adequately? In any case, once you’ve planted your flag in every city on the planet, you open up the very huge and very open-ended Space phase.
I like Space phase, but there are some serious problems with it in my mind. The ability to fly around the galaxy, making friends and enemies alike, finding treasures and seeing fantastic sites make this the most awe-inspiring of the phases. When I found my first binary star system (pictured at right), I was beside myself. However, some galactic nations will demand constant tribute from you in lieu of a war, and at some point you’re not going to have the money to keep paying them off, and a war will break out. This leads to the most frustrating part of space phase, and that is ship-to-ship combat. The controls here are not up to the task of dealing with swirling fighters, and you’ll lose many battles you should win, just due to the lousy controls. You’ll also find yourself called back from the far reaches of space at the most inopportune moments to fend off some random event, such as an ecological disaster, a Groxx attack or a rival nation.
One of Spore’s most heavily touted features is it’s Sporepedia that allows you to browse and share tons of created content with ease. For the most part, this works quite well. I also like the Sporecasts. I’ve subscribed to two; one for World of Warcraft bits, and another with the original 150 Pokemon. I’ve also made my own, featuring a variety of real Earth creatures like lions, horses and bears.
The game plays very, very well (outside of space combat), and is something that most anyone could pick up and play. Spore runs very well on just about any modern computer, so it’s definitely a game to share with friends who don’t have a cutting-edge rig.
The biggest complaint I’ve got as far as appearances goes, is that there’s no in-game option for anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering. These were likely left out to make the game more accessible to the masses, but for those of us with decent computers and who like our eye candy, the slight blurring of textures in the distance and the jaggies around the edges of our creatures can be a turn off. Sound-wise, Spore is again solid. The only part that bothers me is the creepy music that plays during the creature mating scenes. Sometimes it’s something out of an old Disney cartoon (i.e., sweet and innocent), while other times it feels like they stole the music out of some ’70s-80s movie love scene (lots of sassy brass music). It’s legitimately creepy.
Spore is, first and foremost, a sandbox. A beautiful sandbox full of possibilities. It’s not perfect, but it allot of fun. Anyone who likes to create or explore exciting new worlds will find enjoyment here. It’s not the Game of the Year quality we were hoping for, but it’s still great. Alphasim out.
UPDATE: Beta wanted to chime in and point out that she feels Tribal phase, which I called a micromanagement headache, would be easier for folks who enjoy The Sims, which is also heavy in micromanagement. I’d like to point out that I play allot of RTS games, so I’m not a newbie to the peon and resource management. I just don’t enjoy the level of micromanagement this phase requires. It also reminds me more of The Movies then Sims, actually. It’s to the taste of the gamer, it seems. She also feels that Spore would become too much of a resource hog if it had the eye candy options I noted above. I just wanted the option. If they were required I’d probably be upset, but the option to enable them if you wanted them would have been nice.