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Old 10-16-2008, 08:35 AM   #4
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Re: Spore Review (PC)

A vast galaxy of mouse clicks and random creatures.

What is Spore? Spore is an evolutionary park, where all the players have a few things to play with; the slide, a swing set, jungle gym, and of course the sand box. While some kids will undoubtedly run straight into one of the active activities, others will head for the sand box and create stuff. That is Spore, a collaborative playground where players have their choice of what to do.

The journey from single-celled organism to space-faring society is going through that full list of active things to play on, while creating everything from the organisms to buildings to theme songs for cities is, for the most part, like playing The Sims. Which is to be expected.

Yet this five-in-one game is really just two games in one: the creation of different organisms and buildings and vehicles, and the development of said organisms. Depending on personal preference, one or both of these will be fun. However, because Spore tries to do so very much, it ends up lacking. Maxisí search for realism has dug a hole that they cannot climb out of. Not yet, anyways.

Beginning as a single celled organism, Spore plays very much like flOw, where players must maneuver their creatures to eat either other swimming organisms or plants. From that moment, players are also forced to decide whether their creatures will be carnivores, omnivores or herbivores, something that comes too quickly. When I realized that my diet cannot be changed later on, it was too late for me to stop eating meat and get some veggies in my diet, and the only way to fix it would be to start over.

This section is fairly easy, and takes little more than half an hour to complete. So building the proper creature is of dire importance. If the creature doesnít have the right mouth, the right protection of spikes or poison-excreting sacks or even the right fins, youíre fish food. The simple list of features for the Creature Creator of single celled organisms has only a few things to change, but theyíre important ones. Every part has a purpose and is used to its utmost.

Completing this stage of creature growth leads to complications. Getting on land means making a creature that follows the traits made in the previous stage, and thatís all. The Creature Creator becomes more robust, with different levels of strength, speed, attack and abilities for each. In fact, in this stage the Creature Creator is at its best, giving a huge number of options that all will have different reactions to the encounters players will have.

Yet even in this stage the Creature Creator is flawed. Players arenít rewarded for making a creature that has more desirable traits, such as being extremely tall or large. Size doesnít matter in the slightest. Unless the body part attached to the creature has some written advantage, it is purely aesthetic. Tall creatures cannot step on shorter ones, nor will they be stronger or more powerful in any way. The determining factors of a strong creature rely solely on the few ďpower partsĒ that are supplied, which kills any creativity players may have.

But at least you have numbers. As a land animal, youíre allocated a certain number of family members for your pack, and theyíll do whatever you do, be it eat, attack another species or move to a location. So you arenít stuck running from larger, deadlier things like in the cellular level. On land, players have backup.

This whole section, however, is not very enjoyable. It revolves mainly around creating a strong enough creature to take on whatever adversaries lie in the way or missions there are to perform. Point and click is the all there is. That, and hoping that you can run away faster than more powerful stronger enemies.

After successfully learning communication, playerís species becomes capable of fighting other evolving species in tribes. This section is very similar to the previous one, where the tools (in this case, weapons instead of claws) you have make little difference. Itís possible to make friends with all the opposing tribes or to destroy them. Either way, only one type of weapon or musical instrument is necessary. After building up your tribeís numbers, itís easy to take out opposing tribes. Itís almost not worth it to be diplomatic because that is more work and less fun.

The civilization stage is the first that requires some strategy. It begins by asking what type of capital building players want, which has no relevance to anything except aesthetics, and then has the city mine for dust. Collected dust acts as currency for the cities, allowing the building of homes, factories to produce more mines, entertainment centers to keep the city residents happy, and military power.

That military power is whatís really needed. In order to succeed past the civilization stage, you must take over the world, either by diplomacy or force. Like the tribe stage, diplomacy takes a lot of work and reaps little benefit over time while full-scale war against single cities is highly effective. Over time more advanced weapons and vehicles can be used to take out the enemy faster, but in the end its about how numerous your forces are verses theirs.

Finally, the galaxy stage. The most robust and challenging section of Spore, the galaxy is huge and offers real choices for diplomacy and aggression. If you want to make friends with another species, just do a mission or two for them and earn their trust, then open trade lines. The more missions performed and the longer trade lines are open, the sooner theyíll ask if you want to buy them out. Prices for whole planets are very expensive, but after collecting a few, currency isnít an issue.

Traveling the galaxy, making new friends, terraforming uninhabited planets, establishing new colonies and fighting enemies is what itís all about. Diplomacy is fairly limited, with either paying enemies off, offering to open trade lines and doing missions. There are tons of different missions to perform over the hundreds of worlds, spanning the entire galaxy, and of course growing your own empire is at top of the list of things to do.

All said and done, each of these stages is a test of patience and time. Gathering food, conquering the world and even the galaxy takes time, not effort. Very little thinking is required. There are no special weapons to collect, no strategies to perform, no thought required whatsoever. Simply click and press. And just like the playground getting boring after youíve played with everything, Spore grows tiresome.

Considering how large the game is, it begs the question: how can this have happened? Doing too much with too little, it seems. Spore certainly has its moments, and is a very well designed and well made game. Yet instead of pursuing the things that could make it into not only a great game, but an excellent and perhaps the best game of our time, it falls closer to minesweeper. Follow the numbering and youíll know which buttons to press to win the game.

Spore also lacks multiplayer, which is devastating considering how incredible multiplayer could be for such a game. Even with its lack of thought, pitting players against each other would allow for the most extreme form of intelligent multiplayer gameplay, in any section above the tribal stage. It would essentially be Tribal Wars in three dimensions; addictive, creative, strategic and fun.

These two things, as well as the lack of purpose with creations, puts Spore farther back than we expected based on the tens of previews and videos weíve seen on the game. Itís a shame; even one of these three factors would have made Spore infinitely more exciting, but in the end itís just another trip to the playground. Fun for a time, but not exciting or inspiring.

Robust creature creator allows players to make whatever they want; replay value is infinite.

No multiplayer or online whatsoever; creation system has too much aesthetics; gameplay lacks fun, becomes tiring quickly.

Final Verdict
A game with much to like, but not enough to enjoy regularly.

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