Platform: Windows PC, OSX
After what seems like a lifetime, Spore has finally been released. The God-Genre’s reinvention with Will Wright’s “Sim Everything” has been subjected to several delays, including one that many thought would end in its cancellation. It has been the focal point of the past two E3 showings for EA, and billed as one of the most innovative titles ever created years before anyone had a chance to play it. Because of this, the hype was insane, and it would have taken a miracle for it to live up to the expectations placed upon it. After playing through the game several times I can say that despite not living up to the hype, Spore is still an entirely enjoyable and magical experience that should be enjoyed by everyone who considers themselves a fan of, well, life.
Each stage of Spore offers customization, strategy, and an entirely different gameplay experience. Starting at the Cell Phase, you're already making choices for your microorganisms that will effect the rest of its race’s existence, like whether or not to kill enemies and what they will and won’t eat. Scattered throughout the primordial sludge are other creatures and meteorite bits, both of which can be used to gain more DNA and Creature Parts for upgrades. Calling a mate will bring up a screen similar to the Creature Creator mode, which should look similar to anyone who purchased the “full version” of the Creator a few months back. In this screen you can add new pieces to increase different stats and give new abilities, spending the DNA you earned by completing different objectives. It’s reminiscent of fl0w and is a surprisingly entrancing and beautiful section of the game. Before long, your creature grows a brain and gains sentience, crawling out of the soupy muck and on to land, where the Creature Phase begins.
The Creature Phase plays similarly to the Cell Phase but on a three-dimensional scale, and adds the ability to ally units and create packs. Like in the Cell Phase, the option to be peaceful is offered, with rewards given depending on your choices. By dancing, posing, singing, and charming other animals you can create powerful allies, gaining more creature parts and DNA in the process. The choice between being a benevolent race and a warring one isn’t just cosmetic, and the game actually allows you to progress as a completely peaceful race. You also have the option of being more, shall we say, realistic, and destroying any creatures that have the misfortune of finding themselves in your path.
Eventually your people will find themselves with the mental capacity to comprehend the use of tools, ushering in the Real-Time Strategy themed Tribal Phase, which pits your tribe against others for a final strive for domination before the Civilization Phase. Here you’re able to create tanks, boats, aircraft, and cities for your country’s complete dominance of the planet. As if creating a race from sludge and becoming the leader of the world isn’t enough, finishing this stage brings you to the game’s final (and largest) section, the Space Phase, where you traverse the galaxy in search of spice, terraforming alien planets and dominating entire civilizations through force or diplomacy. It’s shocking how every aspect of the Spore seems to be so well developed, no matter how small of a part in the full game it is.
Spore’s use of the previously released Creature Creator is fantastic, and with permission your universe is quickly populated with some of the five million creatures created by players around the world. Not only that, but before long you can expect to see that number increase dramatically as millions of gamers get their hands on Spore for the first time. Later in the game the same will occur with anything else that can be created by players including buildings, vehicles, and spacecraft, giving Spore an infinite amount of content. There’s something incredibly charming about this aspect of the game, and seeing a strange monster with a creator as someone other than “Maxis” will bring a smile to your face every time, and remind you that somewhere there is someone seeing a creature you created, too.
Odds are your expectations for Spore were too high. You let the hype created by not only gaming media, but traditional media and celebrity endorsements get to you. EA’s advertising campaign pulled you in even further, and because of your acceptance of the common belief that Spore would change the world there is simply nothing in the game that could live up to what your imagination has concocted. It doesn’t do all of the things we were able to convince ourselves it would do, like taking our every move and translating it to full, evolutionary shifts in-game.
What it does do, however, is create a wholly unique experience that will resonate for years in the gaming industry. Spore is as whimsical as The Sims and as deep as Sim City, but due to its very nature it isn’t as accessible as either. There are issues with collision detection, the graphics are forgettable, and compared to Will Wright’s other games Spore can be downright complicated and confusing. From time to time you also might experience a graphical quirk or freeze, detracting from the experience only slightly, but they are completely forgivable due to the game’s overall brilliance. There was a chance, a very strong one, that Spore could have been a failure, trying to add too many different ideas to one game and ending without actually accomplishing anything, but the disaster was averted and the final product is marvelous.
The scope and scale of Spore is tremendous, bringing the story of life itself to gaming in a way that will not be replicated until a possible sequel. More than ever I find myself comparing Will Wright and Maxis to John Lassiter and Pixar, bringing a uniform sense of whimsical style to everything they create, and even if it isn’t the best product ever made it still has a lasting charm understandable to anyone, regardless of age and background. If you have the capability to play Spore I definitely recommend it, if not only to see what you create when given the tools of a god.