Reviewed: September 15, 2008
Released: August 04, 2008
There are few games that come along with as much hype and anticipation of the kind that was experienced by Will Wright and Maxis, the creators of Spore. Upon its announcement at gaming developerís conventions years ago, there was an immediate buzz. The scope and flexibility that Mr. Wright claimed would be available to the player was unheard-of, unprecedented, and utter unbelievable.
Everybody who knew anything about video games wanted to get their hands on a copy of it as soon as possible. One of the most lauded aspects of the game, since its inception, was the ability to create your own creature using the unique and seemingly limitless Creature Creator.
This Creature Creator was even released as a free download several weeks prior to the release of the game for two purposes. First, obviously to supply people who had been waiting with bated breath for the gameís arrival something to nibble on before the release of the full game. Second, it gave Maxis access to an enormous wealth of additional content to be made available once the full game was released.
You start off the game as a single-celled organism and immediately are beset with the task of survival. Simple controls move your amoeboid around the two-dimensional environment (with some pretty impressive 3D backgrounds) as you eat meat or veggies (depending on if you chose to be carnivorous or herbivorous) in order to grow into a larger, more evolved species. As you grow, you are given the opportunity to change the look of your creature.
Then, once you eat enough stuff, you gain the ability to evolve to a land-based creature. You donít have to do it right away, you are given the freedom to explore the microbe section of the game for as long as you like.
Once you advance, however, you begin a new phase of the game where your goal, again, is to survive. You must either befriend or kill off neighboring nests of other creatures by either fighting them with tooth and claw, or by charming them with social abilities that you gain by using various body parts you may give to your evolving creature.
Throughout this Creature phase, you are also constantly discovering other parts that you are able to add on to your creature. You can continue changing how your creature looks all the way until you progress onto the next phase, which is the Tribal phase. One thing I discovered was I tried to maximize my creatureís effectiveness with the most statistically useful body parts just before going on to the tribal phase, but once arriving in Tribal phase, the creature statistics from Creature phase donít really seem to have any affect on your ability to succeed in Tribal phase. The same goes for the relationship from any prior phase to its next one.
Tribal phase is more about controlling a group of your creatures, rather than just one, and spreading your influence among the other creatures that have also developed tribal abilities in the area. This phase was slightly reminiscent of any resource-management game like Warcraft, Starcraft, or Command and Conquer. Again, completion of the required portions of this phase allow you to progress on to Civilization phase whenever you wish.
This phase, again, is a resource management game where you are now trying to take over control of the entire planet, either through violence or economic control. Either way, you ultimately gain control of the planet and then proceed to the Space phase.
Once you reach the Space phase, the game really seems to open up. Where each other phase seems like you are just chugging along, grinding your way through each phase in order to proceed to the next, the Space phase gives you the feeling of a little bit more freedom. Here, you begin to explore your galaxy, making contact with other races on other planets, and expanding your empire by colonizing and terraforming other planets.
Ultimately, the gameplay here is a little less goal-oriented and feels a little bit more like you are in control of what you do, where the other phases just seemed like a means to an end. This phase, however, can get a little cumbersome and time-consuming. At the beginning of this phase I also felt like the other races that were nearby in the galaxy were either much stronger militarily, or they demanded much to high monetary compensation in order for me to begin expansion of my own empire. Once you get enough money coming in, however, the expansion gets easier and survival isnít quite as challenging.
This phase of the game is also where you really get to see many of the different creations that others have made. While this game is single-player, your copy is constantly connected to the Spore network, downloading other creatures, buildings, vehicles, etc. that other players have made for their own games. These items then get put into your own game and you get to interact with other peopleís inventions. This is probably the coolest and most intriguing feature of the game.
The graphics are pretty impressive in this game, especially considering that much of the content is user created. The creation engines for creatures, vehicles, and buildings are highly intuitive and easy to use, enabling users to make really, really, fascinating stuff quickly and easily. There really seems to be very little limit as to the things that people will be able to make using the tools that are supplied to them in this game.
And they turn out looking darn good. The dynamic modeling that figures out how an object that was never designed by the game engine would act really does an amazing job of adding life and reality to something that comes out of someoneís imagination. There were only a few times where I noticed clipping problems where a joint maybe didnít line up exactly with a foot, or where things didnít exactly work the way you would expect them to, but overall, it looks really good and really impressive.
The sound effects in the game are pretty decent, though nothing overwhelmingly impressive. One of the coolest things, as far as sound goes, though, was that once you reach the civilization phase of the game, you are actually given the ability to create your own theme music for your race!
Now that, I thought was pretty darn sweet. And the way that is then incorporated into the game is really nice too. Itís not overly used to where you get annoyed by your own creation. Every once in a while, Iíll be doing something and Iíll just hear it in the background and say to myself, ďHey, thatís the music I didĒ. Iíll have to admit that is probably one of the most surprising and cool little details in the game, for me.
I think that Spore has a really high value. I think that it was a mistake for Maxis to release the Creature Creator as a free download, since it is probably the one thing that people who buy the game will probably spend the most time doing, but there is the additional reward with owning the whole game of being able to then play with that creature and make it go out and conquer the world, and the galaxy.
I can see playing this game over and over from the initial Microbe phase all the way to the Space phase, just to see how making different choices along the way influences the overall outcome. You can play through it as a viscous, evil race that is only interested in destroying its enemies, or you can play as a peaceful race interested in living a life of coexistence with everything else in the galaxy.
Each way has its own rewards and enjoyments and I can definitely see people enjoying the game from beginning to end over and over. It isnít like youíll play through this game once and then call it quits. Thereís no way. Youíll want to go back and see if you can create an even weirder creature, a more elaborate vehicle, or whatever, and youíll want to see if you can go through the game in new, different ways.
The Creature Creator engine that you use in the game is probably, in all actuality, the real meat of the game. It almost seemed to me, at points, that they designed a game around a Creature Creator, instead of the other way around. Impressive as it is, it was funny to me that perhaps one of the most entertaining parts of the game was given away as a free download before the game itself was available. The game itself sometimes feels like it fell flat, feeling more like a level-grind style game, just trying to get to the next phase. If it werenít for the Creature Creator, the game would have been awful.
That aside, as I said before, I think people will play this game through several times without getting sick of it just because of the sheer amount of possibilities allowed to them. Will Wright and the people at Maxis really got something right when they thought up this little doozey of a game. Using player-created-content as a prime source of substance in a game is fantastic and more games and game developers need to incorporate that concept into a much wider range of games. Even if people get sick of playing the game Spore they wonít get sick of seeing what kind of crazy aliens they can make, which only ends up enriching the whole game experience for someone else who will encounter these insane animals on their own copy of the game.
Where the game falls short in some areas, possible due to such a large scope and being unable to make a really good game out of each and every aspect that is given, the game more than makes up for because of the nearly infinite possibilities and freedom that it allows its players. This is a game that is the first of its kind. We will look back on Spore in years to come as a herald of things to come. It is by no means the best game ever, but with the incorporation of so many new things like the dynamic modeling engine, the ďmassively single player online gameĒ concept, and the use of the nearly limitless resource of user-created-content, it is certainly a trailblazer for many games that will follow it. Will Wright has raised the bar and any game that comes out now that wants to be remembered will need to consider the lessons taught by Spore.