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Spore Review

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Spore spreads itself a little thin, but the epoch-spanning gameplay and communal creature creation culminate in a one-of-a-kind experience.

The gameplay's a little simplistic at first...

Spore is a game where you sometimes guide and other times merely witness the entire development of a species, from its earliest single-celled origin to its triumphant exploration of the cosmos. So much has been written about and expected of Spore--its promise to connect millions of players through their creative impulses; its importance as the latest offspring of Will Wright's prodigious intellect; its ability to get kids excited about science again--it's easy to forget that, after all, Spore is just a game.


It's more like five short games, actually, most of which aren't strong enough in pure gameplay terms to stand on their own. Luckily, they don't really have to, since the five phases--cell, creature, tribe, civilization, and space--are unified by a single, believable focus on the evolutionary path--first biological, then cultural and technological--of the species that you create and influence. Spore makes it so easy to shape your creation's appearance, abilities, and behaviors that I couldn't help getting really caught up in governing every aspect, every eye stalk, every planetary colony of my species' journey, from start to finish. The game also does a great job of seamlessly integrating the fruits of other players' creativity into your own game. Even before Spore's official release, I started noticing--and then hunting, domesticating, or battling--other players' species with regularity.


The game has some unique strengths. Its creation tools are marvelously easy to use, letting you stretch, squish, position, resize, and recolor body parts with a few simple clicks and drags of the mouse. A quick look at the diversity in the official Spore site's database will show you just how powerful these tools are. Later on, you spend just as much time designing various kinds of buildings, land vehicles, and spaceships, and the game does a respectable job of making your design choices contribute to the functions and behavior of the animal or machine. The integrated Sporepedia browser makes it fast and easy to peruse the community's creations, too, of which there are already several million only a few days after launch. That's a lot of creatures to play with.


...but tweaking your species is an effective carrot-on-a-stick device.
Here's an example of the connectedness of Spore's community-driven approach to content. In the second phase, when my species had barely emerged from the primordial muck and was just beginning to hunt in packs, I saw a nifty spaceship zooming overhead that belonged to a race in the fifth stage of development. (It swooped down and abducted one of the animals I was hunting, which is an action you do yourself in the space phase.) When I got to the space phase myself at 2am a few days later, I was too sleepy to design my own nifty spaceship, but in seconds I was able to pop into the Sporepedia, find that ship I'd seen days earlier, and commandeer it for my own society's use. Once I started exploring the galaxy, I became enemies with another space-faring species created by one of my friends who was also reviewing the game at the time, whom I'd recently added to my friends list. Those kinds of seamless connections to other players are really neat in an "oh, hey!" kind of way when you encounter them. (It's a tad disappointing that you can't actually play with those friends in real time; you can only interact with their creations, controlled by the computer.)


Spore also harnessed my own wide-eyed fascination with physical existence and the scientific enterprises that reveal its nature. The game doesn't stray far from what's believable--no creatures shooting fireballs or anything. Instead, Spore includes headier academic concepts--in a very limited, cartoon-like fashion--such as panspermia, predator/prey dynamics, and the roles that forces like religion and commerce can play in the development of societies.


Later phases offer more complexity.
These days we know so much more about the origins of the universe and life than most people ever stop to think about, that I got downright excited just seeing those subjects addressed in a video game, at all. At times I felt like this game might have been published by MECC instead of Electronic Arts. If I'd been playing Spore in second grade rather than The Oregon Trail, I might have eventually contributed to society as a biologist or astronomer rather than aiding its collapse by writing about video games. I'll get off the soapbox now, but I can appreciate Spore's ability to make you think, even a little bit, about concepts that are bigger than your own daily life.


Spore's most positive traits are so uniquely satisfying that it's disappointing the gameplay which underpins them isn't more engrossing. In the early developmental stages, you mostly click repeatedly on your food sources, pausing occasionally to guide the next generation of your species' biological evolution. The tribal and civilization phases get a bit deeper as you go--they introduce elements of cultural interaction that let you guide your budding society's affinity for things like militarism, commerce, and religion. The gameplay starts to resemble real-time strategy more and more with each phase, but even in the fourth stage (civilization), I felt like the intellectual concepts were working on a higher level than the gameplay that was driving them.


Only the final space phase feels like a fully realized game, where you can while away hours building your galactic empire through trade, exploration, or conquest. Space is Spore's real meat, the final mode which is more involved and time-consuming than all four of the other phases combined. Those phases are necessary, though, since your decisions throughout each step of the game contribute to the abilities and behavior of your society at the peak of its development. A single, inspiring timeline of your species' entire development from single cell to rocket ship illustrates the choices you've made throughout the billions of years the game covers.


Galactic exploration is where you'll find Spore's real meat.
In the space phase, you get to leave the gravitational confines of your own star system and explore the galaxy. Given the breadth of gameplay packed into the rest of Spore, I was surprised how much you can do here in this last stage. You can explore uncharted worlds, terraform them with atmosphere generators and land-shaping tools, and then set up mining colonies. You can meet and parley with other alien empires, taking on missions for them or just kicking them a cash gift to get in their good graces. You can elect to be a galactic jerk and declare war on the species you meet, taking their colony worlds by force to bolster your own empire. The game gives you plenty of planets to visit and numerical tallies to increment in this phase, and it's all couched in a believably quasi-scientific motif that displays an attention to plausible detail by indicating which planetary orbits are in or out of the fabled "Goldilocks zone," for instance, or giving its stars realistic coloration, as few space-based games do. (This is exciting stuff for space nerds. Leave me alone.)


Your prosperity on the galactic scene stands on the edge of a knife in the space phase, though, and you have to be extra careful not to piss off too many other species. I made some poor diplomatic decisions early on and paid for it dearly as two enemy empires took turns overtaking all my colonies and then pounding the hell out of my home world, as I scrambled for hours to build up enough cash to buy them off. Your enjoyment of this mode will definitely benefit from experience and repeated playthroughs, and though you can start a game in any of the five phases with a new creature whenever you want, I wish I could have also restarted the space phase with my evolved species and all the choices I'd made for it up to that time.


I feel like Spore hasn't really gotten a fair shake. Its coming was built up by its pedigree, by the media and its own publisher, and by years of delays into the sort of mammoth event that no piece of pop entertainment could live up to or should have to endure. All of the game's pieces may not be perfect, but combine them with Spore's originality and unique bent, with all the things it gets right, and you may find there's a pretty darn good, thought-provoking game in here, after all.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
104 Comments
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Posted by AnEternalEnigma

No one cares if your fucking comment was first, jackass.

Posted by Matt7

Great review. My friend bought it, so I'll try it out at his house before making a purchase.

Posted by piecat

Great review, Brad. And to the guy who said "first comment!", grow up.

Posted by JJWeatherman

6th comment! joking. good review anyways.

Posted by deaux

I've read a few reviews now, and am still a little fuzzy on how much the early portions of the game affect the space era.  It sounds like fun though.

BTW there's a typo in the last line "though-provoking."
Posted by ErgoDemise

@ deaux:

How you play each phase prior to the space age gives you a perk. if your an herbivore and social, you'll be liked more by new people when you get to space, where as if you are a carnivore and you destroyed other creatures/tribes then your ship has more health and an attack skill. there are also titles you earn depending on what you do in certain phases, you can check online FAQs for more info, but i just simplified what they would say anyway.

hope that helps!

Posted by hazelnutman

Great review Brad. I think I'll pick this up later though. It's funny, because I was interested in the game a lot before, but after the 100th delay, it lost the hype. =(

The community aspect of it sounds very interesting however.

Posted by slashdotdot

Great review!
It suprises me that you didn´t have any bugs.
The European version is pretty broken.

Posted by timelessthee

Nice review, Spore sounds like a good one and I'm probably going to get this game now.

Posted by deaux

Thanks Ergo

Posted by Daanienator

Great review for a great game

Posted by diz

AneternalEnigma -  cool down and stop showing everyone how mad you are at not being first!

Great review - As a console gamer with a PC, this game could restore my faith in PC gaming.

Posted by Ariketh

Awesome review.

Posted by Beomoose

Looks brilliant, and great review as always, Brad. I look forward to getting my hands on this little masterpiece, flaws and all.

Posted by Trilogy

 I'm totally going to be a "galactic jerk" and take over the universe! Nice review.. can't wait to get my hands on the game.

Posted by Xymox

Great; and yes, not being able to play directly with a friend is a let down.

Posted by Dante_the_Jedi

Good review, I have Spore and love it, the only thing I hate is this lame  ass DRM, after the end of the year I am not putting it back on my PC....but EA have my money so they don't care.

Posted by Leon31

Good review, looking forward to when I can pick up this game. It's real interesting that instead of it being one whole game it's really 5 different games in one that work almost seamlessly when moving from one to the next.

Posted by WEGGLES

I want to get this game, as it seems jawsome.

But fuck, you don't own it, you've bought a 3 user license... but paying full price for it.


Oh well... It wasn't a "MUST HAVE!!!!!111!1!" game for me anyway.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Great review, Brad.  I think this is my single favorite review of yours.  You combined reflection with good observation on the positives and negatives.  Dude, you rock.

Posted by Bradley

Is it just me or does  this game have a extremely strong creationist(intelligent designer) message associated with it? nothing actually evolves in the game, everything is created by user who is supposed to be playing god.

I have a feeling this game is going to become very popular with strictly religious people.

Posted by Luberik

In the space stage I had the problem of enemys also. I just totally destroyed the baddies by crushing there civilisation, it felt gooooood :). And now i'm friends with everyone who surrounds me. 

But then again when I'm being attacked by dudes, why can't I have a huge fleet of my own ships while they do? And I don't mean my weak allies, it doesn't really make sence. Ow well, fix it I say.

What's a bit of a downer for me is the fact that you can't go back to one stage of your progression through evolution. When I'm in space I wanna be able to go to land and do thesame as I did in the first -walk on land-stage. And no, a hologram of me walking there isn't thesame. The interconnection between the stages isn't here and that's to me what could make spore a game I would wanna play again and again and again. 

But it's an awesome game anyhow, I enjoyed every aspect of it, but the space stage has some issues. Hope they fix this quickly.
Posted by AngeTheDude

I guess Brad had no issues with the DRM!

Posted by Kohe321

Great review! I love spore, but I agree that the four stages leading up to space could be more fleshed out for the games own good. All in all, a great game though - I totally agree with your 4 stars.

Posted by Jinstarwing

Couple of my friends told me it crashes a lot on Vista is it true or is it not as bad as they make it seem

Posted by nirv

Carl Sagan would have been thrilled to see something like this.

Posted by GalvanizedNails
Posted by Dejkrigeren

The only bad thing about space stage is the god damn Grox (who I engaged in direct war with) how can they pound my planets with no effort.
BTW reaching the center of the galaxy was great!

Posted by Metal_Mills

Good review. I agree with a lot of what you say and would give it 4 stars as well.

Will we be seeing a video review?

Posted by RagingLion

Thought it was a good review Brad and brought a good sense of what the overall game was like.  You didn't include specifics about how the early game affected the later game, which was something I was really interested in.  Found that in a previous review I read, though.  Keep it up.

Posted by Thejugglingbum

THIS GAME IS THE DEVIL. EVOLUTION OR EVILUTION AS I LIKE TO CALL IT IS NOT REAL! I NEVER SEEN A CAT GIVE BIRTH TO A DOG. FOSSIL DATING TECHNIQUES ARE INACCURATE AND THERE ARE NO TRANSISTIONAL FORMS THIS GAME SHOULD BE BANNED AND REPLACED WITH WILL WRIGHT'S CREATIONISM WHERE YOU PUT IN THE DISC GOD MADE EVERYTHING AND THEN YOU TURN IT OFF AND PRAY FOR FORGIVENESS!!!!

Posted by ouvintes

I got it yesterday and played up to Creature Stage. Looks interesting. Yes, there's not depth for the more classical GAMER type, but it's the kind of game that also depends a lot on how you play because it's your input that makes it better (or worse). As we all know by now, the big villain here is EA, who managed to piss everyone off with it's stupid DRM scheme and apparently forgot to include the National Geographic documentary on some (or all ?) Galactic Editions of the game. I have no such doc in my Edition and I have already seen another guy at Amazon complaining about the same issue. I went to the Spore website to take a look at the Galactic Edition page to check if I was going crazy and now I can't find the page there...WTF, EA ???

Posted by Tebbit

True dat, I'm not sure whether I like Spore or not yet, but the ability to evolve a civilisation up the wazzoo is very very interesting.

And ThejugglingbumThat disc was called Transport Tycoon. It was awesome.
Posted by jyurakyumihawk

I played the DS version. It was  four stars for me. That was more like an RPG because you're constantly levelling up. Awesome game.

Posted by giyanks22

Sounds awesome.

Posted by eduardo

Thanks for the review, Brad. Can't wait to play the game.

Posted by MeatSim

After reading this review I'm actually a lot more interested in this game.

Posted by SinGulaR

Great review. I can't wait to get my hands on that game :)

Posted by exfate

It's a shame that this game seems pretty fun & interesting... no way I'm buying it while the DRM issues still exist & EA continues to try and censor the backlash. :-/

Posted by Destroyeron

Was gonna buy it, but with the DRM thing I think I'll pass and download it.

Posted by Crono

"Spore also harnessed my own wide-eyed fascination with physical existence and the scientific enterprises that reveal its nature. The game doesn't stray far from what's believable--no creatures shooting fireballs or anything. Instead, Spore includes headier academic concepts--in a very limited, cartoon-like fashion--such as panspermia, predator/prey dynamics, and the roles that forces like religion and commerce can play in the development of societies."

Cool... but... but I wanted fireballs in my society :(

Anyway great review, and glad to see that Maxis stills gots it.

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

This is the first I've heard of being attacked by other species...well it's good to know. I guess you'll only want to declare war on one species at a time so you don't over extend your military. Remember Napolean & Hitler: don't fight a two-front war.

Posted by MementoMori

Completely overrated and boring. It is really grindy.
Posted by eternaLightness

I'm gonna get this once I get a better pc.

Posted by CleverLoginName

I think it has some sort of odd allure, I played the hell out of the Sims 2 and don't really know why... I mean, dozens of hours of telling your virtual guy to take a piss doesn't sound like fun, but I guess Will Wright is just that devious.

Posted by RenegadeSaint

I'd love to get my hands on this.

Posted by Nogert

No reviews seem to comment on how hard and annoying the space stage is, you get attacked constantly meaning you can't do anything but defend your planet, every time you try and go and colonise or do a mission you have to fly back to your planet to save it from an attack.

Posted by BinaryDragon

Nice review brad, if I hadn't already got spore on reading this I would buy it.

Posted by Gunner612

best spore review out there.

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