lotan's Spore (PC) review

So much promise, so little delivery.

Will Wright may be considered by some as a genius of the gaming industry.  While I have never got to attend any of his talks, I have on occasion watched footage from some of them, and have come to think of him as a theoretical genius.  Will is exactly the type of guy you want thinking in a tank about what game concepts could be.  Just don't let him actually have an in-depth role on the actual creation process.

Arguably Spore's main draw is the creature creator.  It allows you to easily make very distinct and different beings with a lot of personality.  Unfortunately unlike the pre-released download not all of the parts are unlocked, and you must actually find them in the world.  This limits you to the parts you find by befriending or killing other creatures and the ones you randomly come across.  These parts also have stats associated with them.  During your first play through the stats compel you to add on a bunch of goofy crap to improve your stats.  However, once you leave stage 3 the stats no longer discernibly affect anything, leaving you with a creature with a bunch of superfluous junk all over them and no way to remove it.  In-fact your creature stops evolving all together after the third stage with only a color scheme change to adjust the way it looks.

The same creation tools come into effect when you reach the fourth stage and you are tasked with making buildings, cars, planes, and boats.  This time however you are given full range of the available pieces to create your master pieces.  Like the creature tools there is an impressive range of things that can be made, but unlike the creatures you don't have an emotional involvement with the buildings so the urge to create becomes lessened.

Creation tools aside, Spore fails at being much of a game.  It fails like I did in calculus the first time I took it, which is to say hard.  The game has major fundamental flaws.  Chief in these is that it really seams to have no direction.  So loose is the tie that binds the 5 separate parts that it becomes unraveled during the first hour or so.

The first part of the game, the cell stage, is disparagingly simple.  You guide your little amoeba around to eat stuff by running into it, and run away from bigger organisms.  This part is so sparsely challenging that you can beat it in less than 35 minutes just by holing down the left mouse button and pointing.  The second stage is almost as easy as the first; you either make friends with fellow creatures or kill them.  Again this stage can be completed in 35 minutes or less by pressing only one button repeatedly.

Stage 3 starts to show a tiny bit more depth by emulating and RTS game.  Yet, since it is practically impossible to die or lose all of your creatures it lacks any of the draw of an RTS.  Its more like "My First RTS", something that a child, or first time gamer might enjoy for around 10 minutes before labeling it boring and moving on to something else.  This is just as good because that’s about as long as it takes to pass this stage.  The fourth stage of evolution is just a grander version of stage 3, where you control cars, planes, and boats instead of just creatures.

Stage 4 is the part of the game where it completely unravels.  The game ceases to be about your individual creatures and becomes one-hundred percent about the units your creatures pilot.  All the time that a person spends into creating their creatures is for naught, as during this stage and beyond you have to really try hard to even see them, and have no reason to do so as you can no longer control them.  Stage 4 is actually a challenge.  It's a challenge on your will to play the game.  The game tries to provide some rudimentary AI routines to attack you, but since they are so predictable it never succeeds in doing anything but wasting your time until stage 5.

Stage 5, the space stage, is the only part of Spore that feels "game like".  In this stage you get to travel the cosmos in your quest to dominate the universe.  Here is where most people will spend their time; terraforming planets and trading spices, the games resource, with neighboring star systems.  But here once again Spore falls flat.  The economy in this portion of the game grinds to a snails pace, forcing you to constantly run spices to and from other planets in order to make a modest income so that you may use buy upgrades for the space ship you will pilot.  Instead of just having the income roll in, you have to actually move to the planet to gather the spice, and then fly around to various other planets to push your wears.  While it sounds simple enough, it becomes a massive chore once you colonize more than one star system.

Also detracting from the experience are the irksome and constant attacks from your enemies.  Like clock work every five minutes a message will popup saying that your planets are being attacked.  Not just one of your planets, all of them at the same time by multiple enemies.  Whereas you can only control one space ship; your enemies have access to many.  The enemy ships constantly out number your's and each of their ships do roughly the same damage as your-self.  This forces an attack, retreat to a different planet to heal, and then return to finish them off scenario.  Along with your enemies there are random pirate battles between these every five minute attacks, where again you are out numbered seven to one.  Now it needs to be said that if you befriend a neighboring star system by buying their allegiance, which cost ten's of millions, you get access to an extra friendly ship by your side.  However this ship is just an attack drone with a brain so small that a goldfish would call it a simpleton.  It constantly dies and in order to get a replacement you have to go all the way back to the home planet where you got it to receive another one.  Throw in the fact that if you do befriend another being, you are forced to do missions for them or they will lose their allegiance, and you get some of the most annoying gameplay around.

So somewhere in the limited time between attacks and running spice you have around one or two minutes to actually explore the universe.  And while it is rich with different planets and spices, they might as well all be the same.  None of them do anything different then others, they simply look different.  Aesthetics aside there is practically no reason to explore the vast universe.  It might as well be a handful of planets with pallet swaps instead of a few hundred.

Spore is a game with lofty ideas, and sub-basement gameplay.  Its best feature, the creature creator, is hampered by self-imposed limitations and is too soon to lock you into a design that stops evolving.  In being a game separated into five distinctly deferent and uniquely un-fun stages it fails to be anything other then a deeply flawed creation toy.

3 Comments
Posted by Crono

I thought this was a very solid review.  You really gave a lot to think about....  I like it when a review actually helps me make a purchase decision.  Looks like I will pass on Spore.  Too bad, I, like many others, had a lot of high hopes for this one.  Ohh and yeah, it was a great review, but just take a few seconds next time to use a spellchecker on it :p  will look much cleaner.  Nice review!

Posted by Lotan

Thanks for the vote of confidence. 

I had accidentally uploaded an older version of the review I wrote.  It has been edited to fix a couple issues.

Posted by Gigaman

Actually, I think the entire Maxis staff should be fired for being so incredibly thick-headed. Will had the "good" Spore all planned out, everyone else just whittled down his ideas to make it either more "casual"-friendly or "child"-friendly.

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