Games Spore Review
posted by September 9 at 14:02 PMon
It’s not until I abandon my city of monsters that Spore finally feels right. I’m in a spaceship, zipping across a Milky Way-sized galaxy and managing an empire with equal parts diplomacy and combat. My six-legged creations are light years away, and the distance is doing me some good.
It’s because by then, Spore has given up on evolution-based gameplay. Growing from a single-cell organism to a space-crazy empire sounded intriguing when Sim-lord Will Wright announced the video game years ago, but he never made it clear how it’d be converted to something worth playing.
There’s little evidence that his team figured that out, yet the issue isn’t the game’s ambitious sprawl between single cells and spaceships. Rather, Spore suffers from a disconnect between its brilliant creation system and the gameplay duct-taped to the back of it.
I’d do a disservice if I didn’t rave about the game’s organic Lego kit. Understand that Wright and his crew have made a system where you can mix and match hundreds of body parts in highly unsustainable ways, and yet the game will take your seven-arm, three-leg, four-vagina bastard and convert it to a lively, sentient being. Natural, procedural animations; emotional responses; maybe even realistic Kegel exercises (I didn’t check).
You can make something in ten minutes that looks and acts more alive than most game characters.
The pre-space chunk of Spore keeps these creations busy in four development stages: single-cell, creature, tribe, and civilization. The hope is that you’d create something and, through the game’s evolutionary system, feel connected to it through the growth process. With real-time adaptation, the game would always feel fresh.
Spore has no interest in this idea. By the time you take your critter to land, you’re confronted with the game’s hard-fast rule of advancement: either eat other species, or befriend them.
Your constructions can be abstract and bizarre, but their actions don’t have that luxury. Couldn’t I appease a more powerful beast by bringing it food? Befriend a brainy creature by serving as its sharp-toothed protector? Make myself look like a leaf and poison deer that bite me?
Nope. Either click the mouse repeatedly to kill, or get into an insultingly easy game of Simon to befriend. No natural adaptation happens—certainly isn’t necessary for this black-and-white system. More arbitrary limits show up, such as the lack of stacking. Say, if you cover your critter in 20 spikes, it’s no stronger than a single-spiker. You are not rewarded for creating wild, fun creatures; Spore would rather you study point values attached to these bits than experiment.
Don’t bother jacking up the difficulty. With such creative limits, you can’t use strategy to get through harder content. Rather, it just takes longer, proving how oversimplified Spore is. Why all the dumbing down and lack of creative options? Games like SimCity and The Sims were huge hits because they were nerdy, open, and intricate.
As you proceed, the Lego kit expands to make castles, factories, tanks, ships, and boats for your tribe and civilization. Again, they’re really fun to tinker with (and Maxis has pre-loaded content in case you don’t want to bother), but because you’re zoomed out in a Starcraft-style camera, you can’t enjoy their detail while playing. Worse, there’s no thinking needed as a tribe or a civ. Rack up huge armies of either military folks or priests, then conquer—like the creature stage.
The final space phase is fun—it’s huge, has considerable depth and tactical variety, and is remarkably easy to figure out. Other semi-sim space exploration games have come before it, and Spore borrows from the best of ‘em to make an open-ended, long-term journey through space accessible for the Sim and Flash-game crowds alike. No real ending or extreme goal here, unlike the other modes.
I’ll bold this line to give credit: Spore’s space mode is the bulk of the game, the one you’ll spend the most time with, and good enough to override a lot of these criticisms.
But it renders the entire game that preceded it useless. Was all that evolution stuff a tutorial? Could’ve skipped it; I had to learn a new system of flying through space and managing alliances. Were the evolution modes fun? No, and they’re so repetitive, I see no possibility of new fun in playing them again.
Nitpick time. There’s no autosave feature. Tread carefully. Worse is Spore’s online DRM, which only permits three lifetime installs. If my PC dies and I reinstall, my copy of Spore has to handshake with EA for permission. If that happens a third time, my permission runs out. This means even installing to my laptop for to-go Spore is iffy. Considering the game is already on BitTorrent with DRM removed by hackers, and considering Spore has no Internet multiplayer, what are paying customers getting? Other than the ability to download their friends’ custom penis creatures? Angry fans are bombarding the Amazon customer review site, killing the game’s rating there. Good on them.
Of course, for a game with so much hype and expectation, Spore delivers on enough of its promises to redeem itself. But there’s something peculiar about this uneven game—the fact that you can get the creature editor all by itself for only $10. Based on my many hours with the game, that may be enough of the Spore experience for a lot of players.
Me, I’m heading back to space.