Spore definitely looks like one of the most interesting games of the year, developed by renowned games genius Will Wright, and is one that appeals to pretty much every genre. So I thought it was well time that we had a good look at it, and as if to demonstrate the massive appeal I (a “hard-core” gamer) was already fighting a small child for game time. But on with the review, and right from the off this game is something special.
The principal idea behind this game is that you create your own cellular being, and then guide it through its evolution to a water dwelling animal and then onto the land as a creature before venturing into tribal, civilisation and space stages. Decisions that you make right at the beginning will (and I am not just quoting the marketing material here) dictate the rest of the game as your actions effect the species reputation and skills (as well as what it looks like). And this really is the beauty of this, you become scarily attached to your little friend which not only means you are more involved in the game, but you also keep coming back to it again and again. But let’s go through this in a little more of an ordered fashion, starting with the Cell phase.
Having chosen your planet and watched a nice little animation you have to make choices already: what do you want to call this species? Will it be a herbivore or carnivore? And what colour will it be? Having decided you enter the world, and guided by a helpful and un-patronising help system you swim around looking for food. EA have done a great job here by giving you a nice easy introduction without making it mind-numbingly repetitive, mostly through the constant growth from eating, killing other species to acquire more DNA and running from the other massive species that float around.
Not too long after you start you get to make some alterations to your creature by mating with another of your species which puts you back in the creation seat as you tweak the shape, size, mouth and pretty much everything else about your little cell. By collecting DNA you unlock more advanced features (like fins, or poison glands) which in turn makes you a better cell and less likely to be killed.
However you don’t have to long to get bored of this, because you soon evolve out of the water, and this is where the real fun begins.
Before you start you get to add legs to your little creature, as well as making all the other adjustments to get it just as you like it, before venturing out to your nest with others of your species – you do this using the Spore Creature Creator. Your quest now is divided: do you kill enemies and get their DNA that way, or do you be friendly and pose, sing, dance and impress your way to their trust? Personally I went for the peaceful option and set about making friends with the creatures around.
This is the perfect time to have a look at the make up of the game, and why it has gained the accolade of being the best massively single player online game. As you go around to other creatures nests you will encounter animals made by people across the globe, which results in a wide variety of talents and interesting creatures. Not only does it make the game and animals interesting, but there is also the thought that somewhere someone is making friends (or brutally maiming) your beloved creature. There is the disadvantage that you have to connect to the internet every time you play, but it really is worth it.
Anyway back to the game and by now you have got a nice pair of arms to go with those legs and you are busy following your migration path, finding DNA, making friends and endlessly mating to slightly edit your creature. To the right you can see a screenshot of the timeline of my little being (imaginatively and narcissistically named “Chrisium”), and it now has a pair of stalk eyes, a tail and arms and legs. As you evolve your brain gets bigger you can have some of your animal friends (including other species) join you in your pack, which will follow you, fight for you and help you impress.
But just as you get to the point where you have exhausted your creative skills you are moved into the tribal stage, which is a completely different game.
Any of you that have played Age of Empires (or even LOTR Battle for Middle Earth) will recognise the set up immediately, but do not be put off by this possibly copy-cat approach. You now control six villagers which you can send to forage, kill, domesticate animals or fish to gain food. Interestingly you are now playing on the same “map” as before, so you can now kill the animals you previously befriended for food easily with your spears.
You then have to achieve six totem pole heads, which will then allow you into the civilisation stage, which you do through impressing or killing neighbouring tribes. You can build three different types of buildings in your camp, those that give you weapons, those that give you musical instruments and those that heal your people. You can then use the instruments to impress and earn the trust of other tribes, or use your axes to hack your enemies to pieces, it really is your choice, but by “completing” a tribe you can then get more advance armour etc and the ability to have more children.
This really defines what player you are, in the creature stage it was easier to try and make friends with the animals that were friendly and avoid the ones that attacked you, but here it is not that easy. Having given gifts and played for a tribe I was attacked by another and with only panpipes to defend ourselves we were annihilated (although we did manage to kill one of them, how you do that with panpipes and maracas I have no idea). As you do more attacking and less dancing your status moves from what it was before (in my case social) to aggressive, and whatever this is at the end will dictate what kind of civilisation you will be.
This different type of gameplay adds real variety to the experience, and as you watch your creatures evolve and as you edit their little armour and hands you become scarily attached to these collections of pixels, something you don’t often get in a game. When you have made friends with/wiped out the rest of the tribes you move into civilisation, and you are able to let your creativity run wild again.
When I said before about what your status is now comes into play, as you then watch an amusing video in which your creatures discuss the future: either about grand social gatherings, or nuclear bombs. My murderous rampage had resulted in the latter, but watching small blue cute creatures discussing bombs was just funny!
You then get to deign your grand town centre, which is very sims-esque, and then your transport vehicles. You are then advanced into the world, where the whole world is at your fingertips as you strive towards the space age.
You now have more options than ever as to how you control the world: you can use religious propaganda to convert rival cities to your way of thinking, you can form alliances, you can win by mere economic superiority, or you can (in true real-time strategy fashion) you can blow your enemies to smithereens. Your choice! You now have your specially designed vehicles at your fingertips (including land, sea, air, religious and economic) which you can change and design to your liking. You also have super weapons, the type of which is dictated by your status at tribe level, in my case the gadget bomb, which basically wipe out a rival.
The origins for this stage probably lie within the “Civilization” games, which is very apt and probably not coincidental, as the game play is very similar. But again you continue to learn and grow your species and eventually achieve world domination and move into the space age.
This stage opens up a world of opportunities, with literally thousands of planets to colonise and make habitable, loads more species to befriend and more fun tools to play with. I won’t tell you it all because that would spoil it for you, but be sure that fun such as “The planet buster” will not only remind you of Star Wars, but will provide endless fun.
All in all Spore is an absolutely brilliant game, full of endless possibilities and new ways to play and will keep you entertained for ages. Personally I was sceptical as to how versatile it would be, and whether it could live up to the hype, but my expectations have been thoroughly fulfilled and beaten, and I can’t wait to get back to it! There is also a neat little way in which you can showcase your productions to your friends, but unfortunately I have no friends so I haven’t been able to try this!
I suppose the real question is whether it is better than the Sims, its mother, and I know I will upset a lot of people by saying that it definitely is. This game has been designed to perfection in that you never get bored, and there is always the desire to keep playing with a different creature, and do it in a different way. It also has a massive audience, with even mums and dads getting in on the act to create a whole family of created creatures. I would definitely advise you to get it, and look out for my little species!