Will Wright is a very ambitious man. He created some of the most addicting and time consuming games ever to grace the PC screen in The Sims and SimCity, and yet that is not enough to sedate his insatiable appetite of creation. So when he announced Spore all those years ago, Wright was likely going to give us the world, on a silver platter if he could, a full game that is totally customizable.
And the verdict? Well, Wright is able to deliver one of the deepest creation editors I have ever seen, but the overall experience is hard to digest. Granted, it doesn’t help that the perfected Sim’s precedes Spore, but Spore could have been the greatest game ever if it were not for some noticeable flaws.
The main idea for Spore is just that; create everything to simulate evolution (or creationism if you want to be picky about it.) from a single celled organism to a complex, space faring alien race. The world is your toolkit, and you can pretend your god for a few hours as you begin to hone in on what you want to make in the games strongest points, the creation systems.
The game boasts whopping 10 different editors, ranging from the creature creator to building your own spaceship. Each editor has large amounts of custom parts that you can bend, elongate, and even shrink down to satisfy your vision of the perfect whatever. What is remarkable is the toolsets used to make this, and the innovation that can be found in mixing and matching parts specific ways. You can manipulate the parts to literally create anything, and looking at the games vastly growing Sporeopedia, it shows. Monsters with skulls, puppet people with strings attached to them, even human likeness of Lenin, Darwin and Mario are found in the games vast library, and this is all due to the innovation of the people playing the game.
What makes it even better is that you can show off your creatures online, and download other creatures, vehicles, buildings, spaceships, and amoebas thanks to the really well implemented Sporeopedia. It has it all, quite literally, and it’s amazing to see the different designs people concoct from the ground up. And since you can download anyone’s designs into your own game, playing the single player mode is kept fresh with thousands upon thousands of different items being randomly generated, creating what Will Wright calls “The Massively First Person Player Experience.” And that is a great feat.
But, despite the excellent design tools, the core gameplay is sadly, real weak. The game is really five games in one, each representing the five stages of evolution. (or creationism) Of these five stages though, only the bookends actually have merit to them as being frantic and fun, while the three middle stages are somewhat flat. The plankton stage is a simple, relaxing game where you eat as much food as possible to grow out of the primordial soup, avoiding predators and stalking prey if necessary. And it is really fast and a great time to play thanks to the speed of the game itself.
The creature stage is the strongest of the middle stages, but is really a chore to do because of the amount of exploration you need to do. You roam the planet, bumping into numerous creatures, and decide to attack of befriend them for DNA points. Eventually, your supposed to gather up custom parts for the creature creator by seducing or devouring alpha males of different creature camps, or collect the bones of deceased creatures to eventually make the final look of your own alien. While it’s ambitious and plays well, it’s just too tedious at times to deal with, but it is the slow pace that actually helps this out.
A lot more so than the Tribal and Civilization stage, which play like bare boned Civilization games that are really a pain to deal with. Managing recourses (food or spice) , dealing with hostile tribes or nations and constantly defending yourself make it more akin to Civilization, and feel out of place. It is too tedious to go through these stages, and they are really not fun to play at all thanks to all the extra micromanaging you need to do in order to survive an onslaught of a superior attacking force, that can be a constant problem if you don’t have the recourses to fund it either.
But thankfully, the fully exploration yet tedious nation building of the Space stage almost makes up for it. It is here that the developers seemed to put all of their eggs in, because this is the largest, and literally the grandest stage in the game. You can planet hop, terra form, form alliances or enemies with other space-faring nations, perform a collection of repetitive but interesting missions for these nations, create boundaries, even colorize and colonize a planet. The possibilities are endless, like the galaxies you go to. And it truly is amazing to see the space faring done in a good way, with numerous tools and tactics at your disposal. It’s just a shame that the complexity of the creators doesn’t gel with the simplicity of the actual “gaming” elements, which is really Spore’s biggest flaw.
The game runs on a strong graphics engine, but while it’s colorful and vibrant, you need a high end PC to see it all. Keeping it on low textures detracts from the slickness of the designs you make, but overall, the games design choices are fantastic and fully implement themselves into the Spore universe, albeit in a cartoonish way. The sound, however, is sort of bland, with “sim-like” speech coming from the alien races, cute but out of place music (with the exception of the homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey.) and generic sound effects kind of detract from the experience.
Overall, Will Wright delivers his most ambitious project to date with mixed results. Spore is by no means a bad game, but the problem is it’s more of a tool then a game. If you are a creative player, one who enjoys creating worlds, races, monsters and vehicles out of your own psyche, like millions of players have done already, Spore is a great game to have. If not, it’s best to leave this on the shelf.
Final Score- B