Spore (PC & Mac)

We’ve all seen and played SimCity and The Sims, but does Will Wright’s newest baby live up to the epic expectations that are laid out before it?

The road to the perfect evolution of Sim games has been a long one. It all started with SimCity, the original city building game that launched Will Wright into a flurry of Sim-games. Over the past few years, we’ve seen games like SimFarm, SimTower, The Sims, and while many of us have never even heard of SimMars – a game that was canceled early in production – every Sim-game Will Wright has ever worked on has in some way lent a hand to his newest baby.

Spore is a culmination of all of his efforts. It’s a game that has been hyped up from the beginning and for a nice change lives up to its hype.

Now I will give off a note of warning to people who don’t believe in the general scientific understanding of evolution: don’t play this game. Don’t play this game if you’re a Creationist or if you are, don’t play it expecting it to preach the way you understand “creation”. I say this because Spore starts off as an asteroid hitting a planet. You’ll find yourself as one of the many spores of life inside the asteroid and from that point on, the game is about evolution & survival.

How will you evolve in the face of adversaries and danger? Will you defend your species or go on the offensive and take on what ever you can find?

Spore asks this of you throughout the five-stage evolutionary spread Will Wright has devised.

Starting from the Cell stage, you’ll find yourself as a single-celled two dimensional microbe that will have to run around a soupy tank we call life eating what you can and digging up asteroid chunks eventually giving you more ways to make your character better. As you eat more and more, you become bigger and stronger eventually leading you to the Creature phase.

As a creature, you’ll now be wandering around a full 3D planet looking for friends and foe, for dinner and tea. Yes, it’s that simple and if you look to the heavens, quite often you’ll find things to keep you settled in the realisation that you are not alone in this universe. From asteroids falling to space ships abducting members of your family, Spore constantly plays out as if the entire Spore universe is happening in and of itself without any regard for anything else.

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Progressing through the Creature stage will mean dancing, posing, charming, and singing your way to friendship or just generally gnawing on the necks of whoever gets in your way. Because of this, you might find that the Creature stage gets a little boring because you’re basically playing the same minigames over and over again but I found that the key was to enjoy how weird and wonderful everything was around you because this little bit of tedious play only presents itself more and more as time goes on.

Rather, it’s not about the repetitive vibe but more that every aspect can seem to be explored to such a level that it would make even Charles Darwin proud.

Once your brain has expanded to the point of being sentient and you discover fire (with a very amusing cut-scene), you’ll enter the Tribal stage. From this point, your creatures no longer evolve and instead begin to focus on what they should wear. You’ll take on some of the skills you found in the minigames in the last evolutionary stage and blend it with a sort of primitive city building style. From searching for fruit to defending your home and making allies, this is the beginning of the levels where more options start to present themselves and the game starts being less for kids and more for adults.

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Once you get far enough in here, you’ll move on to a growing Civilisation which sort of acts as a basic version of Sid Meier’s classic game of the same name (Civilization). A few things have changed and you’ll have the option of leading cities with a purpose – religious, economic, or military – but the general idea is the same. You as a city will now try and take over the world either through allying with everyone or putting your foot down in every other domain. Whether this means you convert the city by religious means or launch a volley of missiles is entirely up to you.

Whatever the outcome is, you’ll eventually find yourself in the Space phase.

The Space is the final level of the game and will allow you to create a spaceship and travel to and from different planets performing actions like colonisation to expand your cultures’ foothold on the galaxy, abduct creatures for your own little fun, or just generally pissing off other nations by blowing their cities and planet up. In fact, by the time you’ve reached the Space stage, you’ve more or less done everything inside your part of the game and can look at how evolution is taking place for other species in the Spore universe.

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Despite the Space level being essentially an ending that never ends, there’s still a reason to go back and play a new game and that’s because it’s just like all other Sim games before it: every time you play it, it’s an entirely different game.

Because Spore is all about user generated content, you’ll find yourself quite frequently looking at other creatures from all over the web. If your account has a creature you’ve created earlier on, you might find yourself talking to it in your tribal stages or abducting members of the species when you have a full-blown spaceship.

At its core, Spore is probably one of the most creative games you’re ever likely to see. Almost everything about it can be customised: from the buildings to the clothing to spaceships and as you evolve and hatch from an egg, you’ll find that changing yourself is easy enough too. It’s easy to go out of control with your spending and you’ll have to try and put a curb on that when customising other parts of your world. If you make your vehicles too well-armoured, they’ll become more expensive and if your cities aren’t making enough money, this will prove troublesome for you. Likewise, when your creature is first beginning to take shape, you’ll find that going for broke and adding parts to your creature will only lessen your DNA simolean account making it less and less viable for you to afford the parts you want. My suggestion would be to pull off parts that don’t offer any extra value so you can reclaim the cost.

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But while the creativity is something which Spore shows off quite incredibly, it can also be a little bit of a drain. As time goes on, you’ll have more and more things to design and unless you’re completely wide awake, you might find that the whole creative element becomes more of an irritation. If you’re finding yourself in this phase, go to bed. Seriously, go to bed. I found that helped me.

If there’s one thing that Spore has going for it, though, it’s how incredibly cute it is. It’s the little touches that the team at Maxis have gone to make this game just that little bit extra cheeky and special simultaneously. Things like the retro lounge music when two creatures engage in the apparently simple art of reproducing, a nod to early television programs in the 50’s and 60’s and character designs such as baby animals having larger eyes that gaze up at you like cute wide-eyed chicks & ducklings.

Cute begins to fade quickly if you’re creating a carnivore species with the problem that you’ll need to kill other animals in order to survive. Sure, you can make friends with some but if you’re finding that they’re all cute, than you’re in for a rough time with regards to eating later on.

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With all of its quirks, Spore is one of those games you simply have to try. I’d be hard pressed saying “it’s not for everyone” because I honestly believe that everyone could find something in this. There is a lot of fun to be had in Spore for people of all ages, from the primordial goop that kids will love to the Civilisation levels and space-faring captain you’ll become as an adult. It is so hard to find something to hate about a game this well produced.

If you are a gamer, however, and you for some reason haven’t run out and bought a copy of a game from someone who’s been playing and making games longer than you knew games existed than you can apply the following logic: Spore is what would happen if you took the genius of Will Wright, Sid Meier, & Charles Darwin and stuck it in a blender.

And does it blend? You damn well bet it does.

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Developer: Maxis / Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Classification: PG
Formats: PC / Mac
URL: Spore

Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark