It’s an Evolution Revolution
The prospect of building a powerful intergalactic empire capable of ruling the cosmos through advanced technology and might is extremely daunting, especially when the process involves nurturing your civilization from a mere single-celled microorganism. Amazingly enough, Maxis’ most ambitious effort not only gives you the opportunity to do exactly that; it makes the process accessible, highly creative, and quite entertaining.
Comprised of five distinct sections, Spore tasks you with concocting a creature – you’re free to make it as cute, bizarre, or abhorrently distasteful as you choose – in the early stages of its cellular development and guiding it through various steps in the evolutionary process. Each phase is represented by its own unique style of play; the overall game is essentially a series of shorter games woven together seamlessly into an overarching story of growth, discovery, and exploration. The journey from microcosm to cosmic isn’t nearly as long as you’d expect, yet it’s a humorous and endearing trip that’s absolutely worth taking.
The exhausting level of freedom and creativity afforded by the in-game creation toolset is a big part of what makes Spore so impressive. The standalone Creature Creator gave folks a taste of some of the fun and wackiness possible with the system, but making custom creatures and watching them come to life is really only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to using unlocked body parts and components to tweak your beasties on the fly for most of the game, you’ll also be designing custom vehicles and building structures for your civilization as it advances and discovers new technologies. It’s hard not to get personally invested in your critters as you watch them grow and change. If you’re not feeling so creative, the vast Sporepedia is filled with tons of user-generated creatures and other content you can try in your own game. You’ll also frequently encounter strange and unusual races of creatures created by other players as NPCs throughout the game.
Life in Spore starts out in the Cell Stage, when a rogue meteor crashes into the ocean of your planet of choice. This space debris hatches the basic molecular elements of what will become your tiny aquatic creature. You can select either an herbivore or a carnivore. The arcade-like gameplay has your amoeba swimming around munching smaller cells, while attempting to avoid ending up as lunch for larger creatures. Eating enough DNA will cause you to grow in short spurts over time, making a number of interesting visual shifts as you surpass the size of your previous predators, which then become your prey. Mating provides an opportunity to add minor improvements to your creature’s design, including fins to swim faster and spikes for battling. Before Cell Stage outlives its brief fun, you’ll soon have grown big enough to transition to land and evolve into the second phase of gameplay.
The Creature Stage lets you add arms, legs, and other accoutrements to make your beast mobile as it continues its growing process. It’s also important to include elements that enhanced their social abilities and give them various means of attack. Taking on a third-person perspective, this action-heavy stage involves running around and getting acquainted with other creatures residing on the planet. Whether you choose to befriend them by engaging in cute social activities like singing, posing, and dancing or choose to slay them and eat their meat for sustenance is completely up to you. Making friends lets several companions join your pack to help along the way, while the alternative is a more straightforward and somewhat disturbing approach. In either case, you’ll gradually increase your brain size and earn enough evolution points to proceed. This portion of the game takes a little longer to get through. It’s also the last chance you’ll have to make any final substantive physical changes to your creature, since the following phases only allow you to adjust their clothing and decoration.
Moving into real-time strategy turf, the Tribal Stage puts you in control of an entire village. Gathering food resources to feed your tribe, allowing for new members to be hatched becomes an important pursuit. You can also make limited improvements to your village infrastructure to improve fishing, hunting, and battle capabilities. Once again, you can either focus on amassing weapons for razing the villages and wiping out nearby tribes or dancing around with silly musical instruments in an attempt to make nice. Every village you co-opt or topple puts you closer to your evolutionary goal.
The Civilization Stage is similar to the previous mode, only on a larger scale. With the technological advancements available to your beings, you can now design land, sea, and air vehicles as well as buildings. Keeping your cities productive requires constructing a mixture of industry, residential, and entertainment buildings – and defenses, if foes get too close for comfort. This time your creatures have broken off into different competing factions, and you’ll have to unify the planet through force or friendship before launching into the reaches of space. The black and white ethics continues here as well, though it’s far easier (and satisfying) to build a dozen units and go wipe the planet clean of opposing factions.
It’s also worth noting that all the gameplay decisions and tactics you choose to take have an impact on what kind of society your creatures evolve into in the later stages of the game. At any point, you can also open up and view a history of your species’ evolution that tracks their milestones and tendencies.
When your creatures finally do leave the planet, you’ll find the Space Stage to be the largest, lengthiest, and most complex section of the entire game. A few minor plot elements begin to kick in here, and exploring the vast cosmos is as open and full of potential as you might expect. There are tons of planets in countless solar systems to mold and colonize, new species and civilizations to interact with, wars to be wrought, galactic trade routes to be formed, alliances to be forged and broken, creatures to abduct, and lots more to do.
Playing through each section in order, the cool variation in perspective and graphical style becomes readily apparent. Visually, things look good through most of the evolutionary journey, but there are moments where the graphics just simply pop. There are particularly memorable moments to be found in the brief Cell Stage, where subtle creatures and unusual fluctuations in scenery are just below the surface of the foreground action. This is also true of the final Space Stage, when the beautiful sunset reflects off the shimmering ocean of the spherical planets. The creatures themselves, regardless of unique designs, are incredibly endearing. They exude personality and charm at every step of the adventure.
While some of the individual evolutionary phases in Spore are either too short or could have been further developed, the game as a whole is truly remarkable. The sacrifice in depth in some areas is disappointing, but it’s not unforgivable when considering the bigger picture. No matter which way you look at it, Spore is a thought provoking gaming experience and a truly unique exercise in simulated evolution. It certainly outstrips Will Wright’s previous work in terms of scope and promise; even if it falls slightly short of the mark on execution. Still, there’s no reason why Spore shouldn’t be on the top of your to-do list. It’s time to evolve.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
The delightful and colorful world and its many unique inhabitants come to life with vibrant animation. 4.3 Control
Mouse and keyboard controls change slightly with each phase, but they’re all fairly intuitive and easy to grasp. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Strong audio effects, creature sounds, and music all around. 4.0 Play Value
Some aspects are not as deep as some will like, but the overall evolutionary journey is a worthy pursuit indeed. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.