“How ironic that a game all about evolution turned out to be so limited.”
Spore. A few years ago, just dropping the name into any video game discussion conjured images of a soon to be released blockbuster game. Everyone knew about Spore, and everyone was excited. Will Wright promised a game with infinite possibilities and extremely rich and rewarding evolutionary gameplay. According to the older interviews and demonstrations, we were going to experience a unique, groundbreaking game in which no two games were ever the same in any stage of the game. Did Spore live up to this promise? The game was released a while ago now, and after wasting my money on it when it was released and playing it a fair bit, I am going to say no.
I was massively hyped for Spore, hooked by the whole “evolve your creature” aspect of the game that Will Wright was promoting. We were, according to Wright, able to develop our creature’s life and progress in many unimaginable ways. Well they certainly did turn out to be unimaginable, because they’re not even in the game. The amazing features which Will Wright promised us that made it into the game are, unfortunately, dumbed down compared to the grand features he promised originally.
Gameplay was supposed to be deep and engaging. From the beginning, I had my doubts in the cell stage of the game. It was cute and simplistic, but I believed that this was to be the case for the beginning of the game. Wait for the deep parts, I told myself. I waddled through the waters of the cell stage for a bit, enjoying the simplistic nature of what I was experiencing. The graphics were cute for the most part, with the fellow creatures looking like they were pulled out of weekday morning toddler cartoons. The water animated beautifully though, so that was a plus. Also worth noting is the cell stage music, as well as the sound effects. They’re enjoyable and certainly pleasurable.
I expected the cell stage to be a long battle to evolve into a land-based creature, but within ten minutes I was on the shore. All you need to do is consume enough food and such in the waters until you can evolve. The highlight of the game is undoubtedly that feature, being able to evolve your creature however you choose. There are many options to choose from, and throughout the next phase of the game, the creature stage, you will be able to make your creature into almost anything that you want. Unfortunately, the creature stage consists entirely of eating food, dancing for friends, and killing tribes of creatures that you simply do not like. How you do these is dictated by the parts that you stick onto your creature. It’s all stat based, meaning that in order to make the best creature you can with the body parts you find and obtain, you will probably have to make something ugly that you won’t even really care for or like due to the best stats belonging to pieces many people may not want. This limits the design of creature and actually discourages creativity, prompting you to make what is statistically the best creature available rather than your dream creature that you have always wanted to make.
Gameplay remains as simplistic in the creature stage as it was in the previous cell stage and, unfortunately, it is just as basic in the following stages. Each stage in the game plays like a watered down commercial game. The creature stage plays like a basic open world adventure game with absolutely no options or things to do other than eat, dance, and kill.
After the creature stage you will be treated to the tribal stage which plays like a standard RTS. You build on predetermined “blocks” and, with the units you have available, you either kill neighboring tribes or befriend them by playing music. Note that none of your fellow tribes will be creatures that you met in the creature phase, and the friends that you made in the stage of the game are gone forever, rendering the diplomatic options completely pointless in Spore.
After either befriending everyone with music or killing everyone, you move onto the city stage in which you build up your city. Will Wright likened this to Sim City when, in fact, it isn’t even as involving as Sim Town. You collect resources and build things in your little assigned city which is walled and very limited in terms of space. After you are happy with your city, you get to conquer the world through, you guessed it, forging friendships with every city or, naturally, wiping them off the face of the planet. In each stage of the game, these two options are really the only things that determine advancement, and the ways in which you do so have no impact at all on the following stages of the game. Disappointing to say the least.
After you conquer your planet, the creature in which you worked so hard on to forge an identity for is replaced by a spaceship, and you get to explore the galaxy. This is actually not very fun at all. The spaceship controls are terrible and combat at this stage is absolutely horrible. Again, progression is all about making friends (by doing jobs for them) or destroying any fellow space-faring civilizations that come across until you find out about a galaxy conquering antagonistic force that you’re up against. Unfortunately, you’re very unlikely to care about baddies at this point in the game after doing so many monotonous activities over and over.
A huge gripe I had with Spore is the game length. You can go from cell based organism to space faring galaxy conquerors in only three or four hours. You do not have to work hard for anything in this game as everything is laid right out for you, and everything falls quickly to the diplomacy/war options. The fact that each stage of the game, some lasting only ten to fifteen minutes, become completely irrelevant after moving to the next is also very upsetting.
In response to criticisms directed towards the simplistic gameplay that upset the gamers who were misled, Will Wright tried to explain that Spore was never supposed to be a deep and rewarding blockbuster hit, but was supposed to be more of an overglorified Sims game with lots of replayability for the casual audience. Unfortunately this was not even true, as Spore has so little to do in it that even the very first Sims game, ancient by today’s standards, trumps it easily. Compare Spore to The Sims 3 and it is any wonder how a game that focuses primarily on evolution and space exploration could fail so miserably in terms of replayability as opposed to a game that involves managing a household.
Spore does have very fun editors inside of it though, and it’s always fun to see your creations in motion in the game. However, since it is all stat based, this presents a few problems such as the one I mentioned previously, how you may feel limited in your creature designs due to the more aesthetically pleasing creature pieces not having satisfying stats. I will also commend Spore for it’s adorable “creature speak” which is just as fun to listen to as “Simglish” or whatever from the Sims games. Unfortunately, all other sound effects and music tracks are not as impressive and end up becoming nothing more than background noise. Some sound effects were just flat out bad, and I found them to be so annoying that I had to turn my volume down at times.
Unfortunately, Spore’s positive features are far outweighed by the negative ones. Gameplays suffers tremendously as even casual gamers will be hard pressed to want to play this game on a Sims-like level as there just simply is not enough to the skeleton game that Will Wright gave us, a saddening contrast to the meaty package that was promised. Graphics are never terribly interesting either, as most creatures you meet simply do not look interesting enough, and many environments are unforgivingly bland and dull despite decent texturing.
All in all, Spore may be worth playing once just to experience the very fun editors within. However, do not purchase this game without playing it beforehand if at all possible. Find a way to try the game itself first, and then make your decision. This game will not be for everybody.