Spore Review

If legendary game designer Will Wright sat down one day with the intention of figuring out which of his games he liked best, only to realize that he just couldn’t choose a single aspect of virtual existence he most enjoyed tinkering with, then Spore might very possibly have become the order of the day. Instead of choosing just one, Will Wright would simply sim everything.

Spore is a genre-blending evolutionary and social simulation that lets players have a hand in the evolution of species from their multicellular beginnings all the way up through galactic conquest. As cells develop into creatures, interact with other species, form tribes, build civilizations, and expand empires, the mechanics of the game also evolve, becoming more complex with each phase.

The cell phase operates like an advanced version of Pac Man. Players’ microbial creations gradually grow in size and complexity as they consume food and collect parts from the environment and/or the remains of other organisms. Mating opens up an editor where those parts can be used to create more successful designs for new generations of creatures, eventually stepping out of the tide pool and onto dry land.

The creature phase moves into a fully three-dimensional environment and introduces social interaction into players’ list of options. Taking a friendly or aggressive stance when coming into contact with another species dictates the goals the game sets for dealing with that group. Both killing and befriending other species earn DNA points and new body parts that help the creature to evolve. Searching the environment also yields rewards to be used in the mating/editing portion of this phase.

Once a species develops enough mental capacity to organize into cooperative social communities, the tribal phase begins. Here, the tribe’s goal is to defeat or ally with neighboring tribes and be the first to achieve a civilized culture. This phase is the first to bring simple real-time strategy elements into the game, allowing players to outfit their natives with stat-boosting apparel and equip them with special tools earned by successfully interfacing with competing tribes. With each conquest or alliance, a new building can be placed in the village. Each of these provides a weapon, musical instrument, or food gathering tool to assist the tribesmen.

Successfully micro-managing a tribal village allows a civilization to flourish. In the civilization phase, players focus on global conquest, administrating multiple cities’ economic, military, and religious affairs. The urban landscape must be developed in such a way that population, production, and happiness are all maximized, maintaining a steady flow of income from the planet’s natural resource, spice. This is achieved by placing residential, industrial, and entertainment buildings in an effective way and then protecting the safety of the city with turrets and military vehicles. Vehicles also serve as the religious and economic links to other cities, converting or allying with them to support the civilization’s cause. As in the real world, waging war is not the only answer; there are a number of paths to prosperity. Regardless of the imperialistic strategy a player employs, the goal is to unify the entire planet under the home city’s rule, and then venture into the final frontier.

The space phase is the final phase, and also the most complex and expansive portion of Spore. This is the only phase that does not have predefined win conditions, but is instead set up as a galactic sandbox with open-ended opportunities to accept and complete missions, earn money, expand the empire, colonize planets, encounter alien species, establish trade, form alliances, go to war, hunt for treasure, and explore, explore, explore. There are over 50,000 planets in the Spore galaxy, all of which are accessible to the player. The many social, combat, colonization, collecting, and terraforming tools that players earn by achieving certain milestones add even more options to the dynamic space phase. To quote Will Wright himself, Spore becomes a “massively single-player game” by the time players reach the end.

So is this five-in-one gaming experience any good, or is it nothing more than a novel idea turned into reality?

Spore is great fun. At each step of the way, there is something new to play with, learn about, experiment with, and eventually master. Each small portion of the larger product appeals to gamers in different ways, and all of those parts manage to remain interesting in their own right. The editing features, as evidenced by the success of the stand-alone Creature Creator and the endless stream of user-generated content that populates the game’s “Sporepedia,” are enough to keep players inventing and tweaking microbes, animals, buildings, vehicles, and even the celestial bodies themselves for hours on end. Spore has so many tools and parts to work with that creativity is rarely stifled.

Another very important part of Spore’s design is that it slowly guides players through progressively more complex levels of videogame mechanics, effectively making itself an analogy for the thematic content it delivers. The later the stage of evolution, the more advanced the gameplay strategy, each phase building upon the last in terms of required skill sets. Spore manages to satisfy the needs of seasoned veterans with its vast selection of options, yet remains accessible to any gamer by gently acquainting them with the gameplay environment. I see many first-time gamers getting their start with Spore, and many long-time gamers becoming obsessed with the sheer magnitude of the final phase.

Spore is yet another wonderful creation from the mind of designer Will Wright. While it may not achieve the level of gaming utopia that many had predicted prior to its release, the final product is still a very enjoyable, engaging, and complete package. With just a little more depth and polish, it would be more than just an evolutionary sim–it’d be a revolutionary one.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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