Spore PC DVD
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Maxis
Release Date: Out Now
There's always a massive amount of interest in any game that Will Wright has been responsible for. For me he's in the same bracket as Sid Meier in that every game they have a hand in is always of a very special quality and is always a game that's pretty much guaranteed to impress. Spore is a little different from previous Will Wright creations but it still bears the hallmarks of a Will Wright game. There's a huge emphasis on the player being able to create and customise the game experience combined with a healthy dose of originality that you just don't see that often in the game industry. Spore won't be remembered as Will Wright's finest game to date but it's certainly one of the most original PC gaming experiences to date.
Spore is a game in which you create your own life form and go through the process of evolution in your own personal universe. You'll begin the game with a galaxy full of planets to choose from. Once you've picked your starting planet, you'll see a cutscene of a meteorite hitting the planet and from this point you'll begin the first of the five stages of evolution. The five stages are Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization and Space. Each stage plays like a completely different game but none of the stages are deep or satisfying enough to stand on their own.
In the Cell stage your single cell creature will be swimming around in the ocean attempting to feed itself. If you decided your creature is an herbivore they'll be eating plants whilst carnivores will be eating the floating pieces of meat and attempting to eat other creatures (there are other creatures attempting to eat your creature too). Of course you can also be an omnivore if you wish. Soon enough your creature will acquire the ability to walk and in the Creature stage you'll have the choice of either befriending other species (by singing, dancing for or charming them amongst other things) or completely destroying them with a variety of aggressive manoeuvres. In the Tribal stage the game takes the form of a basic RTS in that you can collect food, order new units engage in combat with other tribes or attempt to befriend them. The Civilization stage sees the game become slightly more complex as you attempt to gain full control of the planet. You'll begin with a single city and you'll take over the planet by purchasing cities, using military force or through religious conversion. You'll be able to design houses and vehicles amongst other things in this stage. Finally you'll arrive in the Space stage and here you'll get to interact with other creatures from across the galaxy. Once again you'll have the option of being peaceful or aggressive with your fellow creatures. You'll also get to terraform other planets too. It's the most fascinating stage of the game (and by far the longest) but even at this stage things are kept fairly simple.
The single most impressive aspect of Spore is the amount of customisation you can carry out. You can design your characters, buildings, vehicles (land, air and sea-based) and spaceships using editing tools that are both powerful and easy to use. With a little imagination you can create (or recreate) any creature you wish. It's possible to spend many hours just using the creation tools because it's just such an enjoyable experience. During the course of the Cell and Creature stages you'll get to make as many changes as you wish (of course you are limited by the amount of DNA points you have and creature parts you've acquired). It's possible to flit between a herbivore and carnivore character as well as a character who's designed to charm and one's who is best equipped to destroy its enemies. As you move further through the stages you can't make such sweeping changes but there's still an enormous amount of customisation choices to make.
In addition to making a whole load of custom content for yourself, you can take advantage of others' creativity if you wish. You can choose to download from the Spore community in general or just those on your buddy list. You'll see others' creations in your game in a seamless manner. Of course there's a whole load of content already included with the game so if you're not interested in letting the creations of others into your gaming experience it certainly won't be to the detriment of your gaming experience. That said the way the game integrates other users' content into your game world is very impressive which essentially means that it's possible to constantly see new material in the game regardless of how many times you play.
As enjoyable and original as Spore is, it's certainly not the perfect game. Such is the difference between the stages that going from one to another can be quite jarring. Some of the stages are so simplistic they can be finished within a few minutes. The Cell stage for example is far too simplistic and the Creature stage isn't much more complex. I would even go as far as to say some elements of the game are tedious and you'll want to move quickly on to next the stage rather than wanting to spend as much time as possible in each of the available stages. Mercifully when you begin a new game on another planet you can choose to jump in at any stage you wish, so you don't have to go through the stages you may have taken a dislike to. The game gives you a choice of whether or not your creatures are going to take aggressive or diplomatic routes in their dealings with other species. Whilst choice is always welcome, it has to be said that attempting to befriend the other species is a tedious route to take through the game and many will simply take the aggressive route as a result.
Graphically, Spore is quite impressive but personally what I found even more impressive is how well the game runs on PC hardware that's at least a few years old. We played the game using an ATi X1950Pro which is far from being even a mediocre graphics card and yet we managed to run the game at 1280x1024 with virtually no performance problems with the graphical settings maximised. Of course the creatures you use in the game and the various buildings, vehicles and spacecraft are only going to look as good as you want them to with your designs but for the most part all of the other creatures (that are included in the game) look great and they animate very nicely too. There are some rather pleasing effects on display too, such as the water effects that you'll see during the Cell stage. On the whole the game looks very good and the presentation of the game is excellent.
Spore won't cause deaf gamers any problems. All of the meaningful dialogue is shown in text only. All tutorial information is text only too and your goals are always displayed in text so you're never at a loss for what needs to be done. In a similar fashion to The Sims games, the game makes good use of icons to convey information. You'll see sound arcs emanating from your creatures when performing a mating call, for instance. You'll also see icons above the heads of other species that will let you know if they are friendly, indifferent or hostile to your creatures. In short there's very little wrong with the game in terms of its deaf gamer friendliness. What I did notice is that there are no visual clues for any sounds that are made by creatures that are off-screen. This hardly ever causes any problems but hearing gamers will be aware of these sounds and the direction they are coming from, where as deaf gamers will simply be unaware of them. Also there are no captions for the general noises that your creatures make, which is slightly disappointing.
In some respects Spore is an impressive game and it's certainly one of the most original PC titles you're going to see this year. In some respects however, the game falls short of greatness because a fair portion of the game is unspectacular and dare I say, tedious. The overall experience does manage to cover up the game's disappointing elements and I can honestly say you've never played a game quite like Spore. The customisation elements are superb and the way that the game content can integrate other players' creations with your own is truly superb. Whether or not Spore will have the mass appeal and replay value of Will Wright's earlier games remains to be seen but it's definitely a game that everyone should experience.