Starting on a new planet in a spiral-armed galaxy, you are presented with a cutscene of a meteor, carrying the building blocks of life, crashing into your planet. The camera follows it down to its ocean impact with a quick camera zoom in to reveal your species emerging from the rock. You don’t look like much at this point, basically a small cellular blob with a flagella, pair of eyes, and a mouth part (you select to be a carnivore or herbivore). Your goal is simple: swim through the waters, eating as much as possible in order to advance to the next level of the stage. This stage is similar in concept to flOw, albeit with much more fleshed-out graphics. Each of these levels in the cell stage increases your creature in size that is accompanied by a very cool ‘zooming-out’ effect by the camera. Blurry (yet seemingly Death Star-sized) creatures and objects that appeared in the background will now be revealed as your size, and even bigger things appear in the background. This in-game commentary on ‘there is always a bigger fish’ is a very cool element to the stage and really gives you the feeling your little organism is growing. In addition to size, you increase in available DNA points with every level increment. This is where the creature editor comes into play. As you collect DNA from either plants or animal life, you will eventually unlock the ability to equip different kinds of defensive and offensive parts to your body. Each of these pieces costs a different amount of DNA from your total pool. Creatures are SO CUSTOMIZABLE it is not anywhere near funny. Objects can be placed just about anywhere and all have their own adjustments as well. With so much variation at your fingertips, it is easy to lose yourself in it for hours just experimenting with different configurations.
So, you have eaten enough DNA and your race of multi-cellular organisms is now ready to move to dry land. A quick trip to the creature creator to add some basic legs to your species and you are all set: the creature stage has begun. This stage, much like the cell stage is all about gaining DNA through food. It was the most intimate of the stages due to the amount of different body parts to configure as well as your only controlling one creature. You control its actions and will be directly responsible for leading your species to the tribal stage. It is easy to empathize with your creature and feel like you are experiencing the world through its eyes (or whatever you chose as sensory organs). With each increase in creature stage level, however, your brain grows a size larger and you gain the ability to add a pack member to aid you. These pack members (a max of three) will mirror your actions. This also marks the first time in the game where you can befriend other species on the map for mutual defense. For you herbivores out there, focus on the peaceful, diplomatic body parts then charm the pants off of those other species!
In the next stage, your creatures form a tribe and you will no longer control just one of them. This stage (as well as the next) plays like a simple real-time strategy game with the focus being your tribes domination of its continent (namely the other tribes thereon) through diplomatic or combative means. Unfortunately, you lose the ability to change your species’ biology at this point and focus on its tribal clothing and equipment (not nearly as satisfying). The tribal stage is a bit weaker on the fun than the previous two, but still entertaining.
After the tribal stage comes the civilization stage and that is where Spore took a down-turn for me. The civilization stage sets your tribe (now in a modern city for which you design the buildings) against the other cities of the planet all rules by other tribes. You will create land, air, and sea vessels which like the creature editor you can get lost in for quite some time. Unfortunately, you can only design one kind of each of these vehicles for the three categories (military, religious, economic). The civilization stage is not fleshed-out enough as far as its real-time strategy elements are concerned to be anything more than a buffer between two otherwise fun stages. In opposition, I could accept the simplistic gameplay of the tribal stage because your people ARE primitives at that point. Also, you no longer get the warm and fuzzies by controlling your individual creature anymore so you have nothing to empathize with.
Thankfully, the space stage brings us back to the realm of ‘fun’ by putting you in control of a spacecraft of your own design. You ‘pilot’ the ship from planet to planet, performing various missions such as seeding, destroying, and scanning. This brings back the intimacy of the creature stage while also allowing you to construct some very sweet-looking space ships. Some people I know have gone so far as construction their own X-Wings in the game. Not very original, I know, but it does show off the flexibility of the editor.
Visually, Spore looks very nice with a slightly cartoonish presentation (thankfully cause had they gone for realism it would be a blood bath). It is not, however, the ‘next big thing’ in graphics as some reviews would have you believe. Sound design is great with plenty of ambient noise to go around. Creatures’ vocals consist of warbles and other cute noises which only serve to make you like them even more. And when they are scared and shrieking while you devour them, it makes you feel a little bad. I still have nightmares…
Another interesting feature of the game is that your creatures can be shared online in the massive ‘Sporepedia’, which is a repository of creatures, vehicles, etc made by the huge number of people playing Spore online. When played in online mode, Spore will grab a random sampling of creatures and what not from the Sporepedia and place them inside your game.
Conclusion: Spore is a fun and addictive game that will provide you with many hours of enjoyment, especially creating species and testing them out in the creature stage. While the game takes a bit of a down-turn in the civilization stage, it rebounds nicely with the space stage and is well worth your time.
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