Review – Spore

I am not sure how to introduce this review so I am going to start gently. If I were the kind of guy that was into fellating people to get what I want, there would be a short list of people that I would be willing to drop to my knees for. Right off the top of my head, I can only actually think of two men, the first being Trent Reznor if he promised to give me another album equal to or greater than The Downward Spiral; the second guy is Will Wright.

I can’t think of what I would ask Will Wright for in exchange for orally pleasing him but if he were into bartering, I am sure I could come up with something. I have always liked Will Wright because, thankfully for my succulent lips, he gives me what I want without forcing me to choose to spit or swallow. I loved all of the real SimCity games before they got all politically correct and became SimCity Societies. I have owned both Sims games and all of their ceaseless expansion packs. I even have copies of SimAnt, SimTower, and SimFarm. Historically, when Will Wright designs a game, you can count on it at least being original and well planned – and it’s usually good.

With Wright’s new game, Spore, all of the things you normally find in a Maxis game are there. Spore is an original game that borrows snippets from other games like Civilization, The Sims, Trade Wars, and Pokemon. As I will soon talk about, while the game may be shallow in areas, it makes up for it with what it allows you to create, and the sheer breadth of things it allows you to accomplish. Is it a perfect game? No, but it is definitely not a bad game and if you have liked any of Maxis’ previous output you should give it a shot.

Right about now, you are probably asking yourself, “Why in the hell did Tyson start this article with a series of blowjob references if he is just going to go into a straight-laced review of a game?” Friends, I was not out to shock you…okay maybe just a little bit, but I had another, more intellectual reason. You see, blowing someone is all about getting off and getting off for guys means that the end result is a bunch of tiny organisms swimming around in white goo.

This is exactly where Spore starts. You start off as a tiny creature swimming around munching on whatever food you can find and trying to avoid bigger organisms. As you eat more food, you grow. This is a concept I wish I would have figured out a while ago but now that Spore has arrived, maybe it will sink in. What you eat will also affect what you become. If you eat a lot of algae and plankton, you are going to evolve into an herbivore. Eating meat turns you into a carnivore and you can probably figure out what happens when you eat even numbers of both food groups. Life at this level is simple, eat and avoid being eaten. While it sounds shallow, it makes for a few minutes of interesting game play. If you were at this level forever, the game would suck but thankfully, you evolve after about ten minutes of playing the food chain game.

The next step our little spermy guy takes is the move out of the ocean and onto land. This is where the fun really starts. While you got to design your organism at the cellular level previously, you now get access to Spore’s full Creature Creator. This means you are adding limbs, mandibles, webbed feet, and everything else on to your creature. If you like creating this kind of stuff, you will spend hours in creature creation. There is not much that you could think of that isn’t in the creation suite and it will animate your finished product almost seamlessly with a pretty accurate representation of how you creature would move and behave in the real world. In short, creature creation kicks ass.

Your drive to create a cool creature is essentially what motivates you in the single creature phase of the game. You make your guy and explore the world with him, looking for new genetic traits that look like fossils in the game. Once you acquire a new trait, you can use it in the next generation of creatures. There are hundreds of new traits to find so for those of you that are obsessive about finding every little thing in a game, you have your work cut out for you. Think of it as a genetic version of Pokemon.

After this stage of the game, Spore starts to suck for a little while. The next step is forming a tribe and conquering other tribes to get to the following step which is the City level. The only positive thing I can say about these two stages is that there is a deepening of the Creature Creator which allows you to design buildings, clothing, and vehicles for your creatures to use. I loved designing cool little tanks and airplanes but really, it doesn’t take that long or that much effort. What you are left with are two stages that are like Warcraft and Civilization if they were reworked so George Bush could understand them.

At the normal difficulty level, there is absolutely no challenge to the game whatsoever and that is especially true for the Tribal and City levels of the game. I have a feeling that the only reason they are in the game is so that you have a full spectrum of evolution to look at when you glance at the history of your species. While the concept that you are actually able to do that is very cool, I wish the game play wouldn’t have sucked so much in order to get you there. I suspect this was purposeful though and will cover that in a minute.

The final stage is the Space stage in which your species has evolved to the point that they are ready to bravely go where no creature has gone before. You design a badass looking spaceship and voyage to the stars in search of life, love, and spices to trade. It is very evident that this is Will Wright’s favorite stage. He loves astronomy and all things space and most of the thought for the game went into the Space level. If there is something that you have wanted to do in space you can probably do it in this game (but no zero gravity lovemaking, now THAT would have been an interesting addition – maybe after I finish this review up I will go in search of a Spore Hot Coffee cheat). Anywho, Space is easily the best stage of the game for so many reasons that it would be hard to list them all here. Let’s just say if you want to explore space and find new species and colonize planets, you can do it in Spore and it is a pretty spiffy experience.

And that’s it! There are two ways you can look at this game. You can read this review and say, “Wow, Tyson has just led us on a journey that went from blowjobs to terraforming planets. Amazing!” Or you will most likely read this and say, “This game definitely has breadth but where is the depth?” Unfortunately, I am here to tell you that this game is about as deep as the splooge pond in which your creature was created. By the way, your creature actually comes from the ocean but let’s face it, semen is a way more interesting topic to talk about than the ocean, but I digress, we are talking about Spore. The game lacks depth and there is no way to doctor that up and make it sound positive. I went from beginning to end in about eight hours. Did I collect every single creature or genetic trait? No, but I did basically finish the game.

Knowing Maxis and their propensity to release expansion packs for everything under the sun, I would guess that it is only a matter of months until we have an addition for Spore. I imagine we will see an expansion dealing with aquatic creatures and more space stuff first. After that, hopefully they will try to make the Tribal and City stages of the game more interesting. Spore has a set of extremely good game mechanics and everything is there to make this game completely sweet…after three or four expansions. I suppose I should also mention the fact that user created creatures, buildings, and vehicles are automatically injected into your game as you play. This is cool because as the game ages, you will see thousands of species roaming in and out of your game.

At the risk of referencing Pokemon too much, I would hazard to say that Spore in many ways is like the ultimate Pokemon game of discovering new creatures. It is my hope that in future expansions, you can add a little more depth to the creatures you create. I think it would be cool to give a total biological synopsis of the creatures you create so other users can get to see the effort you put into them and that will go toward enriching their game as well.

In the end, the choice to buy Spore is up to you but if you get it, think of Spore more as an investment. As the game ages, it will get better, I promise. But for now, it is a very cool concept with not very much meat to back it up. The game that is there is fun and worthwhile but at the end you will say, “I did all of that?!” and then follow up by saying, “That’s all I did?!”

8 thoughts on “Review – Spore”

  1. When it comes to Will Wright’s games, I always like seeing the man succeed, as he is one of the few developer auters that is interested in experimentation and wild ideas, instead of trying to prove to you how sweet he is. He’s the western Miyamoto in attitude. That being said, This is the second game (the other being Sims 2) in a row from Maxis that practically beg for an expansion right out of the box. Are they doing it intentionally? Probably not, but when you know that Spore is going to have a dozen packs released for it in the next few years, it is a bit disturbing.

    Also, a game like Spore is a risk we need to take. All of these elements are in place in other games, but to tie them together like this is tough and commendable. On the same token, all of those people who were ready to declare Spore as the savior of gaming as a legitimate hobby ended up jumping the gun. Its good, but perhaps not life changing, and maybe after this they will be a bit more careful to wait until games are out before making judgements.

    At the very least, I’d like to see them stop taking games like Spore, Ico, and Shadow of the Colossus and feeling that putting an exclamation point at the end does all the talking.

  2. I don’t lurk on that many game forums, and already I’ve seen dozens of people talking about how shallow the game is and how deep they wanted it to be. I think they really let their imaginations run away with them and it’s their own fault they’re disappointed.

    The best counterargument I saw was that Spore is sort of like Black & White; maybe not great as a game, but at the least a highly different game – and certainly still entertaining. It’s really a step in a cool direction and I hope other developers will follow.

    I’ve been really enjoying Spore, despite having annoyances with nearly every part of the game. It’s a combination of 5 small games, but they really mesh together well.

  3. I’m a little confused honestly. I thought Spore was more about evolution and less about building creatures. This means there is still a hole for a cool game about manipulating the environment in order to create stresses that change how animals and plants evolve.

    I don’t know if that could be fun but the idea of just building a creature seems entirely counter to the idea of evolution. Though maybe I expected too much from a guy who donates to Rudy Giuliani. Yes, I am implying Will Wright is a proponent of ID with absolutely no evidence other than my own political bias. What can I say, I’m a maverick.

  4. I agree that it is disheartening to know that a game will need expansions to make it more complete. But I also believe that this is the part of all of the Sims-esque franchises that EA has a direct hand in. Anyone can see that the Sims game have historically been cash cows for EA. I do not think that Spore will have as many add-ons as Sims 2 had, largely because Spore is a different kind of game than the Sims. I imagine, three or four expansions is all we will get out of Spore. Maxis always tends to release a game with awesome potential, only to have it back-burnered by a Sims game. Sims 3 is slated for early 2009, so I think Spore will get one or maybe two good expansions before Maxis switches into full Sims 3 mode. Unfortunate, yes, but maybe for the better too.

  5. Considering how long this game was in development, the lack of depth is a little dissapointing. Since I’m in game overload, I’m probably going to take a pass on it for now.

    The slightly chilling comment made by Christian is the expansion comment. What if Maxis decides to do an expansion for every segment of the game, which ultimately gives it the needed depth, but for $20-$40 bucks per gameplay mode and a grand total of too much?

  6. If Maxis has planned this game to be an add-on cash cow like the Sims has turned out to be, methinks they may be unaware of differences in the audiences for The Sims and this game. Because a bunch of more casually inclined players will gobble up an endless stream of expansion packs for their favorite game, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Spore will have the same kind of audience with the same kind of willingness to open their wallets repeatedly for new, what, kitchen countertops?

  7. Bruce is onto something here. The original Sims, so far as I could tell, wasn’t intentionally created for the market it drew. With the Sims 2, they knew of that market, and worked accordingly. Whether Spore attracts many of the same folks has yet to be seen, but if the number of creatures made with the Creature Creator is any indication, there are a lot of people interested. The question is what demographics are they coming from?

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