First Impressions of Spore

I got Spore on Sunday. I bought the Galactic Edition that has with it the art book, making of DVD, and the national geographic special that went with it. These things I can’t really speak of yet because I have not actually taken the time to look at them, but I’m sure I will at some point. I decided to get the special edition largely because I truly wanted them for this title. I love Will Wright and I have high hopes for this particular game, so I wanted to know all I could about it.

The game itself is pretty interesting to say the least. I’m sure everyone knows the concept of the game, you start out as a cell and evolve yourself into a space fairing civilization through multiple stages of the game. By playing it, it seems fairly easy to say where Maxis put all their time into this particular game. That is the first two stages and the last stage. These are very well polished stages and are both fun and oftentimes exciting to play.

spore_creaturesThe first stage takes you through cell development which is actually my favorite stage outside of the last stage. It is fairly short and you will find yourself in the following stage quickly, but I think it is a great introduction to the game. It gives you just a few options to really tweak your little cell, but that offers an easy way into it. As you run around eating stuff you slowly will get bigger and bigger. Each time you grow, everything around you shrinks and all of a sudden you see all new competing cells surrounding you. Each time it makes me say wow to myself and it makes me get a little more excited to see what is next. This stage is marvelously done for just this reason.

You will finally find yourself growing legs and moving onto land. This is where the tweaking of your creature really takes shape. You don’t start with all the options you get in creature creator, instead you must find your updates (as you did in the cell stage but now there are many more options!). This really brings out a sense of exploration. You get evolutions by finding bones lying on the ground, by meeting new creatures, making those creatures extinct, or making them your allies. Each time you complete goals (such as making allies or making creatures extinct, or migrating) you get DNA points which you can use to evolve your creature, and you also move your creature further along in evolution and automatically growing brain power. I am a little torn on how they did brain power as initially Wright stated that brain power would be bought much like any other evolution piece, but at the same time it works how it is because it gives you small goals to work for and it gives you a nice reward of having a bigger pack/herd which really makes you more effective (though sadly this seems to work better as a predator than as a herbivore which seems more than a little backwards).

It is when you reach full brain power that your creature picks up tools and begins to form tribes. The transition seems natural, but this enters you into what is very much the most disappointing point of the game. Tribes were very undeveloped and feel like a means to an end. The exploration that had existed in finding new upgrades is completely gone at this point, there are still upgrades that you can get by allying or destroying nearby tribes, but these seem shallow and give you far less customization than you had even at the Cell stage. You can’t design buildings, or weapons, or anything really, many of the outfits you can put on your creature (which really is only a dozen or so pieces) don’t fit well and are very uninspired. The strategy of conquering towns seems shallow as well and it didn’t take me much time to destroy everyone around me (granted I played easy my first time through). This stage largely feels like a stage that was put in solely for the purpose of an expansion later on to be able to make it worth playing.

The civilization stage isn’t that much different than the tribe stage. Same basic concept except now you need to control spice instead of trying to keep your town fed. But like the tribe stage, it doesn’t take long to conquer the world. The one nice thing about this stage is that you begin to be able to completely customize new pieces like your buildings and vehicles. But again creature customization only adds another 6 pieces, and again like tribe stage you get no exploration. In fact even less as you are given everything up front this time around and don’t even need to conquer anyone to unlock pieces which makes the creation process less fulfilling. Plus most of the pieces are merely decorative which does allow you to be really creative but makes it feel less rewarding. This was supposed to be SimCity meets Civ but it doesn’t really do either justice… the city building is attrocious and I am shocked that the same guy who made the original made this as well. Again I sniff an expansion for this stage in the future though at least this one is more complete than Tribes was.

The meat of the game I think really falls into the final stage of it. The Space stage. When you’ve conquered or allied with your entire planet, you will get the opportunity to design your own space ship. This unfortunately uses most of the same pieces as other vehicles with a few additional spaceship only options, but not many. However the great thing about this stage is that it really seems very similar to the first two stages. It is odd as the game takes a full reversal. There are ship parts (that aren’t visable on the ship) that you can purchase as upgrades that only get unlocked after you complete badges in the game. You get badges for doing various things within the universe, from making allies, to fighting wars, doing delivery missions, trading, founding villages, making money, etc. There are tons of ways to earn badges and each badge brings with it new parts to unlock. And like the cell stage this part of the game begins to get bigger and bigger, each stage filling up with excitement and a sense of wowness. You start out flying your spaceship around your planet, slowly you leave the planet to find other planets and make a few missions to neighboring planets. You then leave your solar system and go to a neighboring system to meet another race and then go to more systems out of your cluster. The game just gets bigger and bigger. This I think is a feeling you get very well in the first and last stages, and to a lesser extent in the second stage, but is completely devoid in the third and forth stages. This to me seems like a shame as from what I’ve heard from Will Wright, this is exactly what he was trying to do with this game and he pulls it off in spades in some portion.

I am fully excited to see what is in store for this game with expansions. The devs have promised that expansions for this game will be more than just a few new parts for the creature creator. What I’ve seen them mention so far has been an Underwater stage (which was originally intended to be in the game between the cell stage and the creature stage) and a plant creator. I also of course think there will be enhancements to tribes and civ stages at some point, and am sure they will have new parts as well. There are many things with the creature creator that you still can’t do which I am sure they will want to fix. Also given that EA has started to sell objects for Sims 2 in an online store, I wouldn’t be surprised if we all of a sudden saw new pieces for Spore show up in a similar store which may not be a bad thing for this type of game (a lot of the pieces I may never use but someone else might, I have specific tastes as do others and this way you aren’t paying for what you don’t want).

The big question is does this game live up to the hype? I gotta be honest and say not really. Is the game good? Most definitely. Is it the best PC game of the year? This may very well be the best PC game in a few years but that doesn’t entirely take much these days. It is still a really good game, but it certainly could have been a lot better. And who knows, the expansions could make this game live up to all the potential and hype that we had for it in the first place. However, at that point, the question becomes is this game worth $50 plus $30 for a couple expansions just to be what we initially thought it would. Time will tell on that question.