Spored

Introduction

A video game giant in its own respect, Spore was perhaps the most anticipated game of 2008 (if not one of the most anticipated games of all time). Maxis has produced some nice titles that have forever gone down in history and Spore seemed to almost be the end-all of blended Maxis titles into one game. However, whereas previous Maxis titles hold your attention for multiple hours of fun, Spore proves to be quite spboring after all has been said and done.

Campaign/Story :::: ?/10

A meteor falls to a planet and into the ocean where life begins. Not really complicated, but hey, I suppose a rock falling with bacteria on it isn’t such a hard concept to wrap around your head either. What takes off from that point on is the magic of evolution. While Spore is obviously no science buff, what with beady eyes for your cell that goes around eating other cells and “meat” (I didn’t know there was carnivorous and herbivore cells), it simply plays with the idea that magic thoughts of creativity will pop into your creature’s head, thus sprouting further evolution to make your creature more complex or gain access to new parts. Essentially, however, you, for the most part, pave your own story.

There is one looming plot element that is persistent in every game however, and their name is the Grox, which are essentially modeled after the Borg. The Grox are the Big Bad and other civilizations will constantly call for your help when they attack, but, like the Borg, there’s just so damn many of them that it’s nigh impossible to even try. All ideas to defeating the Grox point to the center of the galaxy, which, without revealing much, was perhaps the biggest anti-climax I had ever experienced in a game. Aside from that plot device, however, the story is essentially what you make of it. As such this rating shall be excluded from the total score.

Graphics/Sound :::: 8/10

It’s apparent that the design to Spore is innocent in nature, perhaps aimed at the youngin’s, but it’s executed well-enough for me to take seriously and still make some great-looking creatures that are pleasing to the eyes. Colors, explosions, and combinations thereof are pulled off well-enough in an environment of bright and flashy colors. However, it doesn’t give me a headache, so I suppose that’s good enough for me. The process of stress on a computer is likely minimal considering what Spore asks, which makes it another plus.

The sound is equally pleasing to the ears. The different speech types for creatures with different mouths makes for some interesting and curious creations, and the background music certainly keeps you to a beat. This is further a bonus when you enter the Civilization stage and are able to create your own beat bops as your national anthem to always play in the background. However, none of it is phenomenal. It has the Maxis charm through and through no doubt.

Gameplay :::: 4/10

Ha, you thought I was going to let the game off easily, didn’t you? Far from it, in fact. While the art and sound and feel of Spore is executed well, the rest of the game clearly isn’t. This is echoed in all aspects of each stage, down to the paths you can choose to the so called “end game.” Eventually it means nothing as it all becomes boring after a while.

You obviously start in the Cell Stage, which can be best described as free form Pac Man, except the more you eat, the bigger you get, essentially proving true to the “biggest fish in the pond” theory. There’s no complexity to the stage and there’s absolutely zero penalty for dying (die as much as you want; you’re going to survive indefinitely). You can choose here your path as a creature, whether it be a herbivore or a carnivore (and possibly an omnivore if you unlock the right parts early enough). However, it doesn’t get more complicated than that. Sure, you add some different parts for upgrades later on, but it’s essentially eat all those dots to progress to the next level. By the time you’re through with it you’ll never want to come back to the Cell Stage again. Ever.

The next stage proves to be just as equally as bland. While some of you might remember where the next stage after the Cell Stage was going to be the Sea Stage, Maxis figured that they couldn’t really differentiate the stage very much from the Cell Stage, so they made your aquatic cell turn into a complex land creature in a matter of seconds (or, if you believe the time line, millions of years). Thus enters the Creature Stage, which can be best described as a base hack-n’-slash, minus the complexities for output. This is the first stage where it becomes apparent that you can try your hand at different ways to play. Here, in the Creature Stage, you can be aggressive; you kill and eat other creatures to progress and earn DNA and parts for your creature in later stages of evolution. Or you can go the non-combatant route of “impressing” other creatures by issuing dance contests with them, where you essentially match the moves the opposing creatures make. If your scores in the suggested moves are high enough, the creature will be impressed, thus earning you an ally (which means in later stages of evolution you can have them in your party and they won’t attack you).

Of course, as you can imagine, like most things in which the choice is between peace and war, war is the easier (and perhaps more dynamic) route to the Creature Stage. It’s also not as complex either. Right from the get-go your creature can destroy other creatures with ease, and upgrading for useless attacks like charge and spit are outweighed by the fact that you can just curb-stomp your enemies just fine with your claws. The dancing and singing and tail-wagging is all a different path simply because you never know what the animals that you are trying to impress are going to do. Your dance skills could be high but they might sing three times in a row, which means you fail to impress them, and attempts to do so again will only yield the same trial. What this essentially becomes is a matter of jumping through hoops for animals that you could just as easily kill and that you might end up doing so anyways if you’re a carnivore (hey, you do need to eat). However, with the lack of depth in this stage, you too won’t want to play this stage ever again as well.

After you evolve enough, your animal creature has a magical thought of self-awareness and decides it’s time to start building huts and develop a Neanderthal language that involves lighting a stick on fire. This is where the game attempts to get complicated but, you guessed it, it still doesn’t make the cut. Here in the Tribal Stage you again are faced with two paths, though this time they are more apparent. No longer are you creating or moving around parts for your creature; instead bonuses to social, attack, and gathering skills are garnered by tribal outwear. Out of that fact involves a crude RTS where you can assign townsfolk to specific jobs. One can be a axeman, another a fisherman, or maybe a horn blower, but it essentially doesn’t get any more complicated than that. As you befriend or destroy other rival tribes you gain access to more tribal outwear and new buildings to further progress in “conquering” tribes. At interval stages you are able to increase the total population cap of your tribe, thus increasing your army. Mind you the game is already insanely easy, so all you pretty much do in the Tribal Stage is play easier. Again, not much else to it. Your town is permanent so you’re not building new ones, and your buildings are pre-determined where you can place them, so there’s no real “uniqueness” to the feature. And yes, you guessed it, you won’t want to play this stage ever again too. Seems to be a bit of a pattern, eh?

The Civilization Stage is where your past choices finally make a difference. Depending how you finished off the Tribal Stage, you can emerge as a war city, an economic city, or a religious city. Each have interesting functions, but, as you can guess, once again, one path is the easiest to take. The war city means you get to build war vehicles right off the bat and the game even makes your first target the opposite of your city (in this case an economic city). Mind you economic cities are extremely easy to capture, so you’re not going to have any trouble at all. There’s little difference between a war and a religious city except in the amount of time it takes to capture a city. Overall you’re likely to capture all three types one way or another.

The Civilization Stage was also where we were supposed to get our City Stage, which was supposed to be a bit like SimCity. Of course, that idea of complexity was abandoned too, so, instead, we are left with predetermined city “slots” for you to build three types of buildings. These three types are houses, factories, and entertainment. Here’s where it starts to get real creative as you can design your own vehicles and buildings to your liking. This is especially useful for vehicles, where you can alter and balance out what strong suits you want the units to excel at. Essentially you want to buy buildings for the city to function and start producing revenue for your cash flow. Smart city planning is crucial, but after the third or fourth city, you already have a system that works the best.

Like in all other stages, in the Civilization Stage the name of the game is divide and conquer. You’ll find soon enough that a great number of civilizations will rise, which can either be friendly or hostile, depending on your relations with them. After you attain a number of cities, communications opens up with other such cities that enable you to form alliances or attempt to purchase their cities or enact a trade embargo. This is more towards the end game, however, and at such a point in time, you most likely have access to your “I win” ability. And I rightfully dub the ability so; you literally press the button and you automatically advance to the next stage.

The Civilization Stage is perhaps the first unique stage that you get to play in the game, though it’s largely limited in what you can do. The inclusion of air vehicles in the middle of the stage seemed to be an essential placement, as you have no means to transport your land vehicles from one continent to another, and as there is a cap to how many you can build, you’ll find yourself destroying units you no longer need. There are also problems with becoming an economic or religious city, as the beginning of these cities are much harder to play as and both cost copious amounts of money to keep up with. Keep in mind this does not mean there is an increase in difficulty; it just means it will take you longer to get to the next stage. The Civilization Stage is worth a look to play the three different types all the way through, but after that you most likely won’t want to be coming back to it as well.

So, of course, comes the end of our stages, known as the Space Stage. Sadly this is where the game actually starts. What you can do in the Space Stage, or the complexity of what you can do with your spaceship, far outweighs all previous stages combined. It’s clear that you can see Maxis spent most of their time trying to polish this stage, and there are still some spots of dirt to be found. While colonizing planets can be fun, the process to stabilizing a planet’s T-Score (basically the ecosystem of a planet) is strenuous. You’ll find that your neighbors will most likely be total jerks, or better known as Spode’s Children. These races are religious and constantly demand that your race is so weak that you should constantly pay them outrageous amounts of money. If you don’t they quickly start to hate you, eventually even claiming war on you. I had the lovely opportunity to start one game with four of these nuts near me. There’s a save file that’s never getting touched again.

In fact, it gets much worse than that. You’ll find that, constantly, your planets will be attacked by pirates, be on the verge of an ecological disaster, or will need you to wipe their ass. There is ZERO micromanagement to be had in the Space Stage, which is ironic considering in order to progress you must expand to different star systems and colonize new planets, all the while doing menial things just in order to earn badges for better weapons and defenses. The more star systems you have, the greater the frequency these nuisances occur. Oh, sure, Maxis gave us about 500 different terraforming tools to play around with. Too bad you can only spend about two minutes of your time before the Spode bastards come calling for a tribute.

It only goes downhill from here. Your own civilization will eventually encourage you to form an alliance so as a means to protect yourself or when you need someone to call on aid when you go to war, but they’re largely useless. When an enemy civilization attacks your planet, ships in full force descend upon the surface like locusts. You, on the other hand, are privy to handle one ship and only one ship at a time. Your allies will also only offer one ship to help you as well. Keep in mind there is a small limit to how many allied ships you can have with you at one time and (surprise!) they require badges to increase that small amount. Oh, and since you’re so great with allies, their ecosystem and pirate problems become your problems too, and failure to help out when you’re half way across the galaxy involves them getting angry.

The reality is that you’re alone when it comes to fighting and you will have to survive by upgrading your weapons and health and shields. There are also zero consequences to death in the Space Stage; you just spawn back at your home planet with a brand new ship, previous cargo intact. When you eventually get the pulse beam, which is basically the one-hit kill wonder against enemy cities, you’ll find what was once hard is now a breeze. However, take care once you receive the famed planet buster. Everyone remembers the previews with the weapon that completely destroys a planet. It’s a total bitch to earn in the game and it’s extremely pricey. You think that alone would justify the means of using it. Nope. Using the weapon yields that ALL civilizations in your immediate system vicinity will start to hate you. Use it three or four times and EVERYONE will declare war on you. It’s redunculous. Why the hell use the weapon at all then?

Eventually, if you can bear the torture, the game will try and lead you to contacting the Grox and getting to the center of the universe. The only problem is that the Grox surround the center of the universe, so getting there means going through the Grox, and you simply just can’t fly through their systems without harm either. Eventually they’ll start to shoot at you just for fun. The idea here is that there are three ways to get past the Grox.

You have option A, which involves fighting the Grox. Good luck. You’re not going to win. Ever. The Grox, for one, have hyperdrives, which means they conveniently travel through black holes near your home system. There is also such a large volume of Grox systems that by the time you wipe out a significant amount of them, two or three times more of them will have sprouted up. This is also taking into consideration that your systems haven’t already been obliterated into pieces by the Grox. Basically option A is the best option to choose if you want to lose the game on purpose.

Option B appears, at first, to be a sound move; you try to please the Grox and eventually ally with them. The only problem is that the Grox are extremely hard to please, which means they will constantly have you jumping through hoops, even sometimes asking you to attack other civilizations, which is counterproductive altogether; now you’re at war with another civilization and you have to worry about a second party. Perhaps the biggest headache to all Grox missions is when they ask you to retrieve artifacts for them from their own planets. Doing so means you are STEALING from the Grox and they start to immediately attack you afterwards. Oh, yeah, that made a lot of sense. If you are able to jump through enough hoops, the Grox will eventually agree to an alliance, and brace yourself afterwards, because about 50 gazillion communications will come in at once, telling you the entire universe has just declared war on you. You see, no one else likes the Grox. So when you ally with them, every single civilization in the universe decides you must be their ugly cousin. Remember what I told you about the volume of which Grox occupy systems? Now multiply that by a thousand and take it to the power of infinity.

Option C is basically your only logical and realistic choice, which means stocking up on health and shield boosts, upgrading your shields and health, and making a blind run to the center with your auto cannons off. Eventually the Grox will attack your ship, but as long as you don’t fight back, they won’t declare war on you. This becomes a race to the point where your traveling distance starts to decrease as you get closer to the center, and flying then starts to become a connect-the-dots puzzle. Keep in mind this isn’t an easy outlet either and if you’re not prepared you’ll likely fail in your first run. However, once you get to the center of the universe, you’ll probably want to track down Will Wright himself so you can punch him in the face.

I mean, here is a game where, for the most part, it has been too easy, and once you get to the Space Stage, it becomes too hard. The difficulty curve in Spore looks a lot like the Mariana Trench. I had to go searching for modifications to the Space Age just to enjoy it for a little while longer before realizing that even without the crazy Spode people the game, in the Space Stage, lacked depth. The only thing that saves this section for review are the creators, which is the only thing that I can find that was polished. I mean, the amount of content that can be generated with these things (creatures, buildings, what ever) is amazing, and you can get quite complex with it, but you know what? There’s already a Spore Creature Creator game.

Play Time/Replayability :::: 3/10

This score comes to fruition for a few reasons. The biggest one, of course, has to do with the game itself. It’s shallow, it’s unrefined, and it doesn’t keep you coming back for more. If you’ve ever heard Spore described as five unfinished mini games, then you’re pretty much hearing the truth. Sure, the scope of the playing field is large, but when there’s little to do, there’s little reason to stick around. A good example of this is Daggerfall, which had so much explorable land, but it was all essentially randomly generated stuff that you have already come across in your travels if you play long enough. The same goes for Spore.

Second, Maxis’s MO has changed ever since EA has been in bed with them. The Sims is the best example of this as well; talk about going expansion-happy. Eventually you buy seven expansions for the first The Sims game and what happens? They make The Sims 2 and then repeat the process all over again. Then what do they do? The Sims 3. Talk about one of the easiest cash ins ever. You release the core game and then release content patches at market prices for people to buy. They’re already doing this with Spore, which is something I’m not going to waste my time with all over again when they spring on us Spore 2. No, you want to improve the game? Then improve the original box version. Such content used to be free in the first The Sims, such as downloadable electronics or furniture packs. Now that all costs money.

And lastly has to deal with the frustrations of draconian DRM. I have never seen a developer actually want to intentionally hurt their profit margin. Then again, it’s EA, so I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. I, at first, was supportive of the features of SecuROM that originally shipped with the original Spore, until I bought the Spore Creature Creator weeks before and found out it came with the same type of DRM media on it. Right after I installed the Creature Creator my CD drive stopped working. Yep, how fun. I troubleshooted for nearly three weeks as the myriad of troubles from equally frustrated customers flooded EA forums, right to the point where EA was so vitriolic in their stance that they were willing to ban entire ACCOUNTS if they continued to complain enough.

So what did I do? Well, I obviously removed the Creature Creator and SecuROM off my computer. After that I bought Spore second-hand, but I didn’t install it with the CD. Instead, I downloaded a copy. Want to know why? Because pirated copies of Spore don’t come with SecuROM-infested malware that mess around with your computer. Essentially EA has fucked themselves in this endeavor. I, an honest customer, tried it their way, and I got burnt for attempting to be loyal. Hell, a couple of EA games still won’t even register in my CD drive (Crysis for starters, which also worked fined before I installed the Spore Creature Creator). So buy at your own risk; this game can possibly mess up your computer big time.

Final Recommendation

It’s not Wonderbread. Hell, it’s not even whole wheat. It’s the poppy seed bread that has had mold growing on it for the past month. Spore is a completely shallow game that attempts to do something new but fails horribly in its attempt. After a few days the game becomes completely boring and you will find that you really have nothing else to try and do, except hope people will mod extra features to fix the game. Couple that with how SecuROM has a chance of totally screwing up your computer and you’re not only looking at a bad game, but you’re looking at a bad game that comes with malware. Ironically, if a hacker wanted to harm computer users in a large scale way, they’d probably just develop a game like Spore. Nothing says “I’m totally safe” like cute and cuddly creatures that the kids will want to play with.

5/10

Originally written: December 2008

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

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