One of the biggest games to hit the market at the moment is Spore. It is every where at the moment, on PC’s, Macs, Nintendo DS’s and best of all the iPhone. The game in a nutshell, if you have not heard of the title, consists of you working your way up from a small microscopic organism. Evolving along the way changing your appearance, statistics, your looks and so on. You move on from being a small cell, to a larger creature. You then move on from being a single creature to controlling the tribe, then a city and finally a universe. Each stage being more complex than the last. Although this game comes in many forms for many formats, I am going to focus on the Mac and PC version. They are both identical in nature. In fact they come on the same disk.
Before we begin, if you have been a subscribed to this site for a while, you may remember me mentioning about the release date for Spore. Notice the first image in the post, especially the HUD layout. From the images show in this post the layout and the way it looks has dramatically changed.
This review will consist of a couple of stages. A general introduction stage, it will then focus on the main stages: Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization and Space. The end part of this review will explain the pros and cons of the game plus any improvements I would wish to see implemented.
The idea behind this game is pretty simple. It is similar to “The Sims” but instead of controlling just a couple of people and your house, you get to control every aspect of how your create looks, moves acts as well as some of its surroundings. Originally this game was going to be called “The Sims Everything” although Spore was liked better by the developers.
This game is, I think, a cross between a single player game and a multiplayer game. You play in a single player environment but your creatures and buildings get sent to other players. As well as this other players creatures get downloaded to your computer. So you can wander about the place and see creatures other people have made. You can’t control their game in anyway, you just share what they have made. I would also like to note that every game you will play is different. The story I mention in this article will be slightly different to your experience. Your environment will defiently be different.
The first stage, and one of the shortest, is the cell stage. After watching the cinematic introduction, you end up a very small organism. Here you can pick if you want to be carnivore or herbivore. Although you can go change your eating habits at various stages through out the game you are sort of stuck on that one track, so chose wisely.
Once you have started up you can now swim around in the tidal pool. Your job at this stage is to eat other pieces of food, without being eaten yourself. You can attack other creatures if you are a carnivore or eat small pieces of greenery if you are a herbivore. As you eat stuff you gain DNA points. This points are used to customize your creature. As well as this one of the objectives in the game is to find golden shields which give you special customizations, for your creature. This are found from other creatures. As you eat other things your progress meter will advance. The progress meter is located at the bottom of the screen. As the meter reaches the end you can move onto the next stage.
Customization is a big part of this game. During the first couple of stages you can unlock a whole range of things. This include defense, attack, speed, as well as your general appearance. You can use these features to get a flipper that makes you move faster so you can escape. On the other hand you can get a big ramming spike so you hurt enemy creatures more so you can eat them. The more you unlock the more you can customize. You can at any point remove features to refund the DNA points. You can then use these extra points to get something bigger and better. Although it doesn’t feature so predominantly at this stage when you make a character, all of the attached parts when you refund a part get refunded as well. This means that if you want to swap out a bigger head you have to add them all back in. Slightly annoying. As well as this your character is mirrored down the center, so what you put on one side will be reflected on the other.
Moving around in the tidal pool is as simple as point and click. You click where you want to go and your creature swims over there, eating stuff that it passes along the way. At this stage the controls are simple although it never feels very smooth. I seemed to do a lot of frustrated clicking. In comparison with another games this stage is like Pac-Man. Anyway, once as you get enough DNA points and have evolved far enough along the lines you will move to the creature stage. This happens rather quickly but the fun is only beginning.
One thing I would like to mention is the game time line. As your progress through the game, it will show you everything that you have done. Its quite fun to see what happens to your creature as you progress. The vertical axis in the image shows, herbivore, omnivore or carnivore and how much you lean to one trait. As you can see in the image below I like meat. Also notice the in game counter in the top right. After about 15 minutes of gameplay it has an in game time of 4 Billion, 700 Million years. Isn’t it quick how time flies.
At this point you are bored of swimming around and you want a place to dry off. So you grow some legs and move onto land. The previous, cell, stage had a couple of customizations to your character. This stage has hundreds more. You may have seen in many of the screen shots the creature creator. This is the stage in which it happens.
In the creature stage you will evolve the most. To evolve you must gather DNA points and customizable features. These features are your head, nose, arms, attacks as well as a whole range of things. You find these features by checking over dead bodies and by interacting with other creatures. These extra features are added to the creature creation section of the game. To add a new feature or customize your character, you first have to mate with another creature in your tribe. Although it only shows a bit of jiggary polkary (it is a 12 rated game), you will lay an egg. When this new egg is born, your newly designed creature will appear. You can do this as frequently as you want. Although you tend to “save up” DNA points so you outfit your creature with better kit in one go.
Each feature that you customize will give your creature can give you special abilities and some sort of trait. For example you can get a mouth that will give you a charge attack so you can kill enemies, eat them for substance and more DNA points. On the other hand you could get a feature on your body that gives you the ability to charm another creature, making them your friends instead of a meal. It is really as sandbox type game. Although there is not a million different parts, you can change the size, width, thickness, colour and other dimensions of that body part. You can also have more “evolved” parts which costs more points, but do more damage, similar to your normal cash based game, you spend more, you do more damage. As a result every time you will play the game your creature will look different, simply because there is so many options and each time you do something different.
The DNA points are vital at this part of the game, the whole purpose of this section is to get more points. Without them you cannot advance. You get more points by attacking or make friends with other creatures. These points you can use to “pimp” out your creature, which you can then use to attack or charm bigger creatures. There is more to it than that. You grow in size which makes you stronger and smarter. The idea behind this section is to get a bigger brain, so you can build a tribe and then a city.
This stage is a lot like World of Warcraft (from a control point of view) in the way you move around with your character. It is a lot of pointing on things, doing attacks and so on and so forth. You really don’t need a keyboard to play this game. The only reason you need a keyboard is to name your character.
Advancing through this stage is pretty easy. Once as you have got big enough you join with other creatures of your species and form a pack. You can use this pack to hunt and charm with. This pack will slowly grow larger and larger. Until it reaches a point where you are smart enough to decide to build a hut and become a tribe.
The creature and tribal stage go hand in hand. Although there are small differences they are pretty similar in style. In the creature stage you gathered around a earth mound, in the tribal stage its a fire. At this point you can not customize your creatures physical appearance any more. A small surprise, which is a slight shame. Other changes include being able to control more than one character. It has move on from controlling a single character and moved into something similar to Age of Empires.
In the previous section you had to meet other creatures and either wipe them out, or make friends with them. The same goes for the tribe stage except you have to destroy their village hut to wipe them out if you are attacking, I am unsure what happens if you are friendly. This time DNA points have been replaced with tribe points. This points entitle your to build huts, and kit out your warriors. There are a wide variety of huts depending on your class (herbivore, carnivore or both). For example there is hut where you can get axes to increase your attack, medicine sticks to increase tribe health during battles, as well as huts to kit out your creature to charm the opponents. I have only played carnivore so far I don’t full know the herbivores trait. This points can also be used to kit out your creature with armor or equipment to impress other tribes. Choose carefully at this stage (again), because what you pick here will be used in future battles further on in the game.
Like the previous sections (they all follow a similar path) you have to gain more points. The points this time are replaced with totums in your Tribe. The idea being you convert all of the five tribes on the earth to your faction. You can do this by killing them all, or making friends with them. On completion of this task you earn more huts and kit for your creatures. As well as this the tribes increases in size making it more complex and challenging.
In the tribe stage you do have to do more micromanaging. You have to gather food (you can nick it off fallen tribes if you can’t be bothered to hunt), heal people to make sure you have a well running tribe. You can do the attacking, but you also have to stop yourself being attacked. It is another level of complexity to the game which makes it harder. Up until this point, the game (on normal setting) has been relatively easy. You can probably make it through in a couple of hours. If you found at this point that the game has been easy, another level of difficulty is just about to be added. Depending on how aggressive your are at this stage will determine what you will be like in the next stage of the game.
Like the previous stages you have developed more and more. Instead of being a couple of creatures around a tribe, you are now a vast city. At this point in the game you lose control of an individual creature and are you are in charge of a city. Depending on what you were in previous stages of the game, you can either take over cities by religious means, economic means, or by military means. The game follows the same track, be the dominant party on the land/planet so you can advance to the next stage.
This section of the game I have played the least so I can’t really comment fully on the level entirely. I have mentioned that you have to take over other cities by three means. To do this you first need to design you city, your vehicles, and you factories, housing and entertainment. This are all done though the creature editor. At this stage you lose the ability to customize your creatures, but you can customize every aspect of how you village looks. If you just want to play the game and are not interested in designing your buildings you can use the Sporepedia to use creations built by Maxis and other people. As well as this your designs may be used by other people.
Tribal points (which where DNA points) have been replaced by Sporebucks, this is the in game currency for building all of your buildings and vehicles. There are 4 buildings. Factory which gets you more income, but reduces happiness (I haven’t yet found out what happens if you have unhappy citizens, probably bad), houses for having more people. More people means you can have more vehicles to take over other cities. Entertainment centers to keep the people happy and out way the negative effect of factories. Finally turrets to defend your city.
This section is more complex than the previous sections. You have to think about multi city management, keeping people happy while having a good income. You also have to have inter-city relation ships. Once you have more than one city you can talk to other cities rulers, become friends or simply annoy them and take them over. You also have to manage your vehicles, do you use them to take over Spice Gysers (in my planet it is used as income, may be different to you) and keep control of them, or do you go out for a full attack but leaving you exposed by another civilization. You have to take over so many cities to advance to the next stage. As you advance you gain more perks such as the ability to have flying machines or super weapons. The super weapons consist of 5 different weapons which you can use to your advantage. They vary in cost, but can do amazing damage and help you win a battle.
Like the previous levels the progress meter will slowly advance to the end of the screen. This is done after you take over the required amount of cities. At this point you will be able to have space flight and you will move on to the space level.
Space is the last of the levels. But it is massive. It is acclaimed that it is truly sandbox and you can do what you want. Before in the city level you could take over a couple of cities, now there is an entire galaxy to conquer, endless hours of fun. I have not reached this level, so I can’t fully comment. But from what I have heard it is the best. Anyway, if I told you what happened here there would be no point in playing the game.
We have reached the conclusion of this review. Hopefully you have gained an insight into what happens in Spore and how you play the game. What I have said is by no means the complete picture of the game. I have left out a couple of features and random events that I have experienced. Due to the nature of this game, every persons experience will be different and every game you play will have a different outcome.
To summarize I will list both the pros and the cons of the game. Starting with the cons. Firstly it requires the internet and an EA account to fully access all of the features. This is kind of important, since you need the internet to play the game and activate. Without it your CD key will not let you through. Secondly, I did experience a couple of graphics problems. Overall the graphics are good, but in various places I did see random pixelation and missing graphics. As well as this one problem I did find is saving. Although you can have multiple planets as different games. You can only have one save state per game, as a result you can’t go back in time if you have a major cock-up. One of the biggest problems is saving a game just when you are going to die, when you reload the game you will always die and get stuck in a loop. There is no way of exiting without starting over (although you can pick which stage you want to start at next time). One small gripe, which I must add, is that some of the earlier stages could more complex and challenging.
Finally the biggest problem which most people have been moaning about is the DRM. People see it as archaic and unnecessary. From what I have heard (and I may be wrong) you are only allowed three installs at the same time, these licences do expire but it does cause problems. Personally I haven’t noticed the DRM. I have installed it on two computers and it works perfectly fine. I understand both sides of the argument for DRM. The only problem I have seen is being able to register my own EA account with the game. I wanted my creatures to be on my account, and my brothers (on this computer) to be on his EA account. You can’t do this. It’s understandable since it can be perceived that you are sharing the game.
Finally lets get onto the pro’s of this game, stop focusing on the negatives. First of all its a lot of fun. Its not action packed heart racing stuff which you find in shoot ‘em ups, but you will enjoy your experience playing. For example you start our saying “I’ll play for an hour”. When the time comes to put down the game and do some real work you say “I only have to take over this city and then i’ll work”. Five hours later: “I really should have started work 4 hours ago, but I only need this planet”. You will get addicted. As a bonus every time you play it will be different, since you will always customize and see different creatures.
Another interesting point of this game is both the cartoony graphics. They are fun to watch. Some of the characters actions will make you laugh out loud. Combined with the random and unpredicable events that happen, people will wonder what you are doing. Speaking of graphics, this game is quite light on CPU usage. It doesn’t need a Mac Pro to run, although if you do have a god grap phics card, you will have a good viewing pleasure.
Well I hope you have enjoyed reading my review of Spore, I have enjoyed writing it. Please leave a comment below on what you think of the game (good and bad), just remember to follow the comment rules and leave a decent comment. Not “This game sucks” with no explanation. To finish off the evening I am going to have a good play on Spore. If you are interested in buying Spore I recommend you pick it up from Amazon, they have great deals.