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Spore - Gameplay Review (Good Concepts Bad Execution)
on September 12, 2008
Spore 1/5 stars.
Firstly, I'm not going to even mention the DRM stuff; the game just isn't all that great by itself so the DRM is nasty but it's just icing on the cake (and it's a rotten worm infested cake at that). The game just takes a great concept (user designed content that can interact within the game environment) and places it in a horribly executed game world. It's almost as if Will Wright worked on the creature creator and then had some intern to develop the rest of the game (an intern who had a love for spinning out clones of older games).
The first mode is an arcade cell stage. As a small cell you go through finding new evolution pieces for your cell (9 can be found) and use these to make your cell as powerful as you can. In order to advance out of this stage you must eat your way to evolutionary development... to do this you can choose three different paths, herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore. To be honest, as simple as this mode was, it was the most fun out of all the modes of game play available. The reason for this is that the choices you made in regards to where you placed evolution pieces (like spikes) affect game play because each of the pieces can make your creature more powerful; the evolution pieces are not just cosmetic but affect the game world. However, the game play quickly becomes boring given the lack of choices for what you can use to enhance your creature leave you waiting to eat enough to get out of the level.
The second mode gives you the ability to control your creature on land as opposed to in the water. You start off with a very minimalistic selection of body parts to use to help design your creature. The thing is they price the evolutionary pieces by DNA cost and different skill levels are granted for the higher costing pieces. So if you buy a pair of wings from the lowest category it only gives you 'Glide 1' while if you spend more and buy the more expensive piece you get 'Glide 4.' The thing is no matter how you design your creature you're limited to a system that's just about throwing expensive appendages on your critter to get the skills at high levels and not about designing a creature that is best fit in terms of design for the environment. Given two creatures of different sizes isn't it safe to assume the big creature would be harder to get lift from a tiny pair of wings (if you don't scale them)? In Spore it doesn't matter since it's just a skills game the creature creator is just a fancy way of displaying skill pieces not about crafting a well optimized creature.
This is only worsened by the repetitiveness of the second mode: in the second mode you either kill species or make friends with species to get more DNA points to evolve. So you'll be going from camp to camp doing this over and over again with no alterations in the game play besides this to get out of this stage. As you get more DNA and reach checkpoints you're also given the ability to add others of your species into your party but besides that not much else changes. One thing to note about evolving your creature in order to find new pieces to evolve your creature you have to either socialize with other species, kill alpha members of species, or find pieces on the ground. This is actually one of the few good ideas I think was implemented in this game mode; every time you play through you have access to different evolutionary benefits. However, when you're just throwing the best pieces together finding some low ranked jaw (unless cosmetics are your thing) isn't going to help you much so you'll have to kill quite a few tribes in order to get decently ranked ones.
The third mode places you at the level of a tribe. All the evolutionary work you just did up until now no longer comes into play at all. Your tribe is a generic tribe just dressed the way you design in the creature creator and no longer does it matter if you put on the best pieces because they no longer affect anything. The instant I played this I felt as if I were playing a really nerfed version of Starcraft mixed with Age of Empires. You create baby units which grow into adults but are unusable until such (Zerg Eggs from StarCraft) and gather resources by hunting beasts, farming, or fishing (Age of Empires). You can place a set number of buildings (which cost food money) which have technologies such as Stone Axes or Throwing Spears to help you build your army. So you build a baby, it becomes an adult, you have it click on the house and boom you have an axe man. Problem is its so simplified and there are only a few types of units that it becomes a thoughtless process which is tedious at best. The maximum units allowed grows with each tribe killed (or befriended) but it also makes the other tribes grow by exactly the same amount as you did. So instead of a 5v5 war you have a 7v7 war -- it feels exactly the same with a little more fighting. It just feels like a Fisherprice Real Time Strategy game for the mode.
I was planning on reviewing the other pieces of the game but I seriously haven't found the game to be all that great so far so I don't think I'll be spending any more time on it for the foreseeable future. the game definitely delivered something entirely different than people came to expect was being released -- it's just not all that much fun. If you like watered down games with a cosmetic user created addition then you may like this game but so far I find it to be trivial at best. The creature creator, mind you, is really cool and the game could definitely been something much greater through the use of species... If everything didn't feel so cookie cutter the same (all the tribes and species and how they are setup) and the evolutionary designs would affect game play besides stat ratings and skills than this would have lived up at least to some of the hype.
Hopefully the ideas behind the creature creator and on the fly design will be implemented in other games to come which perhaps will use the ideas to create a better user experience. If you're going to create a game you have to understand one fundamental thing... you have to make it fun. No amount of advertising will help you sell more when word of mouth advertising is butchering you on review sites left and right.