‘Spore’ an evolution in gaming

Owen Sound Sun Times (On)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

After years of hype “Spore” is finally out. It has been billed as “Sim Everything” and it’s by Will Wright, creator of “The Sims.”
The development history and the high-profile creator have made it big news ever since it was announced and I think it was worth the wait.
“Spore” is a great game. Parts of it are completely groundbreaking, other parts aren’t. It isn’t a wholly new experience, but what’s new is amazing.
In “Spore” you control an organism from its single-celled primordial origin to eventual galactic conquest. You play through five different stages: Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization and Space. Each stage is a different gameplay style, which keeps the action fairly fresh.
“Spore’s” real draw is in letting you design everything — your one-celled creature, your evolved creature, your buildings, your vehicles, even planets — as the game progresses. Not only that, but the game is constantly online, downloading other people’s creations and populating your game with them and sending your creations to other people’s universes. You never get to play the game with other people, but you’re always interacting with them. You can even create buddy lists so your game is more likely to download your friends’ content. It brings a Facebook-like social component to the game.
The options for creating stuff and sharing it with other players are like no video game before it. It makes “Spore” as much a toy as a game and its great just for that, though the game is good as well.
You start the game as a generic cell, swimming around eating either plants or meat, attacking prey smaller than yourself and running away from larger predators. This stage plays like a top-down action game, similar to the PS3 game flow.
Collecting power ups from defeated foes allows you to customize your creature with everything from eyes and mouths to various defence mechanisms. As you swim around and eat, your creature grows, letting you take on predators you couldn’t before.
Right from the start you have immense freedom. You can make your creature in a variety of shapes and put its body parts anywhere. You can’t do much with a one-celled creature, but after you’ve sufficiently evolved you get to add legs and progress to the creature phase. The cell phase is quite fun, to the point that it’s over almost too quickly, but the creature phase is fun as well.
The creature phase plays like a third-person action game. You have a nest as a home base and have to either befriend or eradicate the other creatures on your continent. Befriending a creature lets you later recruit them as an ally to fight or impress other creatures with you, as well as letting you heal at their nests.
Hidden around the map are more parts for your creature, so exploration pays off. The creature parts get more in-depth in this stage, with different parts determining your speed if you can jump, glide, dance or sing (to impress other creatures) or how you attack and how strong your attacks are. The number of available parts in this phase makes building your creature very fun. Basically any creature you create will animate in a coherent, though sometimes hilarious, way. At one point my creature looked like a ridiculously tall bow-legged, reptilian giraffe.
It looked pretty silly when it moved, but the animation was convincing. After you’ve befriended or eradicated all the other creatures, your brain grows a bit more and you move on to the tribal stage after one last chance to tweak your creature.
Tribal stage is a simplified real-time strategy game. At the beginning you get to tweak your creature one last time and add clothes and accessories.
Then you form a village and enter organized society. The objective is the same as creature stage. You befriend or kill all the other tribes, but this time you have to gather food and discover new weapons or devices to interact with other tribes. It feels different than the creature phase, despite the similar mechanics, but it is somewhat repetitive. After taking care of all the other tribes you enter the civilization stage.
In civilization stage you get to design your town hall, your vehicles, your houses, factories and entertainment structures.
The goals branch out a bit. You now have commerce so you can trade with other cities to gain power. I found it easier just to make bigger guns and more of them than everyone else, but the other options are there.
This stage again feels like an even grander version of the tribal stage, but it’s still fun. Once you again take care of the other cities you venture into space and the game comes together.
The space stage is big and engaging. It’s by far the most fun stage, but it’s also the most daunting for casual players. You travel around a massive galaxy taking on missions from other intergalactic civilizations, befriending them, attacking them, buying them out. It plays like a huge RPG and there are tons of options.
The galaxy is massive with hundreds of solar systems to explore. As you play you unlock tools to alter planetary landscapes and sculpt the planets so they can become habitable and profitable. You can expand your empire peacefully or by using force. You can use money or diplomacy.
The game really shines at this stage and it’s tons of fun. It’s worth playing the game all the way through, since the evolutionary aspect is really neat, but the space stage is by far the most fun.
There are some problems with “Spore.” None of them ruin the experience for me, but they are noticeable. It’s rather disappointing that the actual gameplay isn’t very innovative, because the premise, creation tools and social interaction, all are.
It’s a fun game but in terms of the gameplay, you’ve done it all before. The first four stages leading up to the space stage can also get a bit repetitive. I found them fun, but did notice some of them getting a bit tedious. This is really only a hindrance to repeat play throughs, but the game makes you want to play it again because you make everything from scratch.
I highly recommend “Spore.” It’s pretty much an experiment in gaming; at its best it’s incredible and at its worst it’s pretty good.
Calen Henry is a graduate of Japanese studies and multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound and has been a gamer since childhood. He is currently on an internship in Geneva, Switzerland.

© 2008 Osprey Media Group Inc. All rights reserved.

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