It's been in the works for seven long years, but Spore--the latest opus of Will Wright, creator of SimCity, Sim Earth, and The Sims--has finally arrived, and we're happy to report that it was worth the wait. Not only does Spore give gamers the micro-management satisfaction inherent in Wright's biggest titles, it adds a dose of action and a grander scheme than most games of any genre. We only wish that the game was tested a bit more before its release.
Using the model of evolution, Spore simulates millions of years of natural selection and adaptation by having players start in the primordial ooze (Cell Stage) and complete their journey by having your highly developed beings take to the stars (Space Stage). Between those bookends are three other stages (Tribal, City, and Civilization).
Customizing Your Lifeform
Our creation, which we named Modnar ("random" spelled backward), struggled to live and adapt in the Cell Stage's eat-or-be-eaten gameplay where we guided our life-form through a liquid environment, munching on plants or other creatures. Gobbling other creatures rewarded us with DNA points, which serve two important functions: regenerating health lost when attacked by predators and enabling your creature to evolve. Using the Creature Creator, we were able to add stingers, extra sets of eyes, and other beneficial body parts after mating with others of our species. This was as simple as dragging-and-dropping parts onto our organism and adjusting them (by size, position, and angle) using our mouse's scroll wheel.
Spore even offers suggestions on where to place certain body parts for optimal performance; for example, while in the Cell Stage the game told us not to place a mouth on the side of the body instead of on the head. The tip came in handy, as feeding through the side of the body was quite difficult. Fortunately, the next time that we entered the Creature Creator, we redesigned Modnar so that his maw was in the appropriate place.
Highly Evolved Gameplay?
Once moving onto land, the game takes a different turn. Our society of (now) four-legged creatures began to use tools and build complex structures and societies. We even had to fend off attacks from other cultures in order to preserve our own, and eventually became a space-faring people that terraformed planets. In a unique twist, many of the other life-forms that you encounter in the game are actually creatures created by other players. Information on each species is stored in a central database and redistributed to populate other players' games.
Although we had enormous amounts of fun crafting our own critters and societies, the gameplay was somewhat repetitive; if we weren't eating, mating, fighting, or evolving, we were building tools, structures, and evolving a culture. If you're a fan of Wright's previous works, you'll be thoroughly satisfied with Spore, which balances easy gameplay mechanics and fair (but not overbearing) challenge. A big plus is that the install disc contains both the Mac and PC versions of the software. The game occasionally froze while we were playing, but patches have been released that remedy the problem.
Graphics and Music
Graphically, we loved Spore's simple, cartoon-like visuals, which enables the game to run smoothly on systems with integrated graphics solutions (such as on our Apple MacBook), as well on machines with discrete GPUs. Spore's music consists of generally soft, ambient tunes that aren't particularly memorable--which is good. With the hours upon hours we spent tweaking our creation, any obvious melodies would've probably driven us insane from repetition.
Spore may not be the revolutionary game that it was hyped to be, and it is somewhat repetitive, but its scope is admirable, simulating the evolutionary model in an easily accessible and fun manner; the game even keeps a time line of your creature or society's growth over millions of years. Wright has intelligently designed Spore into one of the freshest titles to hit the gaming scene in some time.