Spore PC, Mac
Check it out, guys! It’s that new game by Will Wright, the guy who made The Sims! So it’s got to be totally amazing, right? Because The Sims sold like six billion copies, and spawned an unholy amount of add-ons and spin-offs, such was its universal appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike! But this isn’t The Sims – it’s something else. Something that won’t get your 13 year-old daughter all excited at the prospect of being able to recreate Big Brother on her laptop, admittedly. But something potentially far more interesting.
The idea of Spore is that you guide the evolution of a species, all the way from its life as a single-cell organism, to an all-conquering, space-faring super race, and… look, I’ll be straight with you, here – what I’d really like to do right now is ignore all notions of fairness or objective criticism, and just rant about how utterly disappointed I was with Spore when I first got my teeth into it. And why was I so upset? Because the game was actually rubbish? Sort of. Not really. It’s not rubbish. It’s just not what I’d been led to believe it would be.
I’m not usually one to follow hype, because I’ve seen the crushing disappointment it can put people through, and it’s not something I’ve been keen to sample. Peter Molyneux? Under-appreciated genius. Too Human? Don’t see why everyone had such a huge problem with it, I thought it was really fun. Spore, though, was something I’d kept an eye on, because it sounded genuinely exciting. When Will Wright did that demonstration of the game where he was messing around on a planet for ten minutes and then suddenly pulled the camera back until it’d made a seamless transition to viewing the entire solar system, I literally gasped. You can keep your video games, son – this is something else. Then, Spore Creature Creator came out, and I promptly threw a fiver in EA’s face in order to mess around with it. And good fun it was, too – many an hour was spent making weird and wonderful creatures with six legs and eyes on their hands, and then watching in amazement as the game more-or-less succesfully animated my entirely impractical creations with ease. There were some stats and stuff for each creature that seemed loosely related to the pieces I was adding, but to hell with that – I was having fun.
Then the actual game showed up. And I got upset. So, what changed?
For a start, your species’ evolution is split up into five distinct stages, each of which plays like a fairly naff rip-off of another game. The first stage sees your single-cell organism swimming around, trying to eat plants or other living organisms in order to grow larger. It plays like flOw, only without the interesting visual style or beautiful sound design. The second stage, where your creature grows legs and is able to start roaming around the planet properly, plays like pretty much any online RPG you might’ve come across, only without any other players to interact with – just a load of other creatures to make friends with, or destroy. After that comes the ‘tribal’ stage, which is more like a scaled-down version of Age of Empires, and again sees you trying to make friends with, or wipe out, the other tribes. And so on. Put simply, most of Spore just feels like stripped-down versions of other games, with the creature creator sort of draped over them. But I liked the creature creator, didn’t I? Yes, but only because I was ignoring all the less interesting stuff in it – stuff that is now integral to the game. If you want to succeed in Spore, you need to constantly make sure you’re maximising your creature’s potential, swapping parts in and out all the time to raise one or two skills, just so you’re more able to befriend or destroy the other species on the planet. The notion of creativity goes pretty much out of the window, as all your choices become dictated by game mechanics and efficiency, but in a way that isn’t particularly deep or fun. Sure, you could add that pair of cat-ears to finish off the look you were going for – but why do that, when your precious and finite ‘gene points’ would be better spent on that new jaw that spits acid? Well, because I’m trying to make something that looks like a cat, is why. But I also don’t want to make the game harder for myself. Nnnnngh.
If you’re the sort to get hung up on such things, the game’s visuals aren’t really set to blow your mind, either – which is fine, but the game runs a fair bit slower than you’ll reckon it should. It looks at least a few years old, and yet the framerate will have an absolute fit at times, lest you’re running the game on some fairly serious hardware.
There are a number of nice touches that make Spore fairly entertaining, though – not least the way that your friend’s creatures, vehicles and buildings can all pop up in your game unexpectedly. The way you can create your species’ own unique musical theme by messing with a series of simple parameters is also a neat little idea, albeit hardly enough to save the game. I’m sure there was other stuff I liked, but I’m having trouble remembering any of it, because every time I think about Spore, I just sort of look down at the ground and sigh wistfully.
Ultimately, as interesting as Spore’s concept is, the actual gameplay works against its offer to let you be creative, and the gameplay isn’t really worth the sacrifice of the creativity – especially when the standalone creature creator was released ages ago. For a fiver. This alone makes Spore difficult to recommend. It’s not a terrible game, by any means – my earlier accusation of “stripped-down versions of other games, with the creature creator sort of draped over them” still makes for a more interesting experience than most of the idiot-fodder on the shelves, and it’s certainly more than the sum of its parts. It’s just that the parts are mostly a bit dull and not really what we expected, and combined with the unholy amount of hype placed upon the game, they make up one of the most disappointing titles released this year. Just because it wasn’t absolutely incredible.
But then, I quite liked Too Human. So what do I know?