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Spore Review

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Developer: Maxis Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 7, 2008 Also On: None

The ultimate god game has finally arrived. Forget about Black and White or The Sims. Spore is truly the god of god games. Will Wright’s latest innovative undertaking starts players off as single-celled organisms with the ultimate goal of evolving your creature and eventually controlling the universe. Sounds like a pretty expansive experience? You bet. While it may not be as complex as some games, it provides all of the necessary tools to make each stage of evolution believable.

Spore is the video game equivalent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are even the giant black monoliths, but what it’s all about are the steps of evolution that led to our exploration of space. You see, Spore is essentially five different games in one package. The first is the Cell Stage of life, the second is where life goes on land and is known as the Creature Stage. Next comes the Tribal Stage, followed by the Civilization Stage and finally the Space Stage.

Since each stage acts as their own individual game, it is best to detail them separately and in order. The Cell Stage is where life began on Earth. Instead of walking reptiles and mammals we have single-celled organisms in the ocean. The Cell Stage plays a lot like the PS3 title flOw. In flOw, players guide a single-celled organism around an ocean eating up smaller organisms (and sometimes vastly larger at great risk). This then led to the growth of your organism and eventually its evolution into a different species. The Cell Stage of Spore is just like that, except you have the option from the start of either being a herbivore or a carnivore.

The next stage takes place when your newly evolved creature hits land. With the detailed Creature Creator, you give your organism legs, feet, arms, hands and a mouth. These are not limited to what you would picture as human body parts. You may choose to have pinchers for a mouth or a three-fingered hand. You may even decide that you don’t want your creature to have hands at all and put it on four legs. All of the characteristics are up to you, within the constraint of “DNA points” which I will get to in a minute.

The second stage of development in Spore is the Creature Stage. This is where each of the various creatures act primarily on their own. While they belong to a species and can group with one another, you are limited to having one, two or three group members depending on the size of your brain. The whole idea of this stage is to gain the DNA points and evolve your creature with these points by adding improved body parts. Each body part has a value, either for attack, health, social ability, etc. and the higher this value is, the more affective your creature becomes. It costs you DNA points to buy these.

While the Creature Stage is all about evolving your creature to its highest ability, the Tribal Stage is more about organizing into factions and performing tasks that will benefit the group. Where the Cell Stage was more like flOw, the Tribal Stage is more like a Warcraft or Starcraft type strategy game, only much more simplified. The collective need of your community is the most basic one of any living being: food. You hunt as a group, collect food and preserve/protect it as if it were gold.

In fact, in the Tribal Stage of Spore food is treated as a currency. Food is used not only to heal, make babies (you are limited the number of villagers you have) and construct buildings. That’s not to say you are going to construct a house of meat, rather the buildings may cost you 25 units of food. This makes sense, given the physical nature of building things. These buildings will then provide you with upgraded weapons (spears, stone axes) and instruments. While in the Creature Stage you danced and sang to win allies, in the Tribal Stage you use instruments. Whether you want to wipe out a rival tribe is up to you. Let’s just say it’s easier to befriend at least one of them so that they aren’t all attacking your base. The goal of the Tribal Stage is either to eliminate or ally with all of the tribes.

The fourth stage of development in Spore is the Civilization Stage. This is where you take the creature and tribe that you created and conquer other civilizations. There are a total of twelve competing civilizations, all of the same species as yours, except each have different abilities. Some are economic states, others are military or religious. If you have a military state you obviously use force to conquer the map. Religious states try to convert rival states to take them over. It’s an interesting concept and not too far from real life.

This stage is still kind of like the real-time strategy that you found in the Tribal Stage, except now you have to build houses, factories, entertainment and defense. All of these structures are customizable, as well as the vehicles, using the same tools that you used to build a creature. You can choose the color and style, as well as its attributes. For instance if you want your boat to be faster you might put rockets on the back. You start off with ground forces and will earn both water and air as you conquer more civilizations.

Instead of food the currency is spice, which is harvested. You can enter into trade agreements with rival states as well as provide them with gifts. Doing this makes them more likely to be friendly towards your civilization, which in turn guarantees your security. Besides this you can also purchase rival states or ask them to join you in battle. The whole geo-political framework is very basic but it serves its purpose for what is about an hour long stage of the game. After you conquer or ally with all of the civilizations, it’s time to enter the Space Stage.

The spaceship that your civilization launches into space will serve as your link between solar systems throughout the galaxy. It comes equipped with defensive and offensive weaponry, as well as a cargo area. Moving your ship around is as simple as clicking on the surface or by using the directional pad. Scrolling with your mouse wheel adjusts the altitude that your craft will fly at, as well as the plus and minus buttons on the keyboard. Other than that you will only have to click on cities, enemy crafts and things such as animals or plants to interact with the world. For instance, you may want to beam up a species of herbivores to put on one of your colonies.

The Space Stage is a lot like the Civilization Stage in many respects, only at a much larger scale. At its basics are a highly customizable series of colonies that you can plant on both inhabited and uninhabited planets. You may have to conquer the planet first either from another species in the Space Stage or lesser species that may only be in the Tribal Stage yet. Nonetheless, the Space Stage is a geo-political simulation at its core. Your essential goal is to build an empire of connected colonies and ultimately reaching the center of the universe.

It’s easier said than done, however. Early on you will learn that the strong arm tactics used in the prior stages won’t work in the Space Stage. You need to build trading partners and alliances if you want to succeed. Otherwise if you are hostile to a rival civilization, they will declare war on you and constantly attack your various colonies, thus preventing you from expanding further into space. It will devolve into a back-and-forth between your colonies coming under attack and offense on their colonies. That said, each civilization has a “capital” planet where there are about eight to ten cities that you will need to take out or get to surrender. You will need the capital planet, as well as all of the planets of a civilization in order for them to no longer exist.

Since the military route is only one part of the Space Stage, I will now talk about the other option: the diplomatic route. All civilizations will begin with a neutral (yellow face) disposition towards your civilization. You can improve relations by doing missions for them, giving them “gifts” or establishing trade routes. Eventually over the course of a trade period, a bar will fill up. Once it is full and there is goodwill towards you (green face), that civilization will offer their planet up for sale. It will cost you a good amount of spice (the currency in Spore), but it is the only way to expand without taking the aggressive approach. Obviously the alternative is attacking a rival civilization, creating a hostile relationship (red face) and will result in war.

The end result is a fantastically unique and innovative video game chronicling the process of evolution that anyone would enjoy and everyone should experience. What Will Wright was able to do with this game is remarkable. He pieced together elements from a number of different genres and made a comprehensive game from it. Critics will say that the elements are far too basic to fully enjoy. I say that this only makes Spore that much more appealing since you will focus more on strategy and action, less on micromanagement, while at the same time being accessible to non-gamers. It is hard to say how long the appeal for Spore will last. With its ability to create and share creatures, the possibilities are limitless. I can, however, definitively say that Spore is a highly addictive game that fully captures and realizes the creation and evolution of life on this planet, as well as on ones that we do not call home.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 10
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.2
Written by Kyle Review Guide