Daniel Golding
13 Sep, 2008

Spore Review

PC Review | It's been long anticipated, but does the everything-sim live up to the hype?
    It seems to me that games are mirroring the emotional development of humanity in a similar way.

- Will Wright

The sheer scale of Spore is breathtaking. The game fosters a giddy scope not yet seen in a videogame, as Will Wright and his team at Maxis take us on a hypothetical history of life and the universe; from the cellular to the inter-cosmic, all in one breath. From the micro to the macro. Players are faced with the task of seeing a species safely through evolution: from unicellular organism through to spacefaring empire, controlling every step of evolution and advancement along the way.

As incredible as all this is however, scope alone does not make a videogame. And certainly, one of the biggest problems in talking about Spore is conveying the actual experience of playing the game and not getting tied down in the all-encompassing sweep of the game's ambition. It's a point that was often lost on early previews of the game, where those without first-hand experience of the game were left scratching their heads. How does one game capture such a wide variety of experience?

The answer lies behind the monumental scale. Within Spore there is a history of something else, something closer to Planet Earth, and our hearts. Strange as it may seem, Spore is also a loving history of videogaming.

All creatures, great and small.

All creatures, great and small.
Each of the five stages of Spore - the cell, creature, tribal, civilization, and space phases - are cleverly crafted to unobtrusively guide the player as they become slowly familiar with Spore's concepts and mechanics, each sticking around just long enough before wearing out their welcome. However, they also to tap into our common cultural familiarity with videogaming. We all know and understand Pac-Man. We are all familiar with how it works, and so we are quickly cued into understanding the Cell phase, as we guide our micro-organism through primordial soup, evolving all the way. In the creature stage, we quickly move on to action-adventure games: it isn't Zelda or even World of Warcraft, but it’s a vague approximation of what we understand of third-person gaming. Here, we impress or overcome other species in an attempt to coax our creature into realising, 2001-like, that tools can be a powerful ally to advocating our own interests. But it's also an moment of exploration: like any adventure game, the thrill lies in discovering our surroundings and successfully overcoming obstacles and challenges.

The tribal stage and the civilization stages are perhaps two sides of the same coin; the tribal stage being more Populous, the civilization stage being a real-time Civilization, and Age of Empires straddling them both. Micromanagement and prioritising both play strong roles in these stages, as the viewpoint pulls further back to encompass control over the many life-forms of your group, rather than the individual leader of prior stages.

It's also simple enough to suggest that the space stage is a likable enough incarnation of any number of space-age micromanagement and exploration games, completing our journey through a gaming history of complexity. In this sense, the space stage feels like a real culmination of all prior efforts. It's both a good thing and a bad thing, as the space stage offers by far the most complex stage of Spore, with trading, conflict, diplomacy, exploration and more to contend with. Spore has well and truly prepared you for the depth of this part of the game, which is an expert combination of all previous sections. On the other hand, by comparison the other stages offer almost nothing to return to, such is their limited nature.

The final frontier is also Spore's deepest stage.

The final frontier is also Spore's deepest stage.
However, once your species advances far enough to reach for the stars, the Spore part of Spore has taken too strong a hold to really warrant further comparison with other games. The genius of Spore lies in creation. Because while the actual gameplay elements of all the aforementioned stages will evoke memories of your own history with videogaming, nothing evokes memory like your own history of Spore.

Through all stages, the player imparts their own stamp on virtually all aspects of Spore. Not only is the look and capabilities of a species evolved by the player in a compellingly unique way, but almost everything else - buildings, planes, boats, costumes, even anthems - will bear the mark of the player by the time a game is complete. And not just in a cursory manner, as we aren't talking about simple colours variances or decal details. Each building is designed by you from the ground up. Each vehicle is planned by you to maximum efficiency, power, and style.

In this sense, Spore is very much more than the sum of its parts. The feeling of attachment to your species is undeniably strong, and it transforms Spore from a collection of interesting mini-games into something great. To look back at the history of your first species is to feel like you are looking back at your own history. It feels strange to say it, but this simple, candy-flossed game might even manage to tell you something about yourself. Are you carnivore or herbivore? Bloodthirsty, or intent on persuading others to agree with you? Simply taking a look at the visual history of your species through the in-game timeline is fascinating. The evolution of your creature, the appearance of limbs and clothing, the design of your buildings and vehicles - all feel like genuinely unique steps in your species' advancement. Spore gives us our own petrie dish to create life in - as if we were suddenly God of our childhood enclosure of Sea-Monkeys.

Your civilisation bends to your will.

Your civilisation bends to your will.
The online components of Spore play a major part in the success of the game as well. Indeed, the game is successful not because of the 'game' elements, which, as we’ve already hinted, are pretty mundane. It succeeds because of the non-traditional videogame elements: the creative design aspects and the ability to share your creations. Before our first Spore night was out, for example, we were amazed to see that our species had been domesticated by another player in another game of Spore, and was being used as livestock. You’ll encounter your fair share of copyright infringement along the way, as incredibly detailed user-created carbon copies of X-Wings and U.S.S. Enterprises do battle in space, while entire species of Barack Obama or Companion Cubes graze in the plains below.

It’s here that Spore almost takes that final step away from gaming that Will Wright and the Sim series has always threatened to do and becomes more of a creation-based Facebook. And yes, if the creation and sharing utilities were all that Spore was, we’d probably still recommend it. But it’s the implementation of your creations within the gameplay of Spore, no matter how cursory - or some would say derivative - the experience is, that really combines the game into one terrific holistic experience.

Complaints about Spore's gameplay depth, or repetitiveness are surprisingly common. However, everyone might not be for Spore, but Spore is definitely for everyone. There’s something in here that anyone could get real enjoyment out of - hardcore gamers and first time game-phobics included. Like the Sim series, it taps into our innate urge to create, and gives players just enough latitude and gameplay to really care about their creations. It’s a case of the players really making the game. Though Spore presents, on its surface, the micro and macro of history and space, it’s the micro of creation and the macro of community that make it great.
The Score
Micro to macro, creation to community, Spore is a wonderfully imaginative and engaging experience. Don't expect great gameplay - instead, expect creativity you never knew you had, and a real attachment to the creatures in your virtual petrie dish. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Spore Content

Spore set to evolve to the silver screen
03 Oct, 2009 Game to be adapted as animated feature.
Second Spore expansion already in the works
14 Oct, 2008 Creatures in space.
Spore expansion on the way
13 Oct, 2008 Spore turns creepy and cute next month.
5 years ago
It also spawned the best rick roll of all time


Might have to check this out on PC when I've finished with Psychonauts and all the goodies at GOG.com (forgot how great Kingpin is).
5 years ago
I dunno how many other people are in my position, but the main problem I have with this game is that I was expecting great gameplay. Or rather, some gameplay. Getting from day dot all the way into space in 4 hours was crushingly anticlimactic for me, and since being annoyed by the galactic combat, I've not actually gone back and played it. As someone who was expecting more from each stage, I also found that spending any time on elaborate designs comes to nothing when the stage is over within an hour (in the case of one particular stage, mind-bogglingly encouraged by the reward of an achievement). By the time you're in space, the only design you often get to see is your ship, and even then it's rarely close-up.

I guess I was just a bit disappointed, after so many years of hype. I'm sure I'm in the vast minority though. I've become addicted to Sins of a Solar Empire as a kind of emotional rebound.
5 years ago
From what I understand, Spore is a brilliant toolset, and a pathetic game. Kind of a shame, I guess, but at least it delivers on something.
5 years ago
Spore is a good game, however there are flaws with some of the major components of the game. Space combat, enough said really as everyone seems to hate it. Also the beginning of the space stage doesn't allow you free reign, I don't want to colonise the planet you suggested it sucks! But all the other planets have their spice geysers removed so you have to colonise there icon_rolleyes.gif

Other than that it's a solid game, but I do wish EA didn't implement CIDER for the Mac version. The Direct X emulation and such throws off my colour profile and disables all the GPU acceleration in the OS while giving crap performance in game, my GPU is far better than the settings allow me to use.
5 years ago
This review seemed like it had the first bit cut out..
Spore sounds good, but i just don't have the funds at the moment.
5 years ago
I fell NO atahcment to my creatures as they can be modified within each section at whim. There is no consequence to my choice. If I don't like it, enter creature mode and change it, rather then actually accepting and overcoming my creatures limitations, resulting in ALL creatures eventually chosing the level 5 attack, pose or other attrbute part becasue it walks all over the others. And in the end thats the games only real challenge. Search 4 levels for the best parts. Add them anf conquer.

If you like the editors, being creative is fun. Its just a shame that nothing you make has any real consequence, and therefore no real gameplay value beyond the hunt.
5 years ago
But doesn't that mirror natural selection to a degree? Only those who can adapt with better minds and bodies can survive?
5 years ago
but its not natural selection - you are not forced to let you "weaker" creature die and start over - you just build a better one..which becomes the model for current generations, not a one off "evolution" that proves itself.

On a side note...other creatures being made "extinct" by killing your quota also sucks. Why can't I eat my fill but leave enough to reproduce to ensure future kills. Oh thats right....you move on to the next stage, nothing you did in the previous ones matter (in fact before you move on your invited to undo any previous changes and remake your creature to suit the next stage) All of which beomes mute becasue in the end game you are a "ufo"
5 years ago
It seems to me that you're playing to "Win". It's easily possible for "weaker" creations to survive the ages and each stage gives you attributes based on how you play the previous ones. Your race might become religious weirdos (mine), accounting freaks (samiboi's) or a race that makes war with everyone like many of user created races I've found.

Having played around with several different play styles I've noticed that if you aim to "Win" you miss out on most of the experience. I'm guessing a few people won't get that and just say that Spore is rubbish.
5 years ago
Maybe - but apart from "winning" the only point is creature editing - which I could do for free in creature creater. After all, you can't tell me your hangin around for the limited, repetitive game play??

I think if this had been a console title (wii) I would have been alot more forgiving. As a PC title, its just too limited. Its another "black & white" and "fable" - great promise with reduced delivery....
5 years ago
Sinthesys wrote
But doesn't that mirror natural selection to a degree? Only those who can adapt with better minds and bodies can survive?

It's inteligent design.

You being the inteligent designer.
5 years ago
This game really is awesome. You have the feeding frenzy type game, the adventure type action/making friends game, an RTS that is basic but fun, a more advanced RTS, then space exploration. So awesome, can't wait for some expansions, as long as they aren't "Stuff Packs".
5 years ago
I love Spore, pity I haven't been able to play much because of exams. icon_sad.gif Though I do understand what people mean by limited gameplay. Some expansion packs would really be a blessing for this game, just adding depth to some of the stages, giving some more complexity to interstellar relations apart from piling up potential allies with cash. And maybe the option to get your own interstellar fleet to attack other planets. And space battles. That'd be cool. But I like Spore, I swear.
5 years ago
I am up to space now. I am trying not to play it much, so that when I return it to get a new copy, I won't lose out on heaps. Still annoyed that I have to start again though.
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Australian Release Date:
  1/09/2008 (Deleted)
  Electronic Arts
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