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Spore reviewed

Spore

 
Spore: Not a bad game

Brace yourselves before reading this review, because "Not a bad game" is poisonous praise for a Will Wright title! Of course, when you expect the sky, finding just another space exploration game can be disappointing. We try everything to be fair when we tell you what's good about Spore, what's innovative or just plain fun. But we'll also explain the many parts that are not very well designed or become boring after just a few hours.

You might have heard many things about Spore, and most of them positive. In fact, you might have read some of those things in our own GC 2007 or hands-on previews or in our interview with Spore’s executive producer Lucy Bradshaw. But there’s a reason why the “p” is missing from the term “review”, and that reason is obvious: No preview event can give you the same knowledge about a game and its mechanics than spending sufficient time with it in its finished form. Let us tell you what Will Wrights Spore is in our opinion: It is unique in combining five different games (although they share many similarities), which are the five phases of evolution. It is unique in filling your game world with the creativity of hundreds of thousands of other players. And it has an unique editor that allows you to design nearly every living or moving object in the game, from your creature to vehicles to your spaceship. You can even modify whole planets, later in the game. Plus, the game is enormous when it comes to the size of the playing field. Have a look at the info box below…

From Spiral Arm to City

The six pictures below show a zoom from the galaxy level down to a planet. 1 The (already zoomed in) galaxy level, where we still can see the spiral arms. 2 Out of the vastness of space, our known surroundings emerge from one of the spiral arms. We can already see the spheres of our friends (green) and foes. 3 At this zoom level, we can make out our communication range (outer radius) and hyperdrive range (inner radius). Also, the different empires are clearly marked (by the colored lines connecting star systems). We are Pink! 4 Trade routes appear (two parallel lines between star systems), we can also better see the types of stars. We're close to entering our home system (house symbol). 5 We're now in our home system, where we can fly to each planet. The color of the planets' trajectories show how habitable they are. 6 Now we're zooming down onto our home planet's surface and can already make out different buildings in one of our cities. Zooming the camera now doubles as ascending or descending with our spaceship.

What Spore is not

Let us also tell you what Spore is not: It is not a great, genre-defining game. Its main phase, the space age, is just a modern (and to a large extent, mediocre) version of old classics like Starflight, Star Control 2 or Alien Legacy. There is much more micromanagement than we would like to see in a game that should have an epic scope. And the editors, as easy to use they might be, are much more about optics than they are about influencing gameplay: With every phase, they get less important, until they are reduced to pure eye candy in phase 5: There, you design your spaceship in the editor, but that design has no influence on its capabilities at all. Instead, you need to buy equipment for it which is only represented by little icons in your spaceship’s inventory.

Although Spore will begin to bore most experienced gamers after one weekend, they will spend this one weekend in front of their monitor: The game is very addictive, at first, it’s only after 12 hours or so that the repetitiveness of the fifth phase will begin to annoy you. Even then, you might start a new civilization from scratch, or just begin another space phase (you can choose the phase to begin in once you’ve played through the first four phases once). Yes, you can do things differently in the next try. There are just not so many different ways to play as you might think: Spore looks far more complex than it actually is. For example, when you first hear about a “militaristic, religious or economical” approach to the city phase, this sounds like three totally different strategies. But in fact, a “religious” leader will simply equip his vehicles with loudspeakers (for propaganda) instead of weapons. The gameplay technique of conquering cities does not differ much between the general and the preacher: The first shoots down the defences and then the city hall, the second aims his propaganda salvos at the entertainment facilities.

What your goal is

Spore wants to be a sandbox game, it wants you to be creative. It’s not really a game about goals, although reaching the center of the galaxy surely is something which most players will want to do, and there’s also a story goal involved in that. In the first four phases, you want to reach the next phase. But the longest phase, Space, does not really force you to do anything particular. Most of the time, you’ll just expand your empire, build up planets to habitable status, improve your spaceship (which is your Alter Ego). Of course, players want to feel some motivation for doing what they do. So Spore gives you a lot of medals (e.g. for solving missions, for travelling far distances), lets you search for artefacts which form collections, and has an overall ranking, which begins at “Captain” and goes up to “Legend”. Spore also has one hundred “achievements” which you can try to get, for example “Spore fanatic” (playing for 100 hours), “Quest master” (solving 150 missions) or “42” (reaching the centre of the galaxy).

“42” is not the only citation in Spore (in this case, referring to Douglas Adams’ The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). For example, when you’re trading, you’ll hear the tune of the classic Commodore 64 space trading game M.U.L.E.. Also, the whole fifth phase is one big homage to classic space exploration games like Star Control 2 or Starflight. And of course, using “Spice” as the main source of income (there are several colors, differing in value to different races) is a clear reference to Frank Herbert’s Dune cycle – although on Arrakis, spice is found in the sand, not coming out of the planet’s surface as a colored gas. Of course, Spore also takes ideas from modern classics like World of WarCraft (the interface or the dancing). Still, it's a success how the game uses the same interface for five distinct game modes.

Spore: Star Control 2
Spore's fifth phase borrows heavily from games like Star Control 2 -- which is still better in various aspects like diplomacy, fitting out your spaceship and a good mix of story line and free exploration. We suggest you look out for the still maintained open source version, "The Ur-Quan Masters".

Speaking of the galactic core: One minor annoyance we've encountered is that when you actually come close to the innermost cluster of bright stars, there is not only a huge hostile empire to compete against (which is fine). But also a message telling you that “because of the gravity of the dense star clusters here”, your hyper jumps now have a shorter range ”for better accuracy”. What a cheesy trick to make reaching the galactic core more difficult! Apart from this, it does feel like an accomplishment, coming so far from your home world. Also, as Lucy Bradshaw told us a couple of months ago (see interview):"You’ll find that other species have had some common experience in their past. The quest is about piecing together all those elements. It’s for the achiever who really wants to see everything of the game."

Spore: Galactic Core
When you approach the galactic core (the bright cluster in the top of this picture), the game will decrease your range.

Next page: The Five Phases, What's fun and what's not >>>

Leonard McCoy
2459 EXP -
September 6, 2008 - 09:43 #

What a great review that really does tell you what's wrong with Spore: After two days of playing, Spore turns into boredom sporedom.

Player (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 16, 2008 - 11:34 #

On the whole, I agree with your point (and with the preview), although I would not call it Sporedom. I've bought the game (didn't know this review, then, but would have still bought it) and played it for a couple of days, and I have experienced exactly the same thing. But I am also sure that Spore is a game I will be going back to in the months to come, because in one weekend or even one day, I can feel like I really did something epic. It's far easier (both in time and in the complexity) to get from "spore" to UFO in this game than it is to get from Stone Age to Modern Age in Civ 4 -- and that's a good thing for a 30 year old who has other interests in life, too.

Player (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 6, 2008 - 12:10 #

To be honest, I didn't want to read on after the first page because I thought that you're just bashing what I still think is a good or even very good game. (I've been playing it for two days, now.) But I can see from the rest of the article that you at least try to be fair. You seem to have put some effort into playing, that's more than I think some other sites did. Your main error, or differing point of view, is that you want the designing process to have more influence on playing Spore. Would you like a creature that cannot walk at all? Do you not think that the best spot for placing a cannon would be very obvious -- how, do you think, would details like that add to the overall fun? I like Spore for what it is: A tool box I can play around with as much as I want. I already started my second game, and it's enormously fun to meet creatures that I have created in the first game! I also like all phases so far, and I think they all add to the enjoyment. Because, when I begin my journey into space, I have not just "started a new game", I've arrived at that point after many decisions (an not only design decisions!) that I have made in the hours and phases before. That's something I felt was great in the old Civ games, and Spore has an even wider scope than that classic.

Player (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 6, 2008 - 13:52 #

In some point of you review you just miss.
For example: If the design of you creature had more influence on gameplay, the diversety of creature made by players would be critical reduced to a hand full of standard forms.
I really understand why spore will be boring to a lot of players: Uninspired gamers and inspired games don't go too well together, just like uninspired games and inspired gamers.
It just a case of Sim Syndrom: While i was building up a huge pyramid full of aliens wich i made by "crossing" sims with alien genes until i had the original alienform, or were building diffrent forms of highly effective "livingcell-houses" others were bored after a couple of hours because they couldn't think of anything else than getting the neighbour into bed or pool or whirlpool or couch ...

Even if its not the best game, it is worth playing, because - thank god - it's not first person shooter no. 8765762.

(I think the Titlepicture you created is a mess) ;)

Jörg
5433 EXP -
September 6, 2008 - 14:16 #

I disagree on what you say about the influence of the design: A good simulation will allow for more than a "few standard features", this is exactly what Sim City, Sim City 2000 or Sims 1 and 2 have been all about. Spore just does not have this quality, in my opinion. I also do not think myself to be an uninspired gamer: I really wanted to love Spore, as you can see by my very positive previews. And I love those old space exploration games, too. I began playing mesmerized by what I thought was a true jewel and ended up disillusioned. But that's just me speaking, you might have a totally different experience, of course.

title picture: It's a mix of two actual screenshots (most extreme zooms of the galaxy and homeworld). I agree it could have turned out better. I also agree that the existence of Spore is a good thing, for exactly the same reason you mentioned.

Player (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 17:47 #

Yeah, I'm sorry i think i still just want it to be a revolutionary game in every way. But of course it's not.

Borodin (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 6, 2008 - 14:34 #

I agree wholeheartedly with the review. The continual abstraction with each stage from your creature is a design mistake I think. Also I couldn't understand why all the parts weren't made available to me in the creature stage. I had to design something I did not like at all because of the lack of parts, therefore, the idea of "hunting" for the parts I did want just so I could enjoy that phase of the game was not appealing.

Flo_the_G
405 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 00:38 #

/sign

I found the cell phase to be the most fun, btw. ;)

DanekJovax (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 6, 2008 - 17:37 #

As a fellow gamer, I appreciate the depth of this review. I currently do not have Spore yet, since I live in the US and won't have it on my PC for another 24 hours, so I can't respond to the specifics in this article.

As a game designer, however, I can appreciate that Spore is attempting to set new standards in user creativity, and your review reflects that aspect of it well. There are bound to be interface snafus and game-play stumbling blocks (the micro-management, or "MM") in a game as epic as this one. Given this game isn't even 4 days old, your review is still packed with detail and information, and I wonder if you didn't get one of those press versions.

This review is fair, and it is well-thought. I'm aware it is still your opinion, and the truth of things usually resides between the opinions of several good opinions, and hence, I look forward to more fantastic insights into this game.

Thanks! :2)

Vincent
1555 EXP -
September 6, 2008 - 18:03 #

@ Jörg: Do you know whether Will Wright really had such a big influence on the game or did he has a big team of designer and he was more the man for the interviews, conferences etc. ?

Vincent
1555 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 17:46 #

Well, former Civilization 4 Lead Designer Soren Johnson and Indie Designer Chaim Gingold worked on the game, at Mobygames I read Wright was the "Chief Designer" and had the "vision" of Spore.

Jörg
5433 EXP -
September 9, 2008 - 00:25 #

As Will Wright has been unavailable for interviews for the last 12 months or so, with very few exceptions, and judging from a speech I've heard him give in this time, I am sure that his name is not just a label on the retail box. I am also sure that his function was more that of a Mastermind and "Chief Tester" than that of an producer or lead designer.

Starkiller
1470 EXP -
September 6, 2008 - 22:05 #

I liked the review very much. It also told me the things I need to know to make an informed decision about buying the game or not, and decided not to buy the game.

I was hoping for a game where I could play out evolution by adding features to my creature that work and remove stuff that doesn't, or altering my creatures to live in a new environment, but here it sounds more like you're crating something in the first one or two hours of the game and the creature itself doesn't change after that...not by your hand. So I think Spore is not the game I was looking for.

Player (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 6, 2008 - 23:15 #

You can adapt your creature up to the tribal stage, making adjustments that improve it's abilities but dependent upon the parts you have collected along the way vs the cost of the parts. So you need to balance what you can afford vs what you want/need. On the other hand you are not forced to go to the next level so you can always try and collect the parts and or currency ( DNA ) so that you can improve your creature with fewer limitations.

It seems to me that Spore is more enjoyable if you don't try to rush through it ( which seems to be the case with other games ) which is why some "hardcore" gamers might not enjoy it as much as they are missing out on the fun of it all because they want to beat it as fast as possible.

Starkiller
1470 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 06:18 #

Why do you associate hardcore gamers with "rushing through the game"?
I think some normal gamers would do that, not casual gamers, just regular gamers. But Hardcore gamers would test out everything there is and try to find every single body-part there is.

Player (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 10:25 #

Ok that might have been a generalization but from my reading of various forums the people who seem to think there is a lack of depth or limited replay value etc fit into that category as they have rushed through it. Now Iam not saying that some parts don't need tweaking ( in a patch ) or perhaps fleshing out via an expansion, both of which I am sure Maxis will do given there goals for Spore. In this regard I believe Maxis will take on board the comments good and bad around the web to try to improve it.

Random (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 01:37 #

I agree with this review.

For me the first 3 stages were really good, I agree that the creature stage got very repetitive after a bit but over all good fun. I was disappoint at the size of the civ stage, it was very limited, I expected more options and more than a couple of hours gameplay with it (to delete vehicles, click on their portrait twice and then on the cross in the corner.)

Space was awesome when I first saw it but with all the micro managing involved it got tiring after a bit. I would love some more automation, the ability to defend your planets effectively and the ability to trade space via trade routes automatically would be great.

I was looking for a game which was like civilisation in space and as yet it doesn't really live up to it.

Brandoman (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 02:06 #

The part about being unable to destroy your units isn't true. When you select a unit, you will notice a small red X button up in the corner of it's portrait. If you hit that, the unit will be destroyed and you will be refunded a small amount of money.

Jörg
5433 EXP -
September 8, 2008 - 23:24 #

Hi Brandoman & Random, I was not aware of that. Thanks for pointing that out, and I am changing it in the text.

Rick from USA (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 02:08 #

This game will be a future classic.....

Just like when i spent day's at my old atari ST playing Dungeon Master...

It wasn't till many year later.. It was one of the best computer games I ever played.

-rick

Starkiller
1470 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 06:15 #

I loved Dungeon Master, I played through it three or four times, but I disagree that Spore will get anywhere near that. Nearly everybody who I talked to and most of the guys here who played the game all said basically the same thing: most phases work well and have great ideas, but everything gets very repetitive after a short while.

That doesn't sound like great re-play value to me. Sure you could do it all over again with a different creature, but the game would play exactly the same.

Vincent
1555 EXP -
September 7, 2008 - 18:52 #

Good review. I made the decision that I won't buy the game until it's cheaper. No one should pay 50 € for an abortive experiment.

Cato (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 9, 2008 - 16:18 #

I highly doubt that you've played the game long enough. Spore is no about "winning", it is about playing, experimenting, savouring the moment. You obviously didn't get that.

Jörg
5433 EXP -
September 9, 2008 - 17:55 #

I doubt that I can convince you of my ability of "getting it" in regards to Spore, but I can assure you I played the game for many hours. Just look at the screenshots, all of them are from my own Spore games.

Rob (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 9, 2008 - 17:49 #

The civilization phase is horrible. Really just bad. Had fun in the cell phase and creature phase. Tribe phase was ok. I played them all on Hard right after each other three times and each time i got to the civilization phase i got bored.

Its a shame. By the way game difficulty modes should be called:

Cheat Mode
That's it?
Easy

instead of"

Easy
Normal
Hard

Player (not verified)
0 EXP -
September 9, 2008 - 18:17 #

ITS BONUSES, NOT BONI

READ A GODDAMN DICTIONARY

Vincent
1555 EXP -
September 9, 2008 - 18:56 #

Has anyone noticed there is an advert on GamersGlobal that promises a fast, free (!) and legal(!) download of Spore. ;-)

Flo_the_G
405 EXP -
September 9, 2008 - 20:53 #

Wait, there are still ads on the internet? Oh, right, Adblock. ;P

Benzin im Blut (not verified)
0 EXP -
August 23, 2011 - 09:19 #

Does "not a bad game" mean "a good game" ... i think no :-( Have been waiting for it and must say, im a little bit dissapointed.