|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Maxis||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 7, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
The prospect of building a powerful intergalactic empire capable of ruling the cosmos through advanced technology and might is extremely daunting, especially when the process involves nurturing your civilization from a mere single-celled microorganism. Amazingly enough, Maxis' most ambitious effort not only gives you the opportunity to do exactly that; it makes the process accessible, highly creative, and quite entertaining.
Comprised of five distinct sections, Spore tasks you with concocting a creature - you're free to make it as cute, bizarre, or abhorrently distasteful as you choose - in the early stages of its cellular development and guiding it through various steps in the evolutionary process. Each phase is represented by its own unique style of play; the overall game is essentially a series of shorter games woven together seamlessly into an overarching story of growth, discovery, and exploration. The journey from microcosm to cosmic isn't nearly as long as you'd expect, yet it's a humorous and endearing trip that's absolutely worth taking.
The exhausting level of freedom and creativity afforded by the in-game creation toolset is a big part of what makes Spore so impressive. The standalone Creature Creator gave folks a taste of some of the fun and wackiness possible with the system, but making custom creatures and watching them come to life is really only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to using unlocked body parts and components to tweak your beasties on the fly for most of the game, you'll also be designing custom vehicles and building structures for your civilization as it advances and discovers new technologies. It's hard not to get personally invested in your critters as you watch them grow and change. If you're not feeling so creative, the vast Sporepedia is filled with tons of user-generated creatures and other content you can try in your own game. You'll also frequently encounter strange and unusual races of creatures created by other players as NPCs throughout the game.
Life in Spore starts out in the Cell Stage, when a rogue meteor crashes into the ocean of your planet of choice. This space debris hatches the basic molecular elements of what will become your tiny aquatic creature. You can select either an herbivore or a carnivore. The arcade-like gameplay has your amoeba swimming around munching smaller cells, while attempting to avoid ending up as lunch for larger creatures. Eating enough DNA will cause you to grow in short spurts over time, making a number of interesting visual shifts as you surpass the size of your previous predators, which then become your prey. Mating provides an opportunity to add minor improvements to your creature's design, including fins to swim faster and spikes for battling. Before Cell Stage outlives its brief fun, you'll soon have grown big enough to transition to land and evolve into the second phase of gameplay.
The Creature Stage lets you add arms, legs, and other accoutrements to make your beast mobile as it continues its growing process. It's also important to include elements that enhanced their social abilities and give them various means of attack. Taking on a third-person perspective, this action-heavy stage involves running around and getting acquainted with other creatures residing on the planet. Whether you choose to befriend them by engaging in cute social activities like singing, posing, and dancing or choose to slay them and eat their meat for sustenance is completely up to you. Making friends lets several companions join your pack to help along the way, while the alternative is a more straightforward and somewhat disturbing approach. In either case, you'll gradually increase your brain size and earn enough evolution points to proceed. This portion of the game takes a little longer to get through. It's also the last chance you'll have to make any final substantive physical changes to your creature, since the following phases only allow you to adjust their clothing and decoration.
Moving into real-time strategy turf, the Tribal Stage puts you in control of an entire village. Gathering food resources to feed your tribe, allowing for new members to be hatched becomes an important pursuit. You can also make limited improvements to your village infrastructure to improve fishing, hunting, and battle capabilities. Once again, you can either focus on amassing weapons for razing the villages and wiping out nearby tribes or dancing around with silly musical instruments in an attempt to make nice. Every village you co-opt or topple puts you closer to your evolutionary goal.