Few games have seen more hype than Spore this year. It’s designed by Will Wright, the brain behind titles like SimCity and The Sims. I played the first The Sims game for a while when it was released, and I’ve spent hours and hours as a virtual mayor in different SimCity games. I never really got the hang of it, and most games ended in a devastating earthquake unleashed by your truly. Still it was great fun.
A few days before Spore was released, Wright gave an interview where he said that he was afraid all the hype was bad for the game because people’s expectations would be too high. He might have been right, but with the previous hugely successful titles, it’s no wonder his releases are anticipated.
Spore tries to be a lot of things at the same time. Wright had originally wanted to call the game SimEverything, but changed it because he wanted to release something without “Sim” in the title for once. The main theme of the game is evolution, and I find it strange that it’s not being sold with a warning sticker in some parts of the U.S. since the theory of Evolution is just the ramblings of a mad man and all that.
Spore is made up of five mini-games. You start out as a cell, and you have to eat and fight your way up the food chain. Designing the cell is done by the player, everything from shape to colors and patterns. Your cell slowly turns into a water creature and when it’s large enough, it crawls on to land. You then enter the creature stage, where you are presented with a creature designer with a lot more options than the cell designer. The basic concept on each stage is the same - by completing mission you gain points and the points can be used to enhance your creature, which in turn makes it possible for you to take on more powerful creatures. Whether you want to win them over by socialising and making them happy or crush them with violence is up to you.
Gameplay through the various mini-games is about as advanced as you would expect. As a cell, you just move around with the cursor keys. During the creature stage the controls is a bit more advanced and the complexity of each mini-game will increase as your creation advances through time. After the creature stage, there’s the tribe stage, then you move on to the civilization stage and finally it’s about time to explore the universe in the space stage.
It was when I got the civilization stage that I finally felt I was playing a proper game. The first three stages felt like an introduction to the real game. One of the main aspects of Spore is the very impressive design tool. Om different stages you can design your own buildings, vehicles and space ships. The designer is extremely complex and the same time incredibly simple to use. What would normally take hours using ordinary design software can be designed in a matter of minutes by your mother. If designing is not for you, there’s also a large library of pre-made designs you can use in the game. Unfortunately, by not using the designer, you will miss out on a lot of what this game is about.
That was the case for me, I just didn’t want to spend a lot of time playing around with shapes and objects. I’ve now entered the space stage and I must say that I really hope this stage intrigues me, because the rest of the game has completely failed to keep my attention. I bought the game on release date, played for a few hours, then didn’t come back to it until a week later. It might be that, because of the simplicity of the first three mini-games, Spore would be more suited for The Sims players than SimCity players. I can’t help but think that maybe the space stage should have been released as a separate game entirely, and that the four other stages could have been released as Spore for a younger audience.
Spore was a great idea, but it lost some of its momentum during development. From what was supposed to be an advanced life simulator it has turned into a set of schizophrenic mini-games that don’t influence each other except visually. Now I’m looking forward to Will Wrights next game, because the odds are it will be a lot better than this one.
Look, ma, I didn’t mention the controversial DRM at all. Because it’s got nothing to do with the game per se.