Spore: First Impressions

Posted by | September 20, 2008

With the debut of the latest Sim game 2 weeks ago, many have gotten a taste of Spore and have found it pleasant. The gameplay is familiar to those experienced with world-building simulation games – not surprising, coming from Will Wright and Maxis, creators of “Sim” -everything games.

But some find it lacking the spice of SCIENCE they were hoping to encounter.

At least, that’s how it appears in the first phases of the game. Perhaps not every player wants to dig deep into DNA, RNA, genomes and evolutionary theory. But some expected more “edutainment” value from the gameplay itself. The first few levels seem to rush you through the evolutionary process, and feeding and reproduction play an arbitrary, although necessary, part of evolving your life form. The commercial featuring the term “creatio-lutionism” is not far from the mark. You are an active, (presumably) intelligent designer who decides what body parts your creature will sprout in the next generation.

However, a lot of detail behind the scenes has been put into the Science of Spore, as seen with the playable prototypes they make available on their website. With the breadth of science involved in Spore, it’s somewhat disappointing it’s not called out more within the game itself, at least to eggheads and nerds who like that kind of thing. Let us suffer so that others may play a rich, complex but non-nerdy game.

Most of the undercover science affects the interaction of creatures in the world around you and although you really don’t see a lot of it in action, overall it really adds to the game experience. With that being said, let’s delve into the gameplay of Spore.

Gameplay

Spore is a fun simulation game where you design your own creation from a simple cell level to a relatively complex creature with a Bigger Brain and social skills. Available in multiple platforms, the game combines elements from real time strategy, life simulation and “god” games. With 3 difficulty levels: easy, normal and hard, you can choose how you want to play. There are no negative consequences of dying, so don’t worry that you will go extinct! You simply start as the next generation, however keep in mind that the actions and choices you make are said to affect your future being, but that adds to a unique game experience each time you play.

The gameplay is really relaxed in that sense, as it encourages you to experiment with your actions and interact with the world around you. Death just heralds the dawn of the next generations in the early phases, and then has little consequences later as you just respawn at your home city/home world. Do be aware that every death is noted on your species’ historical timeline, so it’s best avoided if you want to avoid seing skull and crossbones in your progress. If you tire of your creature and want to start another one, you can jump right into a later phase once you make it through once. So if you don’t enjoy being a blob with eyes at the beginning, you don’t have to go through it again.

As you proceed through the game, you are at first just an individual (cell and creature phases) but then you evolve into controlling the actions of your entire species (Tribal, Civilization and Space Age). All in all, the game is reminiscent of world-building games like SimCity and Civilization with aspects of Black & White, SimLife and Creatures mixed in. Although the complexity is limited early in the game, your time spent is well worth it in the final Space phase as you will encounter rich storytelling and bizarre beings as you explore and modify the entire game Universe.

You begin by picking a starting planet within your game galaxy, which becomes your homeworld as you progress towards the Space Age.

Cell Phase

When you start the game with your blob creature, you can choose whether you can play as an herbivore and consume plant cells, or as a carnivore and consume animal cells. You can can “evolve” to omnivore if you want by choosing the right mouthparts when you reproduce.

The opening graphic introduces life on your planet via a meteorite impact with the surface. Once you hit, you “hatch” out and begin your evolutionary journey along with other cell creatures similar to you, in that you’re all blobs with eyes and mouths.

Welcome to life in the sea! You must eat to live, and you live to eat. Once you eat enough and gain cash, you can reproduce. If you encounter pieces of the meteorite as you swim around, you get new “DNA” pieces that give you new body parts. You have to give them credit, they at least try to sound science-y. Collect different DNA body parts and eat enough you can evolve and spend your cash to evolve.

The cell stage is short and very limited to what parts you encounter early in the game. Once you’ve eaten enough and are complex enough, you can “evolve” legs (and lungs, apparently) and move out onto land. After you’ve hit that stage but before you sprout legs, you can still continue to swim around as your blob creature but you can’t develop on its complexity anymore, so might as well take the leap and start walkin’.

We’ll be continuing our Spore series with an in-depth look at each Phase and strategies on how to make the most of your life as a creature struggling to evolve its way to galactic domination.


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