Game Review : PC : Spore

Yes, Spore is finally here.  This is a game that I’ve been waiting for for over two years.  A game who’s scope and scale and expandability were, allegedly, above and beyond anything that has come before.

Did it get there?  I’m not sure yet, but this review is a synopsis of what I’ve found out so far.

Let me be clear from the get-go.  If you are a PC gamer, you will enjoy this game a lot. Get it. Now.  For the rest of you, let me tell you a quick story about gaming, Spore, and why I love ’em both.

Previously to the full game coming out, they released the “Spore Creature Creator” (SCC).  This is a simple, yet fairly powerful, 3d-creature editor/animator/movie maker.

Here’s a couple of my early attempts.  And yes, there is an “upload to Youtube” button in the program.  As a quick sidenote, this game is VERY well integrated with the international dumptrucks known as “Internet”. More on that in a couple paragraphs.  After the movies and the moment.

This was one of my early creations. I was trying to make something scary and terrifying.

This is my first creation to take through the full game.

My “gaming moment” occurred during the second or third stage of the game, after my creation has evolved into an air-breathing, earth-bound being.   I was wandering around the countryside looking for food (i.e. other wonderful creations to consume).  As I was about to launch an attack with my pack, I heard a vicious roar.  Panning the camera quickly around, I saw a 30-foot tall incarnation of my “early creation” stomping across the country-side.  My own nightmare was picking up my pack-mates and consuming them whole.

That, my friends, is a gaming moment.  Here was a creature I had created, imported into the game during the install, integrated and kicking my own ass.

Outstanding.

Read more for the rest, and some other great creations.

I can’t wait to see some of my other stuff in the game.  This was another first attempt.

And a couple of the really cool ones.  There’s a crapload more up there, and I expect them to expand exponentially.  I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some Spore based machinima soon, either.

Yes, some day you might load up the game and have to hunt or impress a tribe of Homer Simpsons.  This is possible because as you progress through each stage of evolution in the game, it goes out to the Internet and downloads the creations of other players to populate the world/universe.

As the number of players around the world expand, and their familiarity with the creative tools expands, some really, really cool stuff is going to show up in each and every world you visit.   There is also the ability to ban certain creatures and players, as the kids figured out how to make boobies and penii looking creatures with the SCC (tons of examples on the youtube).

Not only does the game come with the aforementioned SCC (available by itself for 10 bucks and *perfect* for kids or someone who just wants to play around),  it also gives you the chance to design buildings, watercraft, aircraft, spacecraft, and giant walking-robots.  Or at least that’s what I did my first time around.

It usually takes 5 or 10 minutes to get a simple model together.  The tools are amazing in their simplicity and their variety.  If you work it a bit, you can get the look you want.  This is especially true when painting the motorcraft and buildings.  That’s another thing to look forward to; all the cool buldings and machines other players create.  I went with a particualr style my first time around and hope to do the same again.  If you ever get a creature or building designed by “RobotPirateNinja” in your game, that’s my work.  Expect a good bit of it to be floating around.

So that covers most of the bells and whistles of the game.  They all work very well right off the shelf.  Kudos to the programmers and designers and producers and everyone.  Good jorb.  As a quick technical note, performance on my PC was excellent.  I’ve got a decent AMD 64×2 4800+ w/2GB, GTX7800 or so.  Something like that.  If those numbers mean nothing to you, make sure to check the “System Requirements” for the game before purchasing.  Nothing kills the PC gaming experience like poor performance.

GAMEPLAY

This was the big question about Spore. Sure, the concept was amazing, the history of the designer was legendary, but could they deliver a game that was fun to play?

After playing until sunrise this morning I have to say that question is inaccurate.  The question wasn’t if they could make a game that was fun to play, but could they make five of them.

So let me give you rundown of the five games of Spore.  Six if you count the design elements as a game. It’s one of the more fun, creative-wise, things I’ve done in a long time.  Really, if you, or someone you know like to create cool things, and can use a mouse, get them the SCC stat.

The first game you get to play is that of a few-celled creature.  Spore is a purveyor of the “Panspermia” theory of the creation of life.  That is…

Panspermia (Gk. πάς/πάν (pas/pan, all) and σπέρμα (sperma, seed)) is the hypothesis that “seeds” of life exist already all over the Universe, that life on Earth may have originated through these “seeds”, and that they may deliver or have delivered life to other habitable bodies.

The related but distinct idea of exogenesis (Gk. εξω (exo, outside) and γενεσις (genesis, origin)) is a more limited hypothesis that proposes life on Earth was transferred from elsewhere in the Universe but makes no prediction about how widespread it is. Because the term “panspermia” is more well-known, it tends to be used in reference to what should strictly speaking be called exogenesis.

…from the Pedia, of course.  The game follows the “seed” metaphor literally, and “you” begin on a meteor flying past a sun and landing in a vast and alien ocean.

Here you get a simple design and begin collecting DNA points to evolve.  You also have a chance to decide if you want to become a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore (Texan, vegan, or “Whatever”).  Each decision of your evolutionary path effects what special abilities your creature gains for use in battle or impressing other species, but that’s not until you “come from the water”.

The cellular game is simple and beautiful.  It’s a 2-d grab-the-colored-object game with neat shifts of perspective as you grow quickly into a new and curious beings.  Later you have to compete a bit for resources you need to grow and earn the pleasure of easily devouring formerly formidable opponents.

But as with others aspect of life, and what becomes a general theme of the game, once you become the big fish in the little pond, it’s time to move on.  On to land, in this case.

Once on the land, the game turns into something of a “Diablo-like” 3d-3rd-person perspective walkabout game.  The camera controls were adequate in my experience and didn’t get in the way of gaming.  Your abilities, and their stengths, are defined by what bits and pieces you add to your creature design.  You can chose a path of pacifism and peace or just go out and kill everything that moves.  That six-armed, two-shark-mouthed, pointy-thing above was a very warlike being.  Now I’m going with something that looks like a caterpillar with leaves on it’s back.  These decisions affect gameplay, strategy and abilities.

This part of the game continues until your species becomes sentient and you found a village.  Your biological evolutionary path is now set, and any further changes come through technology.

The gameplay changes again and now we are getting closer to straight RTS, with resource gathering, city-design, and click and move combat.   This goes on until your species controls the planet, either through war or peace.  During this stage you are given short term goals that provide resources to upgrade your city.  As you control or unify competing tribes, you can gain their technology.

Conquer or passify all known species and you move onto the next stage of the game, “Civilization”.  In this mode you are in full-on RTS mode, with Dune-II-like (nice homage) “spice” collecting and the afore-mentioned sea, land, and air-craft.  You can also negotiate with other cities (everyone is now factions of the same species) for control.  In my first run-through I ended up just conquering everyone using my giant-walking robots and airpower.

The rest of the factions got mad when I nuked a guy to see what would happen.  He done blowed up nice.

So…now that I’ve conquered the world what comes next?  Design a spacecraft and explore the Universe, it turns out.

This, actually, is pretty fun.  The tractor-beam creature toss should be an X-Game. I’m just now working through the first few space missions.  When something else amazing happens I’ll add it to this review.

If you can’t tell, I’m liking the game quite a bit.  In about 10 hours of straight gaming, I didn’t get a single hard or soft crash (I have a very stable desktop, so I know crashes are the game’s fault).  As mentioned performance was good.  There are some collision and slight clipping issues with the game.  I didn’t push it too much, as I expect these to be polished even more in the inevitable patches and expansions.  The camera is great, but can sometimes get lost in the action.  This is a problem in a lot of RTS games, and my guess is they’ll tighten up the interface a bit in the future.

One huge request, when I double-click on a unit (on the right panel) can I zoom to it?

What else is there to say?

Ultimately I’m very impressed.  I think they have put together 6 or so games that work very well together.  I’m not sure which one is my favorite, but with a HUGE replayability factor, I’m sure I’ll find out.  They also added an XBOX Live style “Achievement” system.  It should be interesting to see how that works out.  With the degree to which the game is integrated online, and the experience and money Maxis got from the Sims, expect Spore to be around for a while.  And with the amount of “user-generated content”  expect it to be a unique ride every time.  This one should be around a long while.

I think this is a good thing.

Live long.  And evolve.

4 thoughts on “Game Review : PC : Spore

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