Spore Review

Well after much playing of Spore I can now sit down and write a proper review of the "game" - I put "game" in quotation marks since this will give you a preview of what I find is the major flaw with Spore, but enough of that, on to the review!

Sound (3/5)
It's the small touches that make the use of sound truly impressive in this game. Playing through the game, when I reached the tribal stage with an ape-like creature, sure enough his voice sounded like a series of grunts and moans - entering the same stage with a bird-like creature, they instead conversed with squawks and screeches. Different levels of singing ability in the Creature Phase can also be easily distinguished just by listening.

However, the sound effects can be annoying, especially the voices some of the alien races in the Space phase. It may eventually get on your nerves as they are just a bit too cartoony or cute for my liking.

Main Menu, Intro and Cell Phase Gameplay Video

Music (4/5)
Maxis decided to hire the talents of renown music producer and composer, Brian Eno (he actually helped produce Coldplay's recent "Viva la Vida" album) for the game and the soundtrack truly fits. You also get treated to different kind of music depending on your type of civilization when you reach the Civilization Phase (i.e. religious, economic or militaristic).

The soundtrack is also innovative since it uses "procedural generation". A lot of the music is done on the fly - for example, if you click different paint jobs in the vehicle editor, it will play different notes. You even have the ability to create your own anthems in the game with a simple editor, although sometimes the results aren't so optimal (plus it can get annoying when placing buildings since each time you do, it plays the anthem).

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics in Spore aren't ground-breaking but considering the amount of user-generated content in the game it's quite sensational when you take that into consideration. Sure there are some clipping issues when creating creatures and perhaps all creatures, vehicles, structures and planets have a simplified, cartoony feel to them, but there's some very pretty lighting effects from stars in the galaxy, foliage and water divert away from nearby spaceship engines and shadows lean in the most logical directions.

Creature Phase Gameplay Video

Plot (4/5)
Like most Maxis games, plot is rather thin since the user is the one that creates the story - although there is a story of sorts in Spore that involves you discovering what is in the centre of the galaxy and sadly it's quite disappointing to be honest. If you're expecting to gain a feeling of achievement by running the gauntlet to the centre of the galaxy, all I can say is, think again - however, if you can realise that this game lives and dies by the user content then the plot is pretty much irrelevant.

If Spore were to be judged solely on the premise that it was going to be the biggest, boldest and pervasive creative tool out there today, then it'd get a 5/5 in my books. With Spore you can create buildings, tanks, airplanes, ships, spacecraft, creatures and even planets - and colour them any way you want (yes you can get purple planets with matching sky and sea). Plus it's educational, it more or less teaches kids about evolution and how far humans have come.

Whether you can classify this as a "game" though is debatable. I actually enjoyed the earlier phases of Spore (i.e. the Cell, Creature, Tribe and Civilization Phases) more than the final phase since these ones not only offered objectives, but different ways of going about achieving your goals (a bit like an RPG). In the Cell phase, you can choose to be a carnivore, a herbivore or an omnivore. The Creature Phase allowed you to either make other species extinct or swoon them with your beauty (or do a bit of both). The Tribal Phase allows you to either subdue other tribes through force or through culture (or once again, a bit of both). In the Civilization Phase (my favourite phase) you can take over other cities by force, religion or by buying them out. Once you get to the Space phase though, it doesn't really matter. Sure the choices you made in the earlier phases determines what neat abilities you get in the Space phase, but their effects are most of the time minor and in the end each space-faring race are pretty much not that different from the rest.

Worst of all, the early phases can be done in a matter of 2-4 hours. The bulk of the game, 20-400 hours of it, is the Space phase and to get anywhere you need to grind the requisite number of points to gain badges that unlock new abilities. In fact, the Space phase is pretty much like a stock-standard MMORPG, without the persistent real-time universe. This formula is definitely getting old (a reason many MMOs nowadays are going stale IMHO). Consequently, I can't give a perfect score for Spore's gameplay since for anyone wanting a game that rewards you for your progress (or people who hate MMOs) are going to be disappointed.

Tribal Phase Gameplay Video

Replayability (4/5)
Technically replayability is infinite, so I should just give up and award a perfect score for this section, right? Well my argument is, even if a game is very replayable, what's the point if there's no willingness to do so? I've replayed Spore a few times and the most enjoyable parts were actually molding your creature into a space-faring race - but once I got to the space-faring part, I wasn't really interested in playing anymore - and unfortunately that part of the game is its bulk.

Fortunately once you've reached the Space phase once, you may start new games at whichever stage in evolution you want although I think that makes a good majority of the game a waste of time - unless you have a lot of patience and don't mind grinding points or exploring the thousands of star systems out there in the Milky Way, the part of the "game" that feels like a game is over in a couple of hours.

The game's UI works more or less and the game is surprisingly not too buggy considering how much you can do with it - but there are some annoying gripes I need to get off my chest.

Firstly, there are still a few annoying bugs. One problem with Spore (which is like The Sims) is that you've only got one save game. That means if for example you saved the game when there was a bug (like my last game where I need to find a derelict spaceship in order to advance the tutorial which would allow me to enter the Space Phase) then that's it, game over! Which is quite annoying considering the effort you took to get to that stage.

Secondly, in the Space Phase, trying to pilot your ship can be troublesome and it's hard to aim your weapons without taking out your own cities or allies by mistake. I understand it's quite hard to attempt to make a usable system when you've got a z-axis but perhaps more thought could have been invested in creating a proper targeting system so you could target and lock onto enemies and keep firing at them.

Finally, my last gripe is once again, you guessed it, EA's choice of SecuROM for Spore's DRM. Fortunately as mentioned in a previous article, EA has reconsidered their draconian restrictions and have at least loosened them (a bit) although for those of you who are anti-SecuROM or anti-DRM, Spore might be one to avoid.

Civilization and Space Phase Gameplay Video

Overall - 74%
If you're looking for a capable and creative tool to share your own creations with the rest of the world, or you want a fun way to educate your kids in the theory of evolution, Spore is definitely recommended in that regard. If you're looking for an exciting and challenging game which will test your skills (and not your patience), Spore might not be it - but then again, a lot of Maxis games aren't nowadays.

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  1. Excellent and fair review Mark. I think this is a very good game, but I agree that it's not worthy of a perfect score.

    I've actually experienced bugs many times, particularly in the creature stage and the space stage.

    In the creature stage, I've had issues where my creature becomes stuck, and unable to move, attack or even eat. I am able to jump, but cannot move away. The only way is to restore at your last save point, which can be quite a while ago.

    In the space stage, I've experience many times the same bug, where my spaceship is at the planet level, but unable to leave the atmosphere. This isn't just due to an incomplete mission, since it also occurred when I was just exploring and visited planets to have a look around.

    The gameplay is quite fun, and with the ability to create your own buildings and vehicles, it makes it quite interesting. However, after spending many hours in space stage, and achieving many badges, it becomes like an absolute grind to get all the achievements.

    Visually in the space stage, it's not too bad, with some nice features like worm holes or special planets you can visit. However, when you make contact alot of the alien races, the sound gets rather annoyingly repetitive.

    I've stopped playing Spore for now, since it's feeling like grinding in MMOs, and the novelty has worn off to take my mind off the grind. It's definitely a game I will come back revisit, but with the DRM issue, I'm very disappointed that EA has felt it's neccessary to punish their loyal customers in their effort to reduce piracy.

    In my opinion, whether we like it or not, game piracy will continue to be there, but if they made good games, and priced them competitively, the loyal customers will return. However, by punishing their customers and treating them as guilty until proven otherwise, how much loyalty will remain?

  2. Thanks Choona.

    Good point you mentioned about the graphics; the wormholes and space anomalies are worth a look (I guess the astronomers out there would appreciate it - which is why I reckon Gav and Matt should play it).

    Agreed with the DRM/piracy issue. In fact, a game I'm playing at the moment is because it's made by an indie developer that is anti-DRM - which is refreshing for a change. However, what you may find when I review this particular game is that a game can't survive totally on the fact that it's an anti-DRM advocate; it has to be fun to play too!

  3. Can you imagine the backlash if the music industry or the movie industry made the same decision to combat piracy (since they would have just as rampant if not more piracy than the gaming sector), and made it such that you can only listen to the CD or watch the movie a set number of times and locks you onto your particular DVD player?

    Of course it's ridiculous, because they would be treating their actual customers like the pirates. There would be an tremendous uproar if the music or movie industry uses such tactics.

    Then why should the gaming sector be allowed to do so? Is the PC gaming community really that small, where our voices aren't loud enough? What about consoles... will they start limited how many times you can use the disc in your machine too?

  4. Too bad EA hasn’t fully embraced trusting its customers more by unbundling DRM and SecuROM. Another blog noted Pete Hines has announced that Fallout 3 will ship with little to no DRM whatsoever because they want to trust their paying customers. See http://www.aeropause.com/2008/10/fallout-3-to-ship-on-pc-minus-drm/

    If you want to pressure EA games to unbundle DRM and SecuROM, there’s a campaign that just started to refuse to buy EA games until they remove DRM and SecuROM from their software. Check it out at http://www.thepoint.com/campaigns/ea-games-without-drm-and-secu-rom

    Figure each game costs $50 minimum, and if 500 people sign on, that would be $25,000 in lost revenue. For its loyal customer base, secretly adding DRM and SecuROM in their install is just not the way to treat us.

    The three issues are that DRM and SecuRom are being installed without the user realizing it; DRM limits the number of computers you can install it on; and SecuROM has been affecting some people’s computers to the point that they needed to re-format their hard drive and uninstall the game to get their computer returning to normal.

    And it takes just a minute to sign up. You can even sign anonymously.

  5. Cheers waku, thanks for the heads-up to the site and good to hear Bethesda Softworks are realising that intrusive DRM is becoming unpopular!

  6. just got this game the other day, highly recommend it, great review :)

  7. Cheers Oggy, as I've read in other reviews, cherish the earlier stages while they last. It pays to be patient in the game and if you're the creative sort (as you no doubt are :P) the game has a lot to offer.


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