So it’s no big secret that Spore released on Sunday (a strange day for a video game release, it’s usually Tuesdays) to great controversy. I’m for the most part not going to address the DRM, it is more draconian than I initially thought and will certainly keep people from buying it, there are no small number of comments on the Amazon page for the game.
Jeff is writing an article about the DRM. Jeff and agree for the most part, the DRM is crappy. We don’t agree on what should have been done and while it’s a deal breaker for Jeff it’s not for me. However, to be fair, I should say that I wasn’t fully aware of the DRM limitations when I bought the game. I would have made the same decision either way. Anyway, I disagree with Jeff on what they should have done with Spore. I think the creature creator is all the demo they need and they just need to drop some of the more draconian issues in the DRM. The one benefit of the DRM is no disk required to play. You could actually play on up to 3 systems. But many people would rather play from the DVD than be limited on number of installs and have the game check in every time an update comes out. In the end it’s not much of a benefit, especially since beyond the 3 you have to call EA to install, that includes reinstalls. That particular piece of the DRM definitely needs to go. Despite all the outrage Spore is selling like mad. So let’s get to a proper review of the gameplay shall we?
This is by far the best feature of any game on the market. You have a ton of flexibility and can do some really fun things. The creature creator is actually a stand alone game, you can play with a few of the pieces available for free or spend $10 and get a full version with all the features of the in game creature creator. I can’t stress enough how much freedom you have in creating your creature, no two will look the same. There’s even a group of people creating X rated creatures. When you have the full version of the game you can actually chose to share you creations and have creations shared with you. When you do this you’ll run into other peoples creatures on your planet. Now with X rated creatures out there this may be a concern, don’t worry, there’s an option to block offensive creatures from the game. There is also a vehichle and building creator in the full version of the game which are both based on the creature creator.
This is by far the best feature of the game. Even if you’re not a fan of the Sim games you should check out the creature creator as a stand alone.
Survival of the Fittest: Doing it Solo
This is what Spore is really all about. Surviving. For the first two stages you’re surviving on your own. You start out as an a single celled organism. You choose whether you’re an herbivore or a carnivore (you can purchase upgrades later on that either change what you eat or make you an omnivore). This is actually an important decision because it determines what you can eat and in the early game eating is the way you level up. You don’t start the game with all the pieces unlocked, as you move through the game you unlock new body parts. At first by discovering them in the bodies of opponents or in pieces of the meteor which brought you to the planet (did I forget to mention the opening cinematic is a meteor crashing into the ocean and you spilling out?). As you move through the game you are always collecting something, in the first two stages it’s body parts. In stage two you find the body parts by searching skeletons spread across the landscape.
As you move from the cell stage you grow legs and move onto land. At any time as you evolve you can completely change your look. You purchase new features with DNA points gained in various ways. These DNA points also drive your evolution. How you gain DNA effects your evolution. As you move from the cell stage you gain the ability to make friends with creatures instead of killing them or avoiding them. Gaining allies gives you DNA points just like killing does. If you are aggressive you’ll get skills suited to combat, if you’re passive you’ll get skills useful for making friends. As you evolve you move onto the tribal stage, now you’re controlling multiple creatures.
Survival of the Fittest: Doing it With Others, is it More Fun?
Up until now you’ve been controlling only one creature, now that you’re a tribe you control them all, this is where things begin to look like a familiar RTS game. Now you’re competing against other tribes in an attempt to become the dominant species on the planet. As you begin this phase you make the last genetic changes to your creature. This stage has no creators to use. You no longer gain DNA points, now you gather food. You fight other tribes (or make them allies) and you hunt creatures. That’s pretty much it. This is where the game starts to feel very familiar and actually loses a bit of its charm.
After you’ve dominated the other tribes you become the dominant species and move onto the civilization stage. In this stage you’re competing against other cities of your race. The civilization stage is full on RTS mode. You have Spice as a resource you mine. You have different types of buildings and you have to keep your people happy (hey look, an element from the Sim games). Again you can make war or you can make friends. How you’ve progressed up to this point has a fairly big impact on what abilities you have and your abilities make it easier to proceed as you have up to this point. as an aggressive race you get things like missile strikes. I tried to make peace with a couple of the other cities I’m not sure if it was my war like nature or what, but after I had them listed as an ally they attacked me while I wasn’t looking. So I nuked the crap out of them.
There is a return at this stage of the creator system and it’s back with a vengeance. You get to design buildings and vehicles. One land vehicle one sea and one air. You have population limits based on number of houses per city and an over all population limit. Combat gets pretty intense but again the game had become very familiar and lost a little more of its charm. All in all, doing it with others isn’t really more fun (insert lewd comment here). Once you’ve conquered the world you move onto a new stage.
Survival of the Fittest: The Return of Solo
After two familiar stages we get to something a little different, you are the captain of a spaceship. You start out by building your spaceship. Then you get a bit of a lesson from mission control in how to pilot the ship and use your ships abilities. The highlight for me was the ability to abduct creatures and experiment on them to learn more about them. There is actually a lot to do in this stage from a control stand point. You can acquire new tech and abilities from other races by, you guessed it, either destroying them or making friends with them. There is definitely a feeling of exploring a very large galaxy. You can go from planet level to solar system level to galactic level. There’s even a bit of a story to start you out and teach you about exploration. This is really the pay off. The good news is, once you’ve reached a certain stage on one planet you can jump straight to that stage on any other planet.
All in all the controls are pretty simple, they’re pretty usable and definitely designed to make the game easy to port to consoles. It is interesting to see how the controls evolve with the stages of the game. In beginning you’re really navigating a fully 2D world. As you move out of the water you get a taste of 3D with the ability to glide. Once you hit the space stage you’re in full on 3D navigation mode. Each stage takes a little getting used to (well not the civilization stage it’s very similar to the tribal stage). Controls were one of my biggest concerns but they seem to have really nailed them.
Spore is a good game, it had a few disappointments. For one it feels too short to evolve through the stages. Once you get to the space stage it’s very open ended but they force you to end the other stages because you stop getting many of the benefits once you’re ready to advance (no more DNA points once you’re done with the land stage for instance). When I saw that you could start at any stage once you unlocked it I had hopes of stages being more complex and taking more time. I’m sure it’s harder on the highest difficulty (I went with normal for my first game). The different play styles make things interesting but the tribal and civilization stages don’t feel all that unique or interesting. If the DRM doesn’t scare you off it’s definitely a game worth checking out, but the game play is not going to change the face of gaming as we know it. The coolest stuff is really under the hood, it’s the dynamic animation and creature creation. In the cut scenes it’s actually your creature doing those scripted animations and they’re pretty flawless.