Spore's Shallow Gene Pool Lacks Intelligent Design
On September 7th, Maxis released "Spore," one of the most highly anticipated titles of the year, for the PC. Unfortunately, it's all hype.
Lead designer Will Wright, famous for "Sim City" and "The Sims," set ambitious goals for the title. Unfortunately, Wright has developed Peter Molyneux syndrome. The entire industry was abuzz with what "Spore" could be. "Spore" is fun, but will never live up to the expectations of its audience.
In "Spore," the player begins as a cell then guides that cell as it evolves into a land animal, develops society, and eventually develops advanced technology. This process is broken down into five stages, each with different game mechanics.
While the overall scope is impressive, the individual stages lack depth. Each stage is an oversimplified example of a popular game genre. Because of this, "Spore" actually encouraged me to play other games. Not a good sign.
The initial cell stage is the simplest, and serves as a tutorial for the rest of the game. While this stage feels the most polished, it is also the least substantial. In about a half hour most players will not only be able to complete the stage but also exhaust all of the stage's available entertainment value. This is not one you'll likely come back to. If you like the cell stage, play "Flow" or even "Pac Man."
The creature stage is one of the highlights of the game. Here you really get to play with the game's powerful character creation engine. The stage plays like an MMORPG, without other people, as your creature either wipes out or befriends other beasts. Doing so will add their evolutionary traits to your options in a bizarre "Megaman" like system.
Biology majors beware; this is not a life simulator. "Spore" uses an odd hybrid of evolution and intelligent design, allowing you to completely change your creature within a single generation. Furthermore, it hinges on the outdated assumption that evolution equates progress.
The tribal and civilization stages each proceed as simplified real time strategy games. Tribal plays a like StarCraft, where what's important is which buildings you develop. Civilization plays like, oddly enough, "Civilization." There's little real strategy here, however. The most engaging part of either is the ability to customize your buildings in the Civilization stage.
Finally, you gain access to space flight. This stage feels like the game you've been working toward the whole time. It combines aspects of all the previous stages into one. You can alter the ecosystems of planets, create new life, and conquer unknown worlds at a whim. The depth of this mode leaves the other stages in the dust.
The widespread misconception about this stage is that there is some form of multiplayer component. This is false. What the game does is send your creations into other people's game, and theirs into your. You will never interact with another player.
"Spore" is a good game; it's just not the game you want it to be.