Maxis released Spore in 2008. Despite being a groundbreaking game deserving of high praise especially considering the time it was released, I believe it is let down by some of its distinguishing features. Not so much because of the game’s vastness and ability to take us into multiple modes of gameplay, but because some of the stages appear to be considerably more well-thought-out than others, and therein lies the problem.
The game is played in multiple stages following a species you create, from the formation of life in the cell stage to expanding out into the universe in the final stage of the game, and is notable in that it covers a wide range of gameplay types, and does so fairly successfully… if simplistically.
The first stage is called the cell stage, and it is by far my favourite. I’d really like to see a version of the game that just used this aesthetic, maybe with active multiplayer. You begin as a simple multicellular organism and must either eat your way to the top of the food chain, flee everything in sight while foraging for plants, or do both. As you play, your body evolves, becoming bigger and stronger as the environment around you changes. I usually play as carnivores because that is the closest to my way of life. The omnivore, on the other hand, is the best of both worlds and is capable of being highly successful regardless of the situation…
You eventually reach the size where your little cellular organism can swim to land and join the secondary stage, sometimes known as the creature stage. You improve your species by locating remains of those who didn’t make it, killing local critters, or making friends with them in this weird blend of RPG and first-person shooting. This level is odd because, as much as I enjoy battling and ganking my way to the top, I believe that being kind is the best method working co-operatively with other species rather than annihilating them.
These first two phases are evocative of EVO: Search for Eden, in which you grow from a basic life form into one of the planet’s most powerful organisms.
The tribal stage is the third and final stage. While some individuals may like to play as a friendly vegan pacifist, I prefer to fight my way to the top against other tribes since I think it to be the most exciting way to play. Peaceful interactions detract from this stage because I believe it makes things too simple. It has to be war! Nothing compares to the pure adrenaline rush of attempting to stay alive while being raided by an overwhelming gank mob of people who are often tougher than you. The animals then take your food and slaughter your squealing infants when you raid someone else. It’s quite difficult.
The fourth stage is a complete disaster. The fighting is far too simple and overly drawn out, resulting in a game that can only be won by economic means, and you’re not going to feel it until you grow like lightning. You can still win if you buy your way to the top… It feels cheap, however if battle is the goal, it feels like you can’t win. This is not a favourable stage for a violent and sociopathic person like myself.
The fifth stage is the space age, which allows you to explore the immensity of space. You can abduct animals, which you may have seen happening earlier, travel to exotic new worlds, and expand and destroy civilizations, among other things, but the less said about this one the better.
Overall, I think spore is a fantastic game. It has a fantastic concept that lends itself to being a fun and pleasant game. What makes it fall short is that the first and the final stages are by far the greatest. Growing up as a small critter in the cell stage and surviving is a lot of fun, followed by the adventures on the land in the creature stage. This one didn’t appeal to me as much, though it was intriguing.
When you’re being assaulted from all sides on the Tribal stage, it might feel overpowering, and I believe this is due to my playing the game on hard setting.
The civilization level is the most disheartening because it feels like a never-ending standoff, and if you don’t move rapidly enough, you can get stuck in a never-ending cycle for hours until bribing your way to victory…
The space stage is a completely other cosmos that has a lot to offer… It’s also amusing in its own right because you get to abduct individuals in the same way that lifeforms were abducted in prior phases, I really enjoyed this one…
The game has a lot of strengths, and while I didn’t care for the middle section, I’m sure a lot of other people will enjoy it. The evolution of a race from its most primitive stages through its journey to the heavens is beautifully captured in spore, and it is well worth playing. Because of the game’s design, there is something for everyone, and if you don’t like one stage, you could enjoy another. Spore was a step above most games at the time, and it’s easy to see why. The amount of sophistication and design is outstanding. What I find disappointing about the game is that some stages, particularly the civilization stage, lack the scope and design that made other stages so enjoyable. To be clear, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent game. I give Spore by Maxis a solid 6.5 out of 10.