Game industry legend Will Wright is no stranger to creating life, but Spore marks his first attempt to create it from the ground up. One of the most highly anticipated PC games of the past decade, Spore's ambitions don't stop at expanding what a life simulation can be. The game also seeks to expand the PC gamer audience beyond the hardcore, perhaps acting as a stepping stone for the ever-growing numbers of casual PC players. With a scope this large and ambitions this great, you just know the game critics are paying extra-close attention. Let's see what they saw when the put Spore under their critical microscope.
Spore might best be viewed as a set of games that introduce casual gamers to the basic concepts of a real-time strategy game. Simple resource gathering, basic combat strategy are presented here in candy-coated ease with a personalised character that they'll grow to love. Gamers with any RTS experience will feel that Spore is a step back since buildings and vehicles don't evolve, simple attack strategies focus on merely overwhelming enemies with brute force, there's no technology evolution, and there's seemingly little reward apart from evolution.
While Spore's got its highs and lows as a game, it's still a genuinely new and interesting piece of software. Fact is, Spore's most fascinating aspect isn't its epic scope or its imperfect juggling of multiple genres...but that it is, paradoxically, a community/social-network-driven game where you don't actually interact with other people. You won't find an actual "multiplayer mode"; Spore's social foundation is based on sharing and social networking (via the in-game buddy list and "Sporecasts") — so while you never connect directly with other players, the game shares their content with you (and every other player). It's a community — and it's driven without any actual contact.
What makes it work is how much you like your own creature, and what you encounter. There are herds of Star Wars walkers, beached baby seals that slide along the ground, moustachioed gremlins... What's that coming over the hill? It's a reference, to a videogame or film or cartoon or internet meme or book or TV advert. Watch out for our Bank Holiday sofa sale species; they don't bite you at first, but the interest gets you in the end.
Think of the game as an interactive Rorschach ink blot, bending and folding to match the personality of the person playing it. Friendly, vicious, and everything in between; Spore allows you so many ways to meet your goals that you'll be temped just to start over again just to see how the other half lives. Once you hit the great dark yonder of space, the game allows you so many mind boggling possibilities that you can get lost in simply rebalancing the ecosystem.
No two star systems in Spore are alike. Some have binary stars in the center...Mine, the heart of the Feldspar Empire, has two planets in synchronous orbit. When cruising across my homeworld's rocky alien landscape, you can see the neighbouring globe looming there in the sky. It just struck me that I'd like to carve a big, beaming smiley face into that world, so that when my people look up into the heavens they'll know that, yes, there is a God, and that, yes, that God loves them. That ought to blow their tiny little minds. I did, after all, make them in my own image. (no numeric score assigned)
Me? I've yet to evolve past the tribe stage myself, but my critters look marvellous.