PC Preview

Spore Galactic Adventures

A new space oddity from Maxis

It is a chilly Monday morning in early January, and I find myself in the west London commuter town of Guildford. Not the most inspiring start to any week, you might agree, especially given the deluge of depressing headlines I've endured thumbing the free newspaper on the train ride out. A little escapism is required, and it is fortuitous that I'm here for a peek at EA and Maxis' new Spore expansion, Galactic Adventures.

Executive producer Morgan Roarty is here to take us around the add-on to EA's PC hit, and talk of piracy and hardcore dissatisfaction is rapidly side-stepped as we pile into chatter on Spore's mainstream success. The numbers make good reading, the Creature Creator having been downloaded over 6 million times, with 3 million copies of Spore sold, and over 64 million creatures invented.

Let's get one thing straight from the outset: this is not a game that's going to appease Maxis' hardcore nay-sayers, indeed if anything, Galactic Adventures takes Spore into even more casual waters, taking the experience closer to freedom of titles like LittleBigPlanet in the process.

Blasting off to planets new at the end of Spore, Galactic Adventures offers a new slab of gameplay for more advanced players to sink their teeth into. More depth - across a certain portion of the experience - is the plan. Maxis offer up a myriad of new assets for players to tinker with. The idea is that users will craft 'adventures', which it will be easy to create, share and rate between other members of the Spore community.

Roarty begins our demonstration by presenting us with a planet-wide view of a world under our control, multiple variables are on offer, and it is this world we'll be honing before putting together a story. A set of terra-forming style features allows us to muster a realistic planet, and a habitat for our creatures. Once a landscape has been made you begin to assign attributes; requirements, the applying of which forms the structure of the adventure itself. Go here, do this, discover that, the options are rudimentary, but the sheer freedom and quantity should allow determined player to create diverse, multi-layered experiences for sharing.

'Goals' are key - tasks for creatures to complete, and these can be racked-up in succession in true sandbox style, allowing players to probe the limits of the game itself; the platform Maxis are offering us. If nothing more, Galactic Adventures' toolset should be a sturdy test of just how robust the Spore game engine really is, and the quality and depth of the options Maxis offer us will be key. Of course, the entire world of Spore is available to play with - Roarty noting that over 64 million items have been created to date, and this rich palette should go a long way to making the experience work.

Whether the linking-in with the Space stage of Spore works remains to be seen - and opinions on this portion of the game are as mixed as they are frequent. What players do will prove instrumental then, but with vehicles and more available there is much to be said for EA's ambitious scope. The strength of the content rating system, for example, will prove crucial in helping players find the kind of adventures they want to play - and Maxis seem well aware of this.

Given the positioning of this expansion it seems clear that Maxis are also making a concerted effort to actually extend the lifespan of Spore, beyond approaches based on different tangents. As such you'll unlock Galactic Adventures content as you play through Space stage, Roarty assuring us that the features being implemented here are based on community feedback. The executive producer is quick to add, when pressed, that there won't be a full Spore sequel in 2009. Instead expansions such as this will see the gameplay refined and expanded further, while new Spore outings for the Wii and DS will also help introduce this casual-focussed offering to new audiences.

Indeed, so important is Spore's continued evolution to Maxis that one idea for an expansion, based around "overriding fiction", a way of imbuing yet more meaning into the game world - the enture breadth of the original game - was axed in favour of Galactic Adventures (which improves upon the original end-game). All in all, Roarty's matter-of-fact prose is encouraging, the developer seemingly keen to make the best of Spore's canvass, which remains a little blank in places. As with the PS3's LittleBigPlanet, the success of this particular add-on is none the less out of its creators hands, the community itself charged with making the most of what is on offer. Are you ready for a new space-based adventure?