Millions upon millions of years of evolution can't have been easy; after all, it took that long... it must have been a bit of slog. Yet here I am, playing a game where I get to evolve out of the primordial sludge into a space faring race that vies for control of the galaxy. Question is, was it as difficult and did it take as long to achieve my new found wealth and glory.
All joking aside of course, Spore puts you squarely at the helm of creation. As a meteorite comes crashing to earth the tiny microbe that will become you springs into life and your journey begins. The first section is great fun and serves as an easy way to introduce you to the creature editor (that's if you didn't buy the dubious Creature Creator). As you advance by either eating other microscopic life, vegetation or both you grow exponentially whilst always trying to avoid the larger predators. Soon enough however (and a little too soon in my opinion), you grow larger than your counterparts and spring legs, thus enabling your first footsteps onto the surface of what may become your world.
Now begins the second phase of Spore as you try to either make other creatures extinct or forge alliances for the greater good. I chose the road of exterminator, attacking other creatures for food and new pieces to use in the creature creator mode. Finding new parts is as easy as walking up to a skeleton, forging an alliance or by eating your foes to extinction. All the while you have the option of calling for a mate so that an egg can be laid and a new chapter in your creature's evolution can evolve. I found this particularly useful when getting attacked by other creatures as they seem to ignore you when you are 'mating'... maybe they are just embarrassed? As soon as the egg is laid you can tinker with your creature's look, appendages and anything else you may wish to adapt or change. Once again there are massive creatures that you really must avoid, I tried to take one down but nearly got wiped out myself... its best just to avoid these huge beasts.
As soon as you have killed off enough of the competition or become friendly with a number of the other creatures living on the planet, your own creature will evolve into a sentient being. This then prompts you to the next stage in your creature's life, the Tribal Stage. Again, this is similar to the stage which preceded it except this time you are in command of your whole tribe. In the Tribal Stage you can build a small settlement using technology you have either stolen or shared with other tribes such as new weapons, or tools for fishing. Again I chose to wipe out the competition and while my tribe were off fighting another person's creation kept stealing food from my village. Food in this section is used as currency to 'give birth' to new members of your clan and to build more buildings.
Once you have defeated enough of the other tribes your creature once again evolves into a new era. This time you are the leader of a civilization, albeit a civilization that is at war with other cities in the world. Again you can choose to forge alliances whilst mining the new currency of Spice. This mode closely resembles an RTS but on a much smaller level, however in this mode you have to design your buildings and vehicles as you will have finalised your creature just before the Tribal Stage (don't worry, they warn you of this so you can really be happy with your creation). At first I found this section to be pretty frustrating after the easier pace of the preceding parts of the game, but once I figured out how to manage my towns properly I quickly built up a huge army and wiped out all the competition, finally claiming the planet for myself. The only problem was that I wanted to get revenge on an earlier mammoth creature that I tried to attack back in the creature stage, sadly it somehow wiped out all of my tanks... so I decided to leave them well and truly alone. Another niggle about this section for me was that you have to create many buildings and vehicles for your creatures but it just doesn't feel as fun as sticking 50 eyeballs on a creature's arm. Perhaps that's just me...
Then comes the final stage of the game which quite literally blew me away with its size and scope. All of a sudden you have conquered your planet (or allied with other cities depending on your choices) and you are thrust into space in your very own 'UFO'. In this final section of the game you are free to traverse the cosmos whilst forging alliances or making terrible enemies. Your ship starts out equipped with very few options - the fun really starts with the abduction beam. I encountered one of these when I was in the second stage, this time however I was the one abducting the creatures. To be honest this section is so big that trying to tell you about everything would take a 50 page essay so I think I will keep to the facts.
Whilst flying around the cosmos you will come across many different planets. Some of these will be barren hunks of rock and some may be lush and fertile planets ready for settlers. In Spore you are given the choice of where to land your settlers but are advised to set them down near to the Spice, the currency of the universe that you can trade with other civilisations to outfit your brand spanking new space ship. I made the mistake of trying to kill off another species in order to steal their planet. This pretty much backfired as they took their planet back and kept up a constant wave of attacks on my home planet. Of course your choices are going to be different from mine and you may well be good at diplomacy, luckily the game lets you travel this path even if you have been aggressive the entire game (like I was); forging alliances can increase trade and open up new items for purchase, certainly a good idea as I needed aid against my new enemy.
Other tools you come across include terra-forming tools that allow you to change the atmosphere of a planet to make it more hospitable and thus generating more Spice from your happy colony. Keep them on an abysmal, dry rock and they won't be too happy. Whilst trying to form alliances with other species you will be given missions to prove your worth, this adds to the extra scope offered in this part of the game, after all you can get through all the other parts in an evening quite easily. In all honesty though I found the other sections of the game to be more creative - luckily once you have unlocked each stage you can go back to any of the associated editors and let loose your playful side.
Don't worry about dying in Spore, as far as I could tell there are no drawbacks to dying apart from a hit to your ego. I thought this was a bit of a letdown as from time to time I simply didn't care if I died as there was no incentive not to, no hit to your stats and no back pacing of your progress bar. The creators of the game have been noted as saying that Spore is for the casual gamer and I can see why, it is pretty easy... until the space section that is (or maybe it has just been my choices in the space section that have made it tricky?). Death during the Space stage is a little more annoying as you won't necessarily spawn on the planet that is being attacked, which means you have to navigate back to defend your colony.
Spore isn't just about the game on your PC. If you navigate to the Spore homepage using your favourite browser you can go to the Sporepedia and look at all of the other crazy creations people have made. I found some amazing creatures like an R2D2 and a great human creature the creator had called Charles Darwin. Also if you sign up you can browse all your creations and create a Sporeblog to show off your favourite designs and other people's content. Taking images and video clips in Spore is easy too; they also have some sort of YouTube functionality built in although I haven't explored that just yet... I've just been way too busy playing the game itself.
Every time you create a new creature, building or vehicle they get uploaded to the Spore database (if you are connected to the net), these creations can then populate other peoples games randomly. Playing through the game myself I seemed to only encounter Maxis creations for a while, but then suddenly I was being attacked by strange and imaginative creatures that had been designed by someone else. A nice feature that lets you find out the username and information they inputted when they made their content is the Spyglass tool in the pause menu. You simply mouse-over the item in question and click it with the tool selected and the information pops up along with a large version of the animal/structure.
The music and sound effects are great, the animals cheer, scream and laugh and the music changes tone when faced with different obstacles or an attack. There is also an option to create your own anthem using a note bar, I'm not too musically minded though and left it as it was, but all these options just add to how you can control most aspects of the game.
Of course there are some bad points to Spore, notably is the absence of a proper multiplayer mode. Even though you end up interacting with other people's creatures it doesn't really matter because they may as well have been Maxis-created and even though the addition of other content in your game is a good idea you really don't care enough whilst playing through the various stages. I can however understand why Maxis didn't add in multiplayer, opting to cater for the casual gamers out there perhaps.
Another area that is a bit of a double-edged sword is the control system. In Spore you could easily go the entire game simply using the mouse. Whilst this works well in earlier sections of the game later on it can occasionally be very frustrating. I found it difficult to fend-off those annoying attacks on my home world whilst flying my ship and shooting my lasers. You can use your keyboard to control your vessel too, but the mouse control is so intuitive that you can't help but go back to the single-handed control method, sometimes without realising so. Again I think that this design choice was taken to empower casual gamers but I just feel that controlling the camera, spacecraft and lasers all at the same time could be a bit of a chore.
With ever increasing concern for the state of PC gaming and the vast amounts of piracy that have swept over the industry like a savage plague it is really no wonder that a company such as EA would want to protect their intellectual property, however this has riled so many people that there is a good chance EA have scared many customers away who might have been willing to pay for a full copy of Spore. The truth is that the DRM (Digital Rights Management) that has been used in Spore was cracked days before the game was even released anyway. It's a shame then that this technology has been used for Spore because those people that have gone on to download 'naughty' copies of the game in protest will be missing out on much of the game's appeal - the user created content that populates your game randomly.
In conclusion then, Spore really is the sum of all its parts. The first four sections could not standalone as a single game, but with the addition of being able to navigate the galaxy Spore pulls us back and keeps us hooked even when there is the gaping hole of no multiplayer mode. Still, I have been back to many of the editors especially the creature creator to make new species and I am also pretty sure I will go through the whole game again if only to create a more impressive species than my first attempt (I have been put to shame by many of the amazing creations on the Sporepedia).
Spore is well worth your hard-earned cash, especially if you are a fan of more casually informed games. You can come home from a day of school or work and just relax whilst creating anything you want; the flexibility really is a huge draw and I don't think I have ever come across a game that lets you wield your imagination in such a convincing way.
Now then, I wonder how EA are going to make 20 expansions for Spore while people keep populating it with their own content? I'm sure Maxis will find a way...