Re: [C.G.A] Casual Gaming Association -- Bioware is QUEEN! (Right Meg?!)
Developer: Will Wright/Maxis
With all the hype surrounding Spore as it released last Saturday, it was clear that Spore would be another massive hit by Maxis. But how does falsely teaching kids about the "facts" of evolution actually compare to everything else?
Graphically this game is fairly nice to PC's, with tolerable minimal requirements. The look of the game is quite polished as well. While it doesn't look like Crysis, it doesn't have to. The textures do suffer a few graphical glitches when zoomed out, especially during the creature and tribal stages.
The sound is crisp and cheerful for the most part, though it has the heart-beating drums when you do go on the offensive against enemies. All in all, the sound conveys the message of the game well.
Unlike all other Maxis games, this game has an ending and is goal oriented. The story does not show up until your space age, and I find the final story to be at least interesting, and has that slight star wars-like feel to it. All in all, defeating evil empires is always fun to do, and you do feel a sense of accomplishment afterwards.
Spore's uniqueness is the inclusion of creature/building/vehicle creators. This significantly impacts the game by giving the userbase create content for it. The creature creator was polished and highly customizable, and was also a huge success. This area of gameplay is very strong, and should be changing the landscape of gaming from this perspective.
Spore, however, is still a game (not a creator). While I do think that this is part of gameplay, the heart of Spore can leave for some reserve. After all, the target audience isn't the hardcore, but the more casual gamers. So the key idea here is that the game's simplicity is high.
Another interesting aspect of the game is that you can choose how your creature works. Each stage you choose will affect ALL other subsequent stages by their abilities. So by choosing a certain way of playing in the cell stage, you can different abilities than to playing an omnivore. IMO this is quite a strong design choice that should be praised for.
Cell Stage (Arcade):
The cell stage is a simple arcade game where you simply use the mouse to click on where you want your creature to go. The objective is simply to find small molecules of plants or meat (red or green "dots") and avoiding predators. As you grow bigger, your cell can get new parts from killing other cells or finding special rocks floating around containing new parts, at which point you can customize your cell again. All in all, the arcade game is simple, yet delightful to play at the same time. I can't find any major faults to it, especially when my memory is still fresh with my Turnicus (my cell) took down a giant cell that's like 3 times its size because of my awesome maneuverability.
Creature Stage (adventure):
Once the cell grows large enough, it leaves the pool. In the creature stage, you roam the planet in search of more parts. These parts, however, now must be gotten from roaming your entire world (and there are a ton of parts!). There are 2 meters to deal with, HP and hunger. The hunger meter simply means that you need to eat periodically. This isn't an issue with herbivores, but carnivores need to kill other animals to get their share of meat. In order to progress through (and gain more members that you can take along with you), you need to either form allies with other animals, or kill them to extinction (or sometimes either/both if you're an omnivore). There are a couple of surprises in store as well.
Tribal Stage (RTS):
Once your creature has a large enough brain, it's time to go up from there. The tribal stage lets you (again) to ally with other tribes, or destroy them. The objective usually is to gather food (carnivores hunt creatures, herbivores gather fruit, omnivores do either), gain enough members to either destroy a tribe or ally with them through music. The difficulty of this part is not high, and can be annoying when you have slow legless creatures like mine.
There are some design problems with this stage (and the next, due to their similarity), however. You can't group tribe members, so this means that you'd have a difficult time having to reselecting members of a group you want to form. Gathering food is a hassle because you have to do it manually often, especially if you're a carnivore, where you have to kill off other animals for food. I remember many of my guys died because I killed of a bunch of animals nearby, and I had one guy going fishing in that same area. The result is my guys who are fishing kept dying to the animals aggressively attacking it. Other times they simply drop their food gathering to kill the animals instead, making it very difficult to maintain. When attacking another tribe, there is a huge difficulty in attacking specific members of a crowd, and I often have a bunch of my guys uselessly walking around because there's no space to touch the targeted enemy.
I won't mention much about the lack of a requirement of strategy either.
Civilization Stage (RTS):
Once you're done with tribal, you come here. The same basic idea of the tribal stage is here as well, with a bunch of different "shenanigans" that make the tribal stage annoying less annoying. This stage is much better than the tribal stage for the more "hardcore", with more units to get, housing, etc. This time, you get three different strategies instead of 2. You can attack either by religion, military power, or by economic trade. The economic trade is by far the most unique part of this stage, as the other two stages still follow the same "swarm and kill everything" mentality that plagued the tribal stage. All in all, I found this stage highly enjoyable.
Space Stage (RTS/Adventure):
The deepest part of the game. The amount of freedom you have is staggering. You get to fly around to other space systems, meeting new allies/making new enemies as you go. You can terraform planets to make them habitable, and colonize them. You can carry out missions, and take out the evil empire. All in all, the space stage is highly enjoyable. It's just usually very annoying to keep zooming in and out of planets to complete certain tasks even when you can blow them up easily with your destructo ray.
I do believe that if this game didn't have DRM, I'd recommend all players to at least play the game once through (via borrowing from others and the like, of course). Since it does, I believe that one should at least play this once through using other methods. This game deserves the "Killer 7" argument: as flawed as this, get it anyway, because this game is quite unique.