So, been playing a fair bit, and the flaws really start to show after a few days. The problem, I think, is that no single stage is polished enough to work as an entertaining game on its own, and five mediocre games don’t add up to a single good one.
Space looses its charm after a few pirate raids. For some reason, your personal spaceship is the only one your species will build, meaning every time you head out into the void to explore, pirates start raiding your colonies, ecological disasters break out everywhere, and militaristic aliens start sending armadas to annex your homeworld. Fundamentally, the game doesn’t seem to be sure what the player should be doing – am I the galactic overlord, coordinating defences, strategy and colonisation empire-wide? The scale of the galaxy and the amount of colonial micromanagement seem to indicate so, but then why can’t I build fleets and defence forces, and why is there no way to compare the status of all my colonies, and why can I only expand the colony my starship is currently physically at? Or am I meant to be a bold explorer, commanding my own ship, making first contact, negotiating with the aliens I meet and dealing with local problems? The focus on a single starship seems to say so, as does the mission concept and hauling cargo – but then shouldn’t I only be expected to respond to enemy forces in the area I’m exploring, not every crisis in the entire galaxy? It ends up feeling like the bastard offspring of Master of Orion and Star Control, with none of the depth of either and no thought put into how the different game play of each should be integrated with each other.
Creature mode, which was meant to be the focus of the game, seems very simplistic compared to the preview videos and screenshots. Shape and design of your creature doesn’t really affect its behaviour or actions; as long as you chose the Level 4 Bite mouth, it’s the ultimate predator, even if you decided to put that mouth somewhere where it has no possibility of actually eating anything with it. There’s no reason to ever build anything but a biped – extra limbs don’t give any advantage. There’s no ecology to speak of; you generally won’t encounter other creatures away from their nests, and it’s simple enough to completely exterminate your fellow species – which is actually an encouraged goal! Because, as we all know, the ultimate goal of any predator is to wipe out its food supply. Your creature gets special bonuses if it’s a carnivore, herbivore or omnivore, which carry over to later stages – but there’s no way to make your species a pack hunter or a scavenger or a herd animal; decisions which surely should affect its tribal culture far more than simply what it eats… In general, there just plain aren’t enough interesting decisions going on in the game; the last important decision you’ll end up making is whether to be a herbivore or a carnivore – and you make that in the cell stage! In SimCity or The Sims, there’s a real sense of achievement when you get your city or family working the way you want – because there’s so many options, but you’ve got to balance things right to end up with the result you want. But in Spore, it wasn’t exciting leading my little blob-creature from a single cell to an interstellar empire – because, hell, what else was I going to do? What else could I have done? No matter what you create, or what you want to achieve, you’re going to end up with roughly the same game and the same result each time.
It’s a real shame, because I haven’t been excited about a new game in a long time – but Spore’s no SimCity or Civilization – it’s closer to Black and White or Master of Orion 3… Maybe not that bad, but not a classic by any stretch…