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SummaryI can proudly say: I did not make a penis in this game.
The GoodAllows for a lot of customization.
Universe is very expansive.
Final stage allows for a lot of completion.
Choosing between Herbivore, Omnivore and Carnivore really makes a difference.
The BadControls are problematic.
There is always a best option when creating your characters, so there is no reason to experiment or make your own thing.
Civilization stage drags on.
Space is the most enjoyable, but has too much “doing things”, besides just been repetitive.
The Bottom LineCellular
As the game starts you’ll find yourself in the ocean, controlling a small creature. This is the first phase of the game and also by far the least complex of them all: Your goal is to consume a number of pellets, red ones for the carnivores and green ones for the herbivores. You can also kill other creatures by bumping into them with your mouth or whatever spiky parts your body contains, which has a chance of giving you a new part to stick to your body (such as a needle) and gives you three free red pellets. It sounds alright, but it’s slightly unfair towards the Herbivores who can’t bite enemies and thus they need to either scour the world for meteorites (which also have parts in them) or awkwardly kill enemies through other means. It’s also slightly beyond me how you can play as an Omnivore in this phase, because some mouths eat the green pellets and other the red ones. Maybe you stick two mouths to your character?
Once you have some parts you like and consumed some pellets, you can use a special button that calls a “mate”. If you swim over to your mate, then the two produce an egg and you can spend the DNA you collected by finding the pellets on adding the new parts to your body. Overall this reminds me of old Flash games where you had to consume smaller fish (or whatever the theme was) in order to grow and eat even bigger fish. This deviation might not be exactly that, but sticking parts to your body allows for a bit more tactic instead of just comparing sizes. The selection of possible parts is still very limited at this point, but we are supposed to be simple cells, so it’s fine.
After you absorbed enough pellets you’ll be prompted to leave the ocean by clicking on a button, upon doing so you’ll be taken to a new customization screen. You now have the ability to stick legs, arms, hands and other limps to your character. You can now also bend your body in different 3-dimensional shapes. While the amount of available parts is yet again underwhelming, this is the phase where that will change a lot, as you’ll find new parts scattered around the planet and by interacting with other creatures. If you decide to collect everything, then you’ll end up with a reasonably large library of parts that should allow you to realize most of your creative visions. If I have to name one problem though, then it would be that each part has a set of stats to it. On the easiest difficulty it’s not THAT big a problem, but it does mean that there is a definitive “better” option and that means settling with anything else will handicap you.
During this phase you have two different ways to play, though both feature around interacting with other races. Herbivores will have to make friends by sticking parts to themselves that upgrade their social skills (posing, dancing, singing and the likes). They then click on a creature and mimic their moves in order to fill up a bar. If the other creature fills his part of the bar faster than you do, then the attempt will have failed. You can increase the speed at which the bar fills by bringing more of your kind with you (you’ll unlock more slots for allies as you progress in this phase) or increasing the level of your actions by, you guessed it, sticking parts to your creature. Alternatively you can pick Carnivore and just rip the other creatures a new one. Carnivores are once again better off in this phase, as you are unlikely to die as long as you keep to basic gaming-instincts (don’t charge into the middle of the group, keep your gear up to date, max out your group). Either killing or befriending other creatures once again gives you DNA that allows you to add new parts to your race and fills the progress bar.
You can also get additional DNA by completing the mini-quests that pop up all the time, but these aren’t really that complex. Every time you find a new race, it will give you a number and tell you to befriend or kill so many of that race (Carnivores usually have to do more). There are also a few rare creatures that give you special quests, but these are hard to find and don’t really break up the tedium. It doesn’t really get into the way, since you have to do the tasks anyway, but it got really frustrating that I would run out of creatures to kill as a Carnivore. This meant having to wait for a while until they respawn, but in the time that takes I would be prompted to move to a new nest again. Moving nests is not too bad a quest either, it’s actually pretty clever: once you run out of nearby inhabitants to harass or befriend, then game will automatically locate a new nest nearby that has plenty to do around it.
Overall not a bad phase, though it would have benefited from more variation in the quest and less RPG-elements forced into it.
As your guys gain more and more DNA, their brain gradually grows and they become capable of logical thinking. Fire is invented, a house is built and they unite themselves into a tribe! This part of the game is really reminiscent to Age of Empire mixed with some elements from Halo Wars, you have a town center and from there you can raise individual peasants that can take on whatever job you assign to them. Doing so costs food, so you’ll have to use them in order fish, farm and hunt in order to keep the storage filled. There is however a very good twist to this scenario, because these peasants also fulfill a combat role (be it unarmed or with whatever weapon you give them). This means you’ll have to simultaneously keep up food production, guard your stock and keep your young safe from harm, as well as possibly wage war on enemies.
The aforementioned Halo Wars elements come into play when you want to construct buildings and get a selection between different kinds to place on pre-determined tiles attached to your base. From these buildings you can get items that help you in your tasks, such as a club to fight better or a horn to impose other tribes. You can give each individual villager an item of choice and this makes up for the lack of individual units. This phase signals the rise of the main problem I have with the later phases of the game: all of them are variations on other games, but with no depth at all. In this Age of Empires part there are no defenses you can build, no technologies to research, no trade, no diplomacy, no ships, no siege weapons and no ability to make buildings wherever you want. It’s a quality over quantity problem we are talking about.
During this phase the Carnivores once again have to slaughter their way to success, which is definitely the most straightforward option. This time around the Herbivore solution is easier though, you just take all your guys with you and play music for other tribes. If you picked Herbivore before, then you can fire fireworks into the sky that instantly raise your relationship with a tribe and you can also offer presents to instantly get a better relationship. By doing this you can end this phase in less than an hour and don’t have to deal with the poor combat mechanics. The problem is that there are set moments when you can start recruiting more villagers (similar to how you could get more room by building houses in AoE), so there is no way to outdo your enemies through size as this also instantly spawns larger enemy tribes. All you can do is waiting for a few enemies to walk away and then quickly burn their stuff down before they come back. Another derpy feature is the clothes you can stick to your characters, which looks almost always stupid. Clothes have statistics, but I managed to break the system: the hats have the highest stats, so just take three different hats and put them somewhere halfway decent (preferably where you can’t see the damn things).
Guess which series this phase is mimicking? Yeah, it’s the beloved Civ series! You’ll have to manage and defend cities, create units to do battle and claim resources in order to prevail… or you just go religious and mess everything up. Let’s start at the beginning:
At the start of this phase you’ll be asked to design a basic house for the first time and then a land-vehicle to go along with it. You can also build an entertainment-building, a factory and turrets, all of which you can personally design (aside from the turret, oddly enough). Likewise there are also three different vehicles; land, water and air. While it’s fun to design your own vehicles, I can’t help but notice that this is once again done in an attempt to hide the lack of units and technology. The vehicles aren’t very comfortable to design either because they have three stats: speed, health and religion/power, but all of these are stuck in a percentage bar, so you can have five rockets driving your car forward, but it will still be slow because there are guns on the side of it. Religious vehicles are even more dumb, because you need to stick ridiculous trinkets to them (such as giant harps), but in order to get enough religious power you’ll have to fill the whole thing up.
A positive change to the formula however is the fact that everything is done real-time, so no turns that just serve to slow things down. This part of the game can also get REALLY fast-paced as different factions (all of your own race, oddly enough. You’d think they at least let you conquer other races if you chose Herbivore in the previous phase) steal resources from one another and cities trade hands quite often. I also like the way you build your cities: Factories make people angry (making your city easier to take through religious methods), but also increase your income over time. To balance out for making people angrier you can place entertainment-buildings, which increase happiness. You can also place homes, which have no bonuses, but when connected to a factory they increase the income of that factory or, when attached to an entertainment-building, they increase happiness even more.
This phase can be played in three ways, so if you wanted an Omnivore, then this is finally the point at which you can develop your creatures into that position. Regardless of how you want to play it, the goal is always the same: conquer all the cities on the map. You can simply bomb the place with powerful vehicles (Carnivore), but also use religious vehicles to summon a holograph of your leader that tries to convert the population (Herbivore) or buy other cities (Omnivore). I am rather puzzled as to why you use holographs, seeing as we just evolved from a tribe and maybe priests would make more sense, but there is something else to complaint about. Buying cities DOES NOT work. I had enough money to buy 500 planes, but whenever I clicked on a city, it would say I didn’t have enough trade, even if I had every possible trade route leading to that city. I spend like two hours farming money in an attempt to buy that city, but then the game literally gave me the option to instantly win the phase. What the fuck?
This is the final stage of the game and obviously the main focus of the designers. You go into space and are allowed to travel to the millions of stars and galaxies out there, as well as interact with other galactic empires. I had so much fun in this phase that I wish they would have just made a damn Space-sim instead; the trading is amazingly fun, there are badges to collect by doing tasks, the missions aren’t too bad, there is so much to explore and it’s motherduckin’ space! I LOVE IT!
But I also grew bored of it too soon. This is perhaps the greatest disappointment I experienced with the game, but it was so rough that I had trouble enjoying it after I got over the initial kick. First of all: the missions are basic MMO-stuff, meaning collect that from there or kill X amounts of that. It’s always like that and this really shines through once you found some other empires and they start asking you a million things. There are also so many factions out here that it got really hard to keep track of anything after a while, it got so bad in fact, that I constantly forgot where my allies were located and what was safe to explore and what wasn’t.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that I couldn’t play as hostile as I did in any of the other phases. Your ship is stronger than any regular one, but you can’t really do anything offensive for a very long time and when you do you’ll be toasted by a million freaking planes at the same time. This forced my race to instantly change their whole way of interacting, but no matter how long I played, I never acquired the power to even assault ONE enemy planet. Another huge deal is the Terraforming, which is needed in order to make profitable colonies. I´m fine with placing a generator on the planet to keep atmosphere levels good, but then the game demands that you plunk down trees and animals to sustain it as well. It sounds okay, but for some reason the score keeps decreasing after I do this. How does placing trees make the planet colder? Or how does placing animals drain the planet’s atmosphere? It’s stuff like this that makes this phase a lot less enjoyable.
Spore has a lot of good ideas, but having so many phases only serves to make each one of them incredibly underwhelming and unpolished. It was certainly a nice experiment, but history has already proven that collections of small games rarely work well, unless they are intended to be mini-games.