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SummaryQuite a let down, but still good
The GoodFirst and foremost, this review will contain some spoilers. If you want to play through the game having absolutely no idea what you're in for and like surprises, then beware of this review.
The long awaited, "Spore" is here. Does it measure up to the hype? Well, yes and no.
First of all, I had difficulty getting the game to run. It flat out refused to cooperate with an 8800 GT SLI arrangement. As a matter of fact, when the game would fail to start it would ask me to update my video drivers (already done) and then to DISABLE SLI. Yep, disabling SLI got the game to work. Why a new release has this problem is beyond me.
So anyway, I begin at the cell stage and I have to say that this looks really promising. Out of all of them, the cell stage is the most realistic, and the environment is perfect. Early on you notice the world zooming out more and more as you grow and evolve. I really enjoyed this part. However, it was over way too quick. You can even get an accomplishment merit for finishing it in under 8 minutes. I'm not saying I did that, but just the same knowing that it's possible to complete an entire stage in under 8 minutes is a little disappointing.
Moving on to the creature stage, I did not like it much. At first it's kind of fun, but this stage is a grind and unfortunately way too long. This could have to do with the path I chose, which is to befriend other creatures and to be a herbivore. This requires you to charm other animals which takes quit a bit of grinding in order to build up the sufficient DNA to spend on the required parts. On top of that, because you're putting resources towards non-combat related characteristics, you're a sitting duck for anything bigger than you. Perhaps playing this stage as aggressive would be more fun, but here's the catch (we'll get more into this later); you receive attributes and various penalties depending upon how you acted in a previous stage of the game. Therefore, if I wanted to play aggressive in the creature stage, I'll be equipped with more offensive capabilities and less economic/social abilities which is NOT the path I desire.
And therein lies another problem with the game. While it's quite possible to change how you treat others and survive, it's very difficult, because one stage builds on how you acted in the last. Act militant in one stage and you're terribly ill-equipped to be a diplomat in the next. Moving on...
In the tribal phase, I have to say that this was like an RTS mini-game. I say "mini-game" meaning dumbed down, simplistic, and with lack of variety. Nevertheless, at this point you control various tribesman (all are identical except for the chief which has some special abilities) and the goal is to either live in peace with everyone, kill everyone, or live in peace with the remainder of tribes left after you've killed a few.
There is pretty much zero in the way of tactics here. Befriend tribes which are close (which involves giving gifts and putting on performances), and kill those that are raiding you or non-cooperative. Given that there is no variety in units, the bigger numbers almost always win. As you progress and get tools you tend to get an edge. A spear wielding tribe will do better in combat against a torch wielding one. But numbers are king and there is a very humble population cap (12 units at the height of your tribe). Furthermore, there are specific places to build buildings which further eliminates strategy and the only resource you have to manage is food, which is so widely available that nobody can cut you off from it. All in all, the tribal phase is a rather forgettable one.
Progressing to the civilization phase had me really ticked off. Because of my previous actions and by trying to trade or be otherwise altruistic, my civilization was a religious one. No, I did not choose that, I was automatically assigned that by the game. Because of this, I could not establish trade routes and my military force was extremely weak. Now I'm surrounded by competing empires that hate me because I'm a religious nation on top of that (the game tells you which factors are responsible for friendship or conflict between competitors). What's worse, modifying my creature has completely stopped, and you come to find out, are you ready for this, that none of the physical traits or tribal outfits you have assigned to your creature make one damn bit of difference in gameplay. How could they do this?
The good is that you get to design your own buildings and vehicles, but unfortunately it's mostly just for looks. In the civilization stage you must conquer, convert, or buy competing cities. Once you take over a city of a different discipline (for example, a religious city converting an economic one), you will then have the option of employing the tactics of that city. Again, this stage is like an RTS minigame. What I did find laughable is that combat units are created instantly. In other words you can just stockpile your cash with no military present, and then if someone happens to raid you, you can just spam click the vehicle button and instantly reach your population cap out of nowhere. Bad, bad design for an RTS. You RTS players can only imagine if you applied that ability to ANY RTS out there.
Overall it's too simplistic in so many ways. I conquered the globe, first time playing, in one sitting that was probably well under the 3 hour mark. So again, another forgettable stage.
Moving on to the galactic stage, I have to say that the game really shines here. This could almost be a standalone game, except for the fact that there are too many repetitive missions. Many of the promotions are based upon repetition, and almost all of the missions used to establish good relations with other species are fetch and bug hunt missions.
But the terraforming and planet manipulation parts are rock solid and there is nothing else out there like it. It's especially cool to populate a planet with your friend's own creations to see how they interact in your worlds. I could go on and on about this final stage, there is so much to do, so much to explore, and all kinds of content that you leave the computer after 5 or 6 hours of play feeling like you just didn't get enough done. Good stuff.
I'm sad to say however that there is a bug in the game that is unfortunately, a show stopper. There is an event when your home world gets raided and you must defend it. After vanquishing the enemy, when you try to leave your planet the game crashes. I've been pouring over forums and there are literally thousands of users experiencing this problem, spanning the globe. If you avoid going to your planet to stop the invasion, your homeworld will be destroyed. If you go, then you'll not be able to continue due to the crash after the fight. It's a show stopper, and since there is no fix (yet), my fun with Spore has ended there.
The BadSee above, it's all mixed in.