Guest Author - Lisa Shea
Spore is an innovative game from the creator of the Sims, which lets you take a creature right from the one-celled amoeba type stage all the way through space flight. It has great potential, but also can be very frustrating.
First, a word about the copy protection scheme. There have been literally thousands of anti-Spore reviews posted on a number of websites solely ranting about the copy protection scheme. Many good gaming companies have gone under because of piracy, so I certainly understand that software should never be stolen. Piracy damages a creator's ability to pay their rent. That being said, Spore went overboard. You can literally only install the game 3 times before having to talk to the Spore company to ask for permission to install it again. I get a new PC every year, and usually I install games on my PC and laptop to test on both platforms. This would mean after a year I would be stuck.
It gets better than that, though. When installing Spore on my laptop, my built in anti-virus software saw Spore's attempt to install its copy protection software, thought it was a virus and silently blocked it. This meant Spore finished installing and didn't work. I hunted around but finally just installed it and reinstalled it. This meant I already "lost one install" because of that. Even so, the anti-virus software kicked in again and I had to manually go in and fix some links and add some files before it would run properly. I can't imagine most average gamers doing this just to get their game to run.
So finally I had Spore installed. Now to start playing! In cell mode I wanted to be an herbivore. Big mistake. While there are lots of enemies around to eat if you're a carnivore, and an omnivore can eat anything, a poor herbivore can only eat plants. Once those plants are gone, you're pretty much doomed. Everything wants to eat you. I found out quickly through trial and error that an omnivore was your best bet. A few "upgrades" later, and I was moving on to creature mode.
In creature mode you take your same basic cell shape and move up onto land. Again, it became apparent through several replayings that plant eaters had a rough life. You want to be an omnivore so you can eat your enemies when you find them - and also fall back on plants if you're surrounded by things too tough to attack.
On you go through the higher levels, and the game morphs along to let you build tribes, gather food, get space flight. At each level you switch to a new set of skills and have to learn new gameplay.
I really love the idea - but I wish the game carried more over from level to level. When you go from cell to creature level, you are left with a bunch of "useless body parts". You need to in essence completely redesign your creature for the new challenges.
Also I wish the game did not seem to heavily biased towards omnivore. Maybe they are trying to each us a lesson here :) It is only through an equal balance of aggression and pacifism that you can survive.
I definitely find this game to be a time sink, and can lose myself in it for hours. However, compared with other games I play, the time does not pass in a "stress release" fashion. For example if I play Halo or Age of Empires or Starcraft or other games I get caught up in them, have a lot of fun and feel quite happy when I'm over. Most of the time when I'm playing Spore I'm feeling frustrated with the enemies, stressed about finding more food, and annoyed that my people are off migrating or being attacked by wild animals and needing help. It's a "demanding" game. I love challenges and tough opponents - but it shouldn't be stress inducing.
I'll give the game a 3/5. It is certainly fun in a way, and I give it a ton of credit for being innovative. However, the evolutions could have been handled far better, the balance on each particular level could have been much more even, and that copy protection scheme is just awful. I only have Spore installed on my laptop and this is the first time I've ever had to do that - do a single-system install because I am afraid of running out of reinstall options once I switch machines. I shouldn't be in that situation with a game I paid for.