I wrote this back in 2008 as a product review on amazon.com, but I never published it there as I normally have a policy about publishing things when I’m angry. After my last post someone asked me for this, and I have reluctantly agreed to supply it.
I figured out why Spore sucks last night. It took me six hours to actually realize why. I think I spent so much time on it because I refused to believe that it sucked. I have waited in eager anticipation for this game since E3 2005. I laughed when Robin Williams first got his hands on it, and again when Scott Ramsoomair thought about doing the same, and a third time at the penis monsters. I even reveled when I finally saw a live deep crow. Sadly, the creature creator is the best part of the final game. No, let me rephrase that, it doesn’t convey my disapproval. The creature creator is the ONLY good part of the game, and you can download it for free on their website.
I first learned that Spore had been released via email, an email I had eagerly been awaiting for three years, and scooted over to Amazon.com to buy it. I was surprised to find it had received a rating of 1 on Amazon.com. However, the reviewers were not concerned with the actual game. Instead, they were rating it low because of the DRM EA had decided to package with it. Apparently, to activate the game (a single player game mind you, with NO multiplayer options) you have to access the internet and confer with an EA server. Even then, you only get three installs (with an option for a fourth assuming you still have everything that came with the box when you bought it, years later when you need that fourth), and for someone like me, who goes through computers like hot cakes, this is more than mildly inconvenient. Also, it has the usual DRM spyware. So it’s understandable that the community would have a backlash like this.
I am NOT here to give it a 1 out of 5 (the lowest possible rating) because it installs malicious code on your computer without your consent, or because you are essentially renting the game from EA for $55. No, I’m rating it purely based on gameplay, and it is Bad. I suppose I could also rate it on the storytelling experience, but Spore makes no attempt to tell a story. I suppose I could make one up, but if I have to handle the narratological components of a game for that game, someone has screwed up, badly.
The game, as you probably know by now, is divided into five phases, and every single one of them is a travesty. Someone told me that the first two were OK, but it is downhill from there; and while I agree it goes downhill, the hill’s elevation is not exactly high to begin with. In the first phase, you start off as a single celled organism and grow larger by eating bits of food (or killing other cells and eating the bits of food they leave behind). I opted for the carnivore as herbivore seemed just boring. The only problem is, other cells were either: a) bigger and meaner than me or b) much much faster than me. Part of it seemed as if I never had enough points to buy the parts I wanted, but most of it was probably the fact that chasing or running is not very fun gameplay.
The second phase was marginally better, if only because you could use the full creature creator. While I admit it’s fun to create your own creature, the actual gameplay I had to do with that creature was mindnumbingly boring. Imagine World of Warcraft, except that you get three abilities, and there are only three quests. That about sums up phase two. Either go here, kill three of these guys, or make friends with three of these guys over here. Not exactly compelling gameplay. As if to make things even more dull, the way you make friends is to play “simon says.” If you’re anything like me this gets boring fast, and I just started killing everything in my path. This didn’t make things any harder as my “pack” consisted of four guys, versus a single enemy.
The third phase seemed the least completed. I had expected to create a single building and have the game extrapolate off that for dozens of others. Instead, I ended up designing zero buildings and the game only gave me eight to play with. Three war buildings, three music buildings, a healing station, and a fisherman’s hut. The game changed surprisingly little between these phases, except now instead of the “simon says” being about dancing it was about music. The only augmentation (besides putting clothes on my hell beasts) was the addition of a “food” resource, but giving myself a pair of fishermen reduced even that to triviality. After brutally destroying the other tribes, and raising a giant phallic totem poll, I was ready for the fourth phase.
One might assume that the city building phase would be the most polished given the past history of games like Civilization; sadly this was not the case. Instead, I got to waste an hour designing buildings and cars. I remember Will Wright saying, at one point, that the game would extrapolate off your design, but I suppose that brilliant idea got cut for budgetary reasons. Let this be a lesson to future game developers; if I have to spend an hour building a game I already paid money for, I am not going to look favorably on that game. Additionally the game play hadn’t even changed (despite being able to flatten cities with ICBMs), I could trade (instead of play music or dance) or annihilate all the other cities. What’s worse, the trading mechanism took zero effort on my part; let me show you:
Step 1: Build Vehicle and click trade on enemy city
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit
I could literally lay back and just wait for cities to fall over themselves in front of my massive “trade.”
At some point along the way, the game had established a moral system for me. I hadn’t really noticed (assuming that it was just chronicling my adventures) and when it finally told me I was a complete Jackass, I didn’t really care. Take home number two for future developers: If the moral system doesn’t effect gameplay, it isn’t adding anything to the game (except for development costs).
Finally, I had built my space ship, or in my case, my “pimp ship” (I don’t know why the game felt compelled to make me name everything, it seemed so tacked on) and decided to explore the universe. Guess what I found out? The universe is full of jerks. Basically, everyone, and their mother, told me to go somewhere to pickup something for them, and if I ever got out of line they’d send their space ships to decimate my homeworld. Although, even if I did do what they wanted, some other jerk would decimate my homeworld anyway. I suppose this phase is supposed to allow me to acquire tools to terraform a world to my specifications, but considering how arduous the missions were to get those tools, I decided to skip it and write this review instead.
I stand by my decision.
I would normally sum up things for you here in this last paragraph, but I feel the entire summary can be expressed in two words: Spore Sucks. I’m not saying the DRM sucks, or even DRM in general, I’m saying the actual game sucks. It’s a bad game that was delivered half finished to me. So to all you people out there rushing to spend $55 on it let me give you this advice. Take that money, and burn it. It’d still be a better idea than playing Spore.
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