Spore Sucks

2011-05-03 by . 7 comments

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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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  • fredley says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Does anyone else remember Escape Velocity? It’s like the space stage of Spore, but good!

  • Matt says:

    Completely agree. I wanted to love this game so much but the whole linear structure of an “open” game was soul destroying. Also after playing this original game for all of 30 seconds, I realised it wasn’t actually original at all, just a reinterpretation of an old SNES game (and later a Dreamcast game) called E.V.O. 16 bit graphics bit solo much better.

  • Dan Diplo says:

    Spore was easily the most disappointing game I have ever played in my 25 years of gaming. The early E3 videos made it sound awesome, but the reality was so far removed that it was hard to believe it was the same game. Like the reviewer I really tried to like it, even fooling myself at one point it had hidden depths, but the reality came crashing down like a bad trip – it was irredeemably awful.

  • Josh says:

    Wait… I’m not sure I played the same game that you played. At all.

    In phase 1: “other cells were either: a) bigger and meaner than me or b) much much faster than me.” You felt phase one was too hard? I had no trouble finding things to eat, and I enjoyed the wide range of creatures — all created in the superficially simplistic 2D creature editor.

    And then you though phase 3 was too easy? I was never able to just sit back and profit — other civilizations grew far too powerful without my constant interference.

    “At some point along the way, the game had established a moral system for me… If the moral system doesn’t effect gameplay, it isn’t adding anything to the game.” What moral system? The game tracks whether you are peaceful, aggressive, etc (a couple of different axes) but nowhere that I found does it say that one is moral and one is immoral. I was never told that I was good or evil. And it DID add to the game: it affected which special abilities you were granted in the next phase. The only actual morality I saw in the game was after I got the nuclear bomb and said, “hmm, I wonder what this button does?” and dropped it on an enemy city… the city was obliterated and every remaining civilization became my sworn enemy forever. Which quite definitely affected gameplay.

    The other phases were pretty simple, but were also short enough that their simplicity wasn’t really a problem. This was exactly what I expected of the game — it’s exactly what Will Wright said it would be.

    I did think that designing every building and vehicle was a bit boring, and I was a little disappointed by the space phase, but only because I don’t really enjoy sandbox games (I don’t play Minecraft, either. And since you complained about Spore not providing a strong enough story, I’m guessing you don’t either.) That doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, though — just not optimized for my own personal tastes. I did enjoy the rest enough to play through the fairly short pre-space game again, making different choices to see how things would turn out differently.

    I agree that the creature editor is the best part of the game, but — separated from the game, it’s not fun at all. I only find it fun because I’m then able to play the game with the creatures I’ve created. Creating them in a vacuum would be boring.

  • Raven Dreamer says:

    I think that Spore could have been the Best Game Ever ™ with one tiny change — if it were open to modding, the way Fallout, The Elderscrolls, heck, even Dwarf Fortress is.

    Spore, as it was shipped, was a poor game, I won’t deny that (and in fact, I agree with you). What it had, however, was a good framework. I can’t tell you how often I sat thinking in between my games of simon says or spear-axe-shaman-torches about how good the game could have been, if only they had done this, or if players could do that instead of those.

  • DailyD says:

    Spore didn’t even let me play itself. “For security reasons the game can only be installed a few times” that’s what it sad…

    A few days ago, my friend gave me his copy of spore to install it on my computer. It didn’t let me (for security reasons -_-) so i decided to buy my own copy.

    My Spore problem at Stack-Gaming:http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/23250/a-few-problems-with-installing-spore-mac

    And as i happily put it in my CD-driver and install it, guess what it says?


    it didn’t even let me put in my newly accuired key… This game is flying out of the window very, very soon…

  • Neut says:

    I have to agree that Spore was a very large disappointment. It set itself up to be the God Game of All God Games, allowing you to control all stages of evolution up through the civilization and space-faring stages. What it turned out being was five separate games within a game, with each of those games being rather shallow and easy to get through. That is, until you go to the space-faring stage, which took longer to beat than all of the other phases combined.

    Spore looked great on paper but worked poorly in execution. Too many big, ambitious ideas given the real constraints of time and budget. Especially under EA. Go figure.

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