Genre:   Real Time Strategy/Simulation

Developer:   Maxis Software

Publisher:    Electronic Arts

Released:  September 2008

PC Requirements:   See review below





by Trail_Mystic


The idea for Spore started sometime in 2000 as a world-species development simulation.  Talk of the game first attracted my attention when I found out that one of the developers from Sid Meier’s Civilization was going to be working on the project. Being a fan of the Civilization series I was grabbed by the far reaching scope that was being marketed for Spore.  Influencing the biological and socio-economic development of entire worlds sounded very interesting due to my past interest in similar games. When the marketing materials started flying, speaking about the “Amazing Journey of Spore” and how flexible and creative the game was my curiosity was piqued all the more.  Being a fan of “special” and “collector’s” game editions I purchased the SPORE: Galactic Edition, which includes a nice hard cover art book, a DVD on the making of Spore and a DVD Guide to Building a Successful Creature.  It is a very nicely assembled package and spoke of greater things to come.  My educational background includes both Biology and Sociology so I was very intrigued by the potential of the game. In other words I was like a kid in a candy shop.

We are all Cells

The game begins, very much at the beginning. You take on the part of a single cell organism attempting to survive in the primordial soup of an unknown developing planet.  If your attempt is successful you will (eventually) make your way from that liquid environment to land -- from the fire into the frying pan so to speak. I selected the normal game play skill level and it was fairly challenging at times. Not to worry, though. If your little developing buddy is killed, it just regenerates and you get another try. No matter how many times you fail, you get another try. I found this odd as it eliminates much of the game’s challenge, but onward I went guiding my colorful little friend through this grand adventure.  

Eventually you will be able to reshape your creature in the Creature Creator portion of the game.  The Creature Creator does have some nice features and additions, but the interface is sometimes quirky.  Snap points for the available creature parts don’t always line up the way you would like and you are eventually forced to settle for a compromise. Also, while the marketing may allude to creating a wondrous creature, don’t get too excited. The demo Creator that was distributed really didn’t give you the cold hard fact that you need to build a creature with specific attributes in order to survive. If you build a creature purely for aesthetics, there is a very good chance you’re going to find yourself playing portions of the game over and over again. So the net result again is a compromise between function and fashion.   Now that your creature is ready to hit land, it’s time to find others of your kind and learn how to survive.

To Sing or Shoot for your Supper

Survival is achieved in basically two ways in Spore; either develop relations with your neighbors or the complete polar opposite -- destroy them.  The other obvious aspect is food gathering, which differs according to the choice you made in the beginning of the game, these being Carnivore, Omnivore or Herbivore.   For my game play I chose Omnivore, figuring that I would have more success being able to either gather from the fields or eat my neighbors if need be.  Due to my RPG (Role-Playing Game) hack and slash background, I decided to approach the game from an aggressive standpoint, which was also fairly successful.  Just be careful though, because there are always bigger fish in the sea.  And in this case the other fish spit poison, have claws, fangs and can fly -- or are just really big and can stomp you into a pulp. Diplomacy is accomplished in the early stages by posturing, singing and similar social behavior.  Domination is accomplished by what ever means your creature has at its disposal, which will, along with your diplomacy attributes change and advance over time depending on the actions you take in the game.

One of the nice aspects of Spore is a flow chart style History that is generated and updated as your creature develops. This is a tool that appears in many Civilization type Sims (Simulations) and I was glad to see it put to use here.  Unfortunately it’s not very interactive, only giving a basic play-by-play of your character’s successes and downfalls each time you are ready to move on to another phase.  Each incorporates another trip to the Creature Creator to make improvements to your friend.  At some point, though, you are left with only aesthetic improvements.  Eventually, all the development you put into your creature’s natural defenses will fall to the way side, as it is the guidance of your society that will assure the continued success of your species.

For the most part I was enjoying myself; the background was colorful (even though it had a distinctly Fisher Price feel to it) and I could clearly see my progress.  Unfortunately, some of the game’s downfalls such as the mediocre control interface began to show through.  Directing multiple creatures can be like “herding cats” due to the odd AI (Artificial Intelligence) meandering function built into the characters.  The less than adequate interface becomes even more apparent as the game progresses.  I was also beginning to find out just how limited the games options really were.

My Kingdom for a Horse

Eventually you will find that, as in “real world” history, it is food, money and really cool vehicles that drive society.  Once your creature has completed its development cycle, your creative endeavors are directed to assembling buildings and vehicles for your cities and world.  The Creator for buildings has a bit more latitude than the Vehicle or Creature Creator, but the buggy behavior of the snap points continues here as well.  You are also limited to a certain number of parts by available funds -- and for your vehicle, by the required attributes it will need to perform its specific purpose.

Even with the limitations, you can come up with a pretty cool looking vehicle and the available color and texture options do make them interesting.  Although, once out of the Creator and introduced to your world, the vehicles become so small that it doesn’t seem to matter what they looked like originally. It’s also quite difficult to get a scope for the size of your buildings. While in the Creator there is no scale or comparison available, so it’s pretty much a best guess.

Even Kings must Fall

For a game that boasted so many available resources for creativity, I found it quite limiting.  The number of saves you can have is limited, the number of parts that your creature and their accompanying accessories can have is limited, the cities can only have a few buildings, you can only make a specific number of vehicles, you are only allowed to make a certain amount of money, and so on.  While the game has the nifty feature of being able to make screen prints or even directly upload videos of your creature and its world directly to YouTube, it lacks any true development found in other RTS/Sim (Real Time Strategy/Simulation) games. I think production of the game took an “aim high, shoot low” approach, which can be good. But in this case, it makes for a Sim that is really nothing but a three-dimensional coloring book with some basic lessons in socialization and economics. 

The game is, at its heart, an RTS/Sim, but it is so lacking in features that at times it has the feel of a slightly more than complex demo rather than a full game.  As mentioned earlier in this review the less than effective interface to control party members of portions of the military or economic infrastructure is a huge point of frustration.  The controls are clunky and missing key aspects, such as immediate selection and a logical method of locating specific units.  The map you are presented has virtually no detail other than generic markers for cities, vehicles and the limited economic ventures.  You’re forced to move to a location within the (in-game) world to determine if the specific unit you want to use is actually the one you’ve selected.

I also found the continued development tasks throughout the later stages to be non-compelling and repetitive. The formula for those stages is far too obvious to keep my attention for future game play and seems to be structured like a grade school exercise in societal development.  While technically the game offers almost unlimited play due to the variety of creatures and available planets, the real base storyline before repetition will offer average players about 10-15 hours of game play depending on their determination.  After that, the remaining game time is spent on exactly the same endeavors, just in a new phase accompanied by new frustrations with the control interface. One wonders if the lack of controls exhibited in the later stages is an attempt to increase the game play time.

I’m not really disappointed in what the game offers as much as disappointed in what was promised in marketing and then completely failed to deliver.  The graphics of the game are stylish and well done and it does have a high degree of entertainment value in its early stages, as well as offering replay for those who have the wish to explore different creature development paths.  The vehicle and building construction interfaces, while flawed, are fun to use -- like breaking into your first big box of crayons.  If you are in the mood for a lighthearted and colorful game with a kind of “genre du jour” feel and a few minor life lessons (but little depth), then this is it.

In keeping with what seems to be a common Internet standard for game rating, I’m going to switch my usual academic graded scores to a numerical 1-10.

Grade: 6

PC Requirements

Windows XP

  • 2.0 GHz P4 processor or equivalent
  • 512 MB RAM
  • A 128 MB Video Card, with support for Pixel Shader 2.0
  • At least 4 GB of hard drive space, with at least 1 GB additional space for creations.

Window Vista

  • 2.0 GHz P4 processor or equivalent
  • 768 MB RAM
  • A 128 MB Video Card, with support for Pixel Shader 2.0
  • At least 4 GB of hard drive space, with at least 1 GB additional space for creations.

When launching the game, some Microsoft Vista users may receive a warning about running out of address space along with a link to the Microsoft Knowledge Base. If you see this message, it is recommended that you follow the instructions and go to the website listed in the message to update your system.

For computers using built-in graphics chipsets, the game requires at least:

  • Intel Integrated Chipset, 945GM or above.
  • 2.6 GHz Pentium D CPU, or 1.8 GHz Core 2 Duo, or equivalent.
  • 768 MB RAM

Supported Video Cards

NVIDIA GeForce series

  • FX 5900, FX 5950
  • 6200, 6500, 6600, 6800,
  • 7200, 7300, 7600, 7800, 7900, 7950
  • 8400, 8500, 8600, 8800
  • 9600, 9800, GTX 260, GTX 280
  • Intel® Extreme Graphics
  • GMA 950, GMA X3000, GMA X3100

ATI Radeon™ series

  • 9500, 9600, 9800
  • X300, X600, X700, X800, X850
  • X1300, X1600, X1800, X1900, X1950
  • 2400, 2600, 2900
  • 3450, 3650, 3850, 3870,
  • 4850


January, 2009

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