September 25, 2008

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Spore (PC/MAC)
Maxis, Sept. 7, E10+
By Glenn "creation science" Given production@hippopress.com

Finally! Will Wright and Brian Eno put aside their ancestral grudges and deliver Spore, the PC’s first everything simulator.

You want flow? Check out the Cell phase. 4x space faring? Zip forward to the Space phase. Civilization management and global conquest a la Civilization 4? Try your hand at the, uh, Civilization phase.

I’m not gonna come down hard on Spore (yet) for unoriginality ’cause I believe that post-modern pastiche is a viable avenue for the generation of unique and new artistry. But I will say that there is little here that a sufficiently hardware-enabled gamer couldn’t get by playing a random assortment of game genres in one marathon session.

To be a bit kinder: Players begin by tweaking the cellular properties of their meteor-birthed blob of plasm, growing it by traipsing across currents and scooping up prey (or veggies for the herbivores). Your twice-damned bastard of Darwin and Creationism gone awry soon moves up the evolutionary ladder (with some character editing guidance by you) to Creature, Tribe, Civilization and eventually the planet-hopping Space scales. Each scale is enjoyable in its own right — fans of RTS titles will find comfort in Tribal and Civilization stages especially — and the real joy is found in taking your bloblet through the paces. You’re forgiven for premature extinction by gentle handed reset to earlier points in each stage and in general Spore often opts for awe and wonder over arduous.

It’s all quite an approachable product, slickly designed with the casual Sims fan type in mind. Weirdly enough it’s not the game itself that impresses, though the scope it attempts is certainly notable. The user-generated content is where Spore really shines. At each stage Spore connects to other copies of the game and scoops up various user-created creatures, civilizations and the like and uses that to populate your game. You’re not directly competing with each other but there is an oddly enjoyable disjointed sense of victory when one eliminates or assimilates the work of another.

It’s a wonder that Spore didn’t take its scale-slipping to the next level and advance us past space to a meta-game where the success of your game’s creations is pitted against all others. But, for all the juicy morsels of sim lunacy that Spore delivers, there is one glaring lesion: Spore’s DRM. While some of us might not feel so bad about being treated like de facto thieves every time we watch a movie, install a game or download a song from iTunes, I would like to imagine that savvy gamers do. When Spore limits you to three product activations per copy, it’s not that that is some unreasonable number of legal installs, it’s the insult of the supposed necessity of the DRM in the first place. The backlash against this DRM has ironically put Spore well on its way to being the most pirated PC game ever. Reach for those stars! B — Glenn Given