This is the magna obra of Electronic Arts that have never been. No Sims, no KOTOR, no B2, no UO, no DA:O. This game could have been the best game they published. Even if it’s deeply flawled, this game just opened (and closed) a new era on game design. The game is also cool, the idea beyond is awesome and there is nothing like it up to this day. I replayed it various times from 2008 and there are still many fans playing it 11 years after.
Spore gameplay is is divided on stages 5, where every stage serves as an introduction to the next stage, until the player reaches the space stage. Not only that, but we could categorize the game by dividing the first 4 stages in two related pairs, where there are just two main stages (creature and civilization). The other two stages are substages that serve to introduce them (cell and tribal respectively). The final stage is where the game actually is supposed to begin.
The game stages are like tiers where you get to higher abstractions. But another interesting point is that all stages (all but cell stage) are actually mixed on the same game world. On all those you can see UFOs from last stage. In tribal you can see previous stage “savage” creatures. There is a continuity.
Even if Spore is single player, there is a multiplayer component: player designed species can be seen in other player games.
I think this game had it’s influence in many modern games like No Man’s Sky (because of space exploration sandbox), Nier Automata (because of genre-mix) or the yet to be Death Stranding (because there is a slight multiplayer interaction - the shared species).
- Graphics are beautiful and there are many textures and infinite models as everything is built of “parts” which could be customized by players (and Maxis, the company made the game).
- Some replayability: everything in the game resolves around food (first stages) or relations with other species (later), so there are always two or three ways of progressing. But the strong point is to design and evolve new species.
- It’s a multi-genre game because it’s divided on “stages” with distinct gameplay and goals:
- The first par of stages focus on DNA mechanic. Cell stage seems a arcade-survival genre (pacman?) and creature stage seems to be a adventure-survival game.
- The second pair of stages focus on group-control mechanic, it’s a simple RTS game with competition against AI.
- The last stage is a sandbox game.
- The game literally scales up on each stage, it’s rewarding and interesting.
- Many easter egg and references to films/books and maxis games.
- Maxis alien design is cool, but it’s also fun to see other player species. Some are hilarious.
- The game does a good job with in-game tutorials, helping new players to advance on each stage.
I’ll also review every stage as a separate game.
- Cell stage is straightforward: eat to grow, to advance. Player is introduced to DNA mechanic too in a simple cell creator.
- The cell stage creatures are simpler but very cool.
- The player is meant to eat carnivore or herbivore food, which has an impact in next stages as is going to be linked to kill other species or make good relations with them.
- Creature stage sets making relations (friendly or hostile) as the way to advance.
- The creature editor is amazing. Great part complexity for the creature design. You can walk erect, have 4 legs, wings, 2 mouths, … all you can think of. Well… almost. Sadly, no complex body skeleton in vanilla game (without mods).
- There are many creature skills, like jumping, and everything depends on chosen DNA parts. Combat and diplomacy also depends on creature parts.
- Exploration is encouraged to advance in this stage.
- Hunger acts as a timer. Finding food can also prove difficult for carnivore creatures (as they rely on killing enemies for food) on some situations, so it’s fun if you’re carnivore.
- Basic RTS mechanics: gather food, give weapons to specialize units, few powers, destroy enemy base or do alliance to win.
- Gameplay is more fast paced and entertaining than previous stages.
- Species preserve some creature skills like ranged attack, jump/fly, camouflage… from previous stage. But combat now is defined by tribal weapons and attributes.
- Improved RTS mechanics: control resource node to get income, build housing for unit limit, land/sea/air warfare.
- Few 4x game mechanics: industry vs happiness, religious influence and trade routes to conquer peacefully, basic diplomacy.
- The civilization stage editor is great too. More things to design: various types of buildings and units.
- There are still complexity limits but it’s fair. Also, no need to wait to get “DNA like points” to get your fancy designs.
- The space stage mixes person space adventure (because of exploration and missions) with space 4x.
- There are missions to accomplish with ranks and prizes as rewards.
- Again, we’re back on exploration but this time is a galaxy instead of a planet.
- We can now also design spaceships and our colonist creatures.
- There are many ship components to unlock/research and use. Many things to do.
- The art is on the cute-joke-cartonish side, which is fine but I think a more realistic approach, even with scary stuff, would be amazing. The game implementation is too gamey.
- Most complexity of the game is thrown in the cell/creature/unit/building editors. All game stages, even if they’re well designed, feel repetitive, too simple and lackluster.
- The game is supposed to be a simulator, a SIM game, but in the core, it only offers single player real time action on all stages (and creature/stuff editors).
- Lack of secrets and random events. Easter eggs are fun but game lacks game-affecting events, hidden places, etc. Something to reward exploration and to disrupt games.
- There is little (later stages) to no penalty (first stages) for dying.
- Lack of water creature stage to link from water cell to the land creature stage.
Again, I’ll review every stage flaws separately.
Cell stage flaws
- Too simple and quick stage. Could be must more interesting but it acts just as an intro to the next stage, there is nothing to do here.
- There is too much food with zero competition, so there is no challenge at all.
- The stage should have more variety of cell parts and no DNA point limit. But the limits severely hamper all the possible fun on the cell design, which is also all the fun on the stage.
- Cell parts are totally unrealistic for a cell, way too gamey/cheesy. Cells… sure, I’ll buy that.
- The cell stage has little impact on next stages: just be able to be omnivorous or not.
- This could be the best introductory stage because of the appealing of microscopic world. But it’s a zero challenge arcade with just the worst editor of the game.
Creature stage flaws
- Game constrains creature design by adding a complexity and DNA points costs. Many parts are a must have (because of powers), which means player focuses on gameplay things instead of creature looks until stage finishes.
- Searching all DNA parts can be tiresome and grindy, at least if you have the parts DLC (Creepy & Cute Parts Pack). This grind also makes the stage artificially longer than other intro stages.
- Movement in the creature stage is awkward. This is related to engine physics, mostly because of creature positioning and collision bounds. In next stages it happens but too it isn’t so noticeable.
- Peaceful relations (carnivores and omnivores are likely to do them) are repetitive and it’s soon boring.
Tribal stage flaws
- It’s too simplified to be a good RTS.
- There are few special skills and they seem worthless when conquering.
- As it happened on cell stage, there are less choices for the tribal customization as it’s just introducing the next stage (where the serious design happens).
- Farming wild species (beasts) is too easy to worry about fishing. But there is no problem for herbies too. Again, food is never an issue.
- The food stealing mini-rogue is a joke, you only need one guarding the camp.
Civilization stage flaws
- This feels the most solid stage (somewhat) but still is too simple to be a good RTS and it’s far for being a 4x like Sid Meier’s Civilization.
- There are 3 units types without specialization, no research, very basic city building, very basic diplomacy… zero complexity.
Space stage flaws
- Spaceship movement is awkward unless you use mixed WASD keys + mouse wheel, which works better.
- Again, the game fails to be a proper space 4x and it’s debatable how to rank it as a adventure game.
- I always found the Space stage (without expansions) as the least interesting and usually go back to start a new game. There is no “simulation” anymore, no evolution… and those were the things that kept you going during the game until this point.
Why to play?
It’s a unique game. It mixes various genres and stages them as tier levels, where you get to a higher wold scope. It offers a interesting experience in a beautiful and, somewhat, harsh world. But, over everything else, remember this a SIM game and it was made by The Sims and SimCity game creators. This is the probably the ultimate sim game. Even with all its defects, it’s totally worth it to experience it.
How to acquire
Spore can be legally bought from various sources, I’d recommend this online stores:
- Origin, the store of Electronic Arts. Buy here to support the publisher and to share your game achievements.
- GOG. You can buy it here DRM free, so it’s the best place to support no-DRM policies.
- Steam. There are no Steam achievements for this game, so there is little reason to choose this over gog or even origin version. If you want the Steam overlay, you can always manually add the origin/gog game into the Steam application.
The game is usually on discount on those places, so feel free to wait for 50%-75% discounts on game with expansion and DLC.
What I’d like to discourage is to buy this game from other places like the 3rd party online marketplaces where game serial keys could be found. You won’t support the publisher and the devs doing that, so it’s just not worth to pay there, don’t do it. Also, it’s not worth trying to get a physical copy on DVD on Amazon or other physical marketplace, the copy is likely to be overpriced.
Version / Platform
Spore has been released only for PC/Mac. There is a bundle called “Spore Collection” with everything related to the vanilla game but the components can be acquired separately too:
- The vanilla game, Spore.
- The DLC Creepy & Cute Parts Pack to add new creature parts, painting and animations. Even if you could play without it, it’s a nice to have.
- Spore Galactic Adventures, the expansion that is meant to improve the adventure side of the Space stage and it’s a must have if you want to enjoy it.
- The standalone Spore Creature Creator, just the creature editor.
Even if Spore is amazing idea, it’s very complicated and hard to make a simulation game with evolution from cell to space letting the player control the creature design. In fact, probably most of the game effort was on the ingame editors, which are very complex. That would explain everything else, even if it’s ok, feels simple. Maxis had some troubles with the game release and I think it was rushed on the end, probably (IMO) the result isn’t what Will Wright had in mind.
Considering that, it’s very unlikely there would be a Spore 2 or anything even close to that. Of course, as tech advances and development techniques improve, it could be slightly easier to have a sequel with same complexity on the editor and renewed game stages on the future.
To be honest, I think it’s more possible to have something if we just ditch all the editor stuff and just focus on the evolution and gameplay. But I don’t think Maxis would do that as it would be a step back and, of course, that wouldn’t be Spore at all.
Games like Spore
There are no games like Spore, really. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. But, depending on what you got more interested of Spore, I could point to various PC games of several genres that are related in a way or another:
- No Man’s Sky. Another flawed-on-release game that set design milestone too high, similarly to Spore. It got improved after some time. If you’re liked the adventure side of the Space stage, I think it deserves a try. It’s on Steam.
- Sipho. An action-survival game that seems inspired on the Spore Cell stage. It’s on Steam.
- Empire Earth. Great RTS where also there is an evolution from a tribe to a modern/futuristic civilization. If you liked the Tribe stage real time action and you’re interested to evolve to modern ages like in the Civilization stage, this is the game for you. It’s on GOG.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert. If you liked more the RTS side of the Civilization stage than the Tribe stage, and you don’t care about the “evolving”, then this is a fun game you’d enjoy. It’s on Origin and other places, check the review.
- Civilization VI. If you just are interested on the 4x strategy side of the Civilization Stage (build cities, diplomacy, …), without real time, and you’re interested too on evolving a civilization… there is no better game than Sid Meier’s Civilization sequels. It’s on Steam.
- Master of Orion 2. If you enjoyed the 4x stragegy side of the Space stage, the Master of Orion saga is the way to go (just avoid MOO3, everything else is going to be fine). It’s on GOG.
- Wing Commander Privateer. If you’re interested in Space stage combat simulation but from 1st person view instead of 3rd person, with more exploration and slight adventure, you should try space trading simulators like that. It’s on GOG.
- Cubivore (Game Cube console). If you liked the action-adventure side of the Creature stage with slightly similar evolution mechanics, this could deserve a try. Sadly, it’s a console game.
- Sim Earth. Try this if you liked the terraforming and seeding life concept of the Space stage. It’s abandonware.
- Sim Life. This could be good if you seek realistic life evolution simulation, pure, without all the cheesy stuff. It’s abandonware.
- Species: Artificial Life, Real Evolution. A game with creature evolution similar to the Spore Creature stage but boosting the real simulation side. It’s on Steam but beware: it’s an early access, no guarantee of the result.
- Imagine Earth. This game looks similar to the planetary aspect of the Spore Space stage, just focused on the colonization. It’s on Steam.
- Black and White. If you’re interested on “feel as a god”, your best bet, but it’s abandoned. Populous could do too.
- Lastly, there is nothing close to the Spore creature editor in complexity and ease of use. Nothing worth mentioning. If you want just the editor, stick to playing Spore.
Creature and unit customization, action, easter eggs, cuteness, adventure … Everything is mixed in this unique game.