SPORE, from the folks at EA Games, is a game where you start out as a single cell organism and can grow and evolve up to a space-faring culture.  I was a little wary of picking up this game, since there was some controversy regarding its DRM, which some have called “draconian.”  I will say one thing for SPORE – you get both the PC version and Mac version on the same disk.

Game play is intuitive, and really has no real “end.”  You start out by designing a simple creature (primarily carnivorous or herbivorous, but possibly both) and evolving through various stages of life.  Once you’re evolved enough, you venture on to land (the “creature” stage), and through conquering/befriending other creatures, eventually develop into a tribal civilization.  Once in the tribal stage, you conquer/befriend other tribes (which are still other creatures).  Then you become a true “civilization.”

The befriending/conquering doesn’t stop there – at this point, though, you’re trying to unify the planet you’re on by doing so to cities of creatures that match your own.  You get to design buildings and vehicles that help you do so.

Eventually you learn enough to become a space-faring culture.  Again, here you go, conquering/befriending, now back to other creatures on other planets, or founding new colonies in systems with no civilized life.  There’s a “universal enemy,” the Grox, that, well, you should probably delay declaring war on (or becoming allies with) as long as possible – though contact with them does become a “mission” for you to complete.

If you’re in to empire building games and don’t plan on switching computers more than two or three times (the DRM tends to scream if you try to do that), SPORE might be a worthwhile purchase for you (last I knew it was down to $20, but you might find it cheaper).  Here’s the problems I have though:

  • The Grox have picked one of my systems to continually attack (at one time that was the closest system to them, but it isn’t any more … and they ignore the newer, closer ones).  In addition, it happens to be a planet that is far away (through a black hole, which at one point you become smart enough to navigate through) from my main group of planets.  It will become clearer farther down the list just why this can get really annoying.
  • The star ship you control appears to be the only combat capable ship available to you.  While you can develop a colony up to a point where it can mostly fend for (and defend) itself, the Grox seem particularly capable of doing a little damage each attack to a given colony … and if they manage to destroy even just one little defense turret, the colonies are not self-sufficient enough to rebuild said turret without you going to the planet, choosing the colony in question, and placing a new one there.
  • While flying from crisis to crisis may not be a big deal when your empire is small, it becomes damn annoying when you’ve got a sprawling empire to manage, and makes it hard to properly develop a planet when you have to leave it to go defend another one.
  • The Grox are, essentially, too big to go out and conquer, and from what I’ve read, if you manage to ally yourself with them, everyone else starts to attack you.
  • At some point, the collection, transport, and selling of spice (the major commodity of the game) becomes a grind.
  • There’s not much of an “end” to the game.  There always seems to be another badge to collect, and there is an artifact that could be considered an end goal, but getting to said artifact is difficult: it’s at the very center of the galaxy, which is also the center of Grox controlled space.  And, the closer you get to the center of the galaxy, the shorter you can travel each hop.
  • There’s no search function for planets (even ones you have visited) or empires.  At some point, your allies, if you haven’t done anything in particular for them, can become unhappy with you and start reconsidering their alliance with you.  If you have 50 allies, several of which are through different black hole transits, it can be damn hard to figure out just who might have a beef with you.
  • Your allies can fight with each other, and the only way to stop them from fighting with each other is to cancel the alliance and conquer one of them.  It’s annoying, because when they attack each other (and often do that simultaneously), they both start calling for your help.  This game seriously could have used more work on its diplomacy options.
  • The time it takes to go from a single cell creature to space faring culture can be relatively quick.  Once you’re in space, it’s interesting, but eventually becomes (as I’ve outlined above) a bit of a grind.

Still, you get to conquer and settle other planets, and trade with other cultures.  It’s a fun time-passer.

Recommended?  Well, not really.  The DRM can be considered punishment for buying the game.  I’m not sure how much of your computer you’d have to upgrade before the DRM thinks you’ve installed the game again on a different system.  Even if that’s not the case, I am fairly certain that, if you wipe your hard drive to reinstall or upgrade your OS, you’re going to increment your install count.  Do that one too many times, and either you’re not installing it any more, or you’re calling EA to explain yourself (a quick review of the Wikipedia page hints that this may not be the case any more, but that there are still other concerns if you buy this game on disk, as opposed to digital download).

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