If you've ever been to a zoo, looked at a giraffe and wondered, "What was God thinking?" then "Spore," the latest video game creation from the minds behind "SimCity" and "The Sims," is your chance to force Mother Nature to bow to your will and right her wrongs.
"Spore," a new PC game from EA and Maxis, puts the omnipotent power of creation in the hands of players as they develop and nurture their own unique life-form from a single-celled organism struggling to survive in the primordial soup, to a technologically advanced space-faring society exploring the universe.
More of a series of five individual games than one cohesive experience, "Spore" promises much but fails to deliver on engaging game play. But the game's elaborate creature creation system and an equally intricate building and vehicle creation system are jaw-dropping and offer players almost limitless possibilities.
While not a game that's played online, "Spore" also features a unique social networking system that allows player-created content, like creatures and space ships, to appear in other players' games. Though the game itself populates the universe with all kinds of strangeness, nothing compares to the oddities generated by other players, and their incorporation into the game means no two games are the same.
'And You Said, Let There Be Light…'
At the beginning of "Spore," your little organism is not much more than a small blob with perhaps an eye or two and a mouth. Players choose whether they want to be herbivores or carnivores and swim around in a tidal pool searching for food while avoiding predators.
As they progress, the life-form mates and players are introduced to a rudimentary version of the creature creator, where they can alter the creature by adding or taking away parts like spikes, fins, mouths or poison spitting nodes.
After devouring enough meat or veggies, it's time to evolve. This is where players get their all powerful mitts on the more robust creature creator and get to work on their new species.
It's almost impossible to summarize the array of options players have to choose from in the creator. Like a piece of clay waiting to be molded, the player grabs hold of the creature's torso and twists, pulls and pushes the form, adding legs, arms, hands, feet eyes, mouths and any numbers of defensive or offensive weapons. Choose from one of the preset arrangements to color your creature from head to toe, or create your own.
Once the player settles on an aesthetic for the beast, it's time to take it out for a test drive in the "creature" phase of the game and decide what makes this little fella tick.
Is this a friendly creature who tries to impress other creatures with song and dance to win favor and allies? Or is this an aggressive predator seeking to dominate all life on the planet through brute force? The choice is in your hands.
It's at this time in the game that players will get a taste for the vastness of the universe their playing in. Think you're the boss? Conquer a species and wipe them out of existence only to find yourself in the shadow and at the mercy of another, larger and more advanced species. Run in fear as UFOs fill the sky, probing and investigating your primitive planet and perhaps abducting a few specimens for research.
There's always a bigger fish in Spore ... and it usually has three mouths, a horn and crab hands.
Evolve ... and Put Some Clothes On!
It isn't long before your creature is at the top of the food chain and ready to stop running in packs, and start living in tribes during the aptly named "Tribal Phase."
Now that the species is smarter, it's also self-aware, so it's time to cover up those alien privates. Players deck out their creature in simple clothing and decorations that further improve their abilities, while creating and maintaining the tribe's village and fighting for supremacy with other tribes.
Arm creatures with spears and fire to fight and conquer enemy tribes, or give them fishing hooks to maximize the day's catch and keep the tribe well fed.
After conquering your rivals, it's time to ditch the palm-leaf tunics and fig leaves, construct a thriving city and get moving in a self-styled land vehicle of the player's own creation.
In the "Civilization Phase," players design their own buildings (city hall, homes, factories, entertainment centers) and vehicles (land, sea and air) via another robust creation system that works similarly to the creature creator, and offers every player an opportunity to create a totally unique style for their species.
Taking control of natural resources with their new vehicles, the player's creation is smarter and more advanced. But the same issues remain: make friends, or blow them to bits?
Space and Beyond
The final phase of the game is when the real fun begins and the game really takes off ... literally.
The "Space Phase" puts players in the driver's seat of their own custom-made space ship and sends them out into the universe to explore, expand and interact.
Traveling from planet to planet, player's can pick up missions from other species, turn an uninhabitable planet into one that sustains life or just explore, abduct, influence and terrorize other civilizations.
This is the first chance players have to leave their home world and experience the vastness of the universe "Spore" creates. By far the most involved and complex portion of the game, the Space Phase is the culmination of the phases that precede it, incorporating different aspects of the previous stages and adding to them.
Though "Spore" fails to bring together all aspects and stages of the game into a single experience, it succeeds immensely at putting the power of creation in players' hands.
Fans of previous Maxis titles like the uber-popular "The Sims" series of games, will get a kick out of the creation tools that really allow the player's imagination to run wild.
Knowing that your creations invade the games of others, and vice versa, also means that the game will never run out of new content for players to discover. As the "Spore" community expands, so does the variety of creatures, crafts and buildings.
Think you can out-do the Creator? Pick up a copy of "Spore" and find out!