Spore (released on Sep 7, 2008) - you hear about this game almost everywhere. I've seen dozens of advertisements, read several reviews, watched some youtube movies - the game looked like a gem, so, finally I decided to buy it.
At first, Spore really made a great impression but the more I progressed through the different stages, the more I was getting disappointed with it.
This stage is really fun and is pretty much identical to flOw, the game released for PS3 on Feb 22, 2007. You have to guide a cell - feed it, avoid getting eaten by other cells and grow bigger. Controls are easy at this point, customization is simple but very fun. The stage is over in less than 10 minutes.
The stage is great - your life form gets out of the water and starts roaming the land. Creature customization is still pretty simple and is even funnier than before as you can shape your alter ego as you wish, possibilities are endless. Also, to advance further you have to communicate with other species - you can either conquer them or make alliance with them. I found the second way more interesting. To make alliance your creature has to have the best dancing legs, singing mouth, etc.
This is where it starts to get frustrating. The game still seems fun at this point, but now it involves more tactical elements - you don't control a single creature anymore, but can issue orders to the whole tribe. Even though the tribe is not that big, it is still complicated to control your minions. There are no group shortcuts, creatures don't seem to follow the orders right away and the path-finding mechanism goes to catatonia sometimes - creatures can just get stuck while going up a hill.
Due to uncomfortable controls, once again, it's much easier to make friends with other tribes than to conquer them. The key here is to be fast. This stage can be completed in just a few minutes. It is important to know that your decisions here will affect your future game style (decisions made in all the previous stages have an impact as well) - if you take everything by force, you will be favoring military regime, if you buy your neighbors by bringing them gifts, you will become a diplomat and if you use the power of music to make alliances, you will become a religious nation.
Your creatures develop some serious technology. You will have to use tanks, boats and airplanes to either conquer your enemies by force, by power of religion or diplomacy (your starting city can only be either militaristic, religions or diplomatic, depending on your choices in the previous stages).
At this stage it is even more important to be fast than before, if one of the enemies gets their hands on airplane technology (by capturing 3 cities, no matter what order), it can get almost impossible to win (especially if that enemy uses militaristic order and you are not).
This is the most annoying stage of all. You will have the same problem controlling all the units as before (if before the unit cap was less than 10, now you gain a whole army under you command), also, the game pushes you to play very fast without enjoying yourself. The thing that happens here is - there are 4 enemy nations, they will start capturing resources extremely fast and, soon enough, will knock on the doors of your town (blast through more like it).
Possibility for players who like to take it more slowly is to make a peace treaty with every surrounding nation. This will stop them from attacking you, but you won't be able to capture resources which are already controlled by others, thus staying behind everyone else on the arms race.
I haven't seen the diplomatic approach to war, it allows the buy-out of enemy cities. Seeing as religious and militaristic ones are almost identical, I believe diplomatic approach doesn't change the game mechanics a lot. The major difference between religious and militaristic approaches is that religious units can capture a city by using propaganda and doing that unbelievably fast, leaving all the building intact, when militaristic units have significantly superior firepower, but even in bulk it would take ages for them to capture a city as to achieve that they will have to destroy every single structure first, prompting for a complete reconstruction after the conquest. Also, being religious, turns you away from non-religious nations, making it harder to make alliances (in my case almost every opposing nation was militaristic).
This is really what it comes to, the longest stage and what Spore is all about. Players gets control over a single unit back, now it's an intergalactic spaceship.
At first, you will find yourself completing missions for your homeplanet, this is a mere preparation for the following galactic quest. In general, those starting missions given by your homeplanet will cover most of the upcoming mission types: examination and capture of species, exploration of space and colonization of systems.
While on the galaxy exploration quest, you will encounter other species, you can either conquer them by force, complete missions for them or trade with them.
Player advances in rank while completing missions, fighting or exploring. Reaching the highest possible rank is one of the goals of the end-game but doesn't end it.
One of the missions during this stage is to reach the center of the universe. Upon reaching it, you will encounter a hostile race named Grox. It is impossible to negotiate with them (although, some players managed to achieve it, which resulted in all other races declaring war).
During my adventure, after I encountered Grox, they started destroying my colonies one by one. Seeing as I was trying to play Spore without any violence, I didn't think about buying big guns, so it was a hard mission to defend my lands against Grox attacks. Grox forces usually come in several packs, direct combat approach is out the question. Flying backwards and fighting them usually takes too long time, so I lost several not very-well defended colonies pretty fast. The easiest possibility to successfully fight off a massive Grox attack is to purchase very expensive flying turrets to guard a planet.
I am not sure if wiping Grox from the face of the universe will result in ending the game. As I mentioned before, I didn't go with the combat style and combating is the only way to take care of Grox. I started upgrading my firepower in order to fight off this hostile race and succeeded in doing so pretty fast, but got bored soon. The game became too repetitive to enjoy it any longer. There are really not that much things to do.
On fighting controls. It is hard to enjoy every possible activity in Star stage as, once again, it's hard to impossible to fight something, controls are just the worst I've seen in a very long time.
What usually happens is you get attacked by several space ships, they fly around you like wasps, shooting, killing you fast as you try to target one of them to make at least one shot. Of course it is not always like this, sometimes battles are much easier. The only possible way to fight a lot of enemies at once is to keep backing off (flying back) during the fight while shooting with some long-range weapon. This approach seemed way too unnatural and I couldn't think of any other tactic to utilize.
Is Cloning the Future?
The Star stage is what makes Spore. Unfortunately, all the previous stages look like very good demo versions for 4 different games. They are sweet, but way too short to really enjoy them. There is, of course, the designing tools for creating technology and species to your own liking, but killing hours doing that is not for everyone. I didn't buy the game for that feature. A lot of people are bonkers about it though.
What is the most disappointing is that the Star stage is a clone of Star Control II, game developed in 1992 by Toys for Bob. Even though there is a difference of 16 years between those two games, SCII is a far more superior game than Spore by everything but the graphics.
So, to sum up. If you are thinking about trying Spore out, what you will be playing is the space exploration/conquest game, not the thorough develop-your-own-race game (unless you can get into designing tools). In the light of that, if you can stand an older game graphics, get yourself the DOSBox and Star Control II, and you will enjoy a much better (longer and more story-driven) space adventure. In case you are a fan of eye-candy graphics, Spore is not for you as well, as it can't boast with graphics at all, it looks very outdated.
I Need a Smoke
And my final words. To clarify, I did enjoy playing Spore, but I didn't get what I was hoping for. If I knew in advance, what the game was really about, I would have waited to buy it for a bargain price. It's really not worth more than USD 15. Well, the only good thing is that for the original price you get two versions of the game in one - PC and Mac ones. I only played the PC version. After getting bored by the game pretty fast, I couldn't be bothered to check the Mac version. Maybe some other time.
The bottom line - Spore is not worth its original price.