Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Spore: Galactic Adventures - 20/20 hours

I've finished Spore and now I have to try and sum up my feelings about it . . . Hoo boy, this is not going to be easy. It was often frustrating, but sometimes brilliant. It let you do things no other video game has ever attempted . . . sometimes for good reason.

I think Spore is a game that was released at the wrong time. What it really feels like to me is an especially well-done Early Access game. Its combination of genres is extremely ambitious and it's driven by a lot of good ideas, but the implementation still needs tweaking. Plus, how great would the creature stage be if a major company like Maxis had been able to implement its version of the now popular "wander around in a procedurally generated environment and try not to die" genre. We could have gotten a version of the early game that had been inspired by Minecraft instead of by MMOs.

But that's all speculation. Better to talk about the game we actually got. I love Spore, but I think I love it more for what it suggests than for what it actually is. In the broadest strokes, Spore is a game about life. The progression from cell to sapience to space is essential to the story it's trying to tell. When you finally get the chance to explore other planets, you find a galaxy that is thriving with life. The main antagonists are half-machine creatures who can only survive on lifeless worlds. Everything about the game builds to a central theme - the beauty of diversity and the unimaginable potential that exists inside everything that lives.

I like that story. Even the brutal parts are hopeful. And because I like that story so much, I'm willing to overlook a lot of Spore's flaws. I don't think of it as a blind-spot so much as a choice to focus on the worthwhile. For all of its faults, there's no other game that's a substitute for Spore. Nothing has the same combination of epic scope, visual appeal, creative versatility, and laid-back pace. It is one of a kind, and it has value for being that.

Viewed in the context of gaming's current creative explosion, I think I can see why Spore failed to spawn a franchise. It has the unrealistic ambition and self-conscious weirdness of an indie game, but was clearly made under the constraints of a more traditional corporate environment. Fittingly enough, given some of the taxonomical freaks I've made with the creature creator, it is neither fish nor fowl. From what I understand, there was some conflict during the making of the game about the direction it should take, and it really shows in the final product.

Final verdict - I love it, but I probably shouldn't. I can't unreservedly recommend it, because it is very justly divisive, but if you're ever in a position where you want to give an experimental hot mess of a game a chance, you could do worse than to dabble with Spore.

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