The sheer scale of Will Wright’s vision for Spore was praiseworthy, even if the final product occasionally felt pinched and clipped.
In brief, Spore zoomed out from the microscopic to the telescopic in five phases as players evolved and nurtured a single celled organism representing a species into a space captain representing a galactic empire. Unfortunately, the first four phases played like a rambling prologue to the final galactic phase. But what it lacked in aspects of game-play it made up for in charm and creativity. You can read our review of Spore here.
The expansion, Spore: Galactic Adventures, is composed of two interrelated parts. The first is a somewhat mediocre role-playing addition to the galactic phase. The second is an unparalleled set of user-friendly creation tools that allow you to design your own planets and adventures - all of which can be seamlessly shared online.
In the first, you’ll see your space captain disembarking from its ship to undertake a series of missions on different planets. In essence, it superimposes the original creature phase over the galactic phase. The mating call button makes an amusingly enigmatic return. As far as I can tell it serves no purpose: If you’re hoping to woo the beautiful or handsome aliens of planet BAD_DATA, you’re out of luck. That's right, the patch accompanying the expansion is riddled with issues, planets named BAD_DATA is just one of them. This particular issue is likely to affect many Kiwi players as the fix is to change your computer’s language settings from any regional English setting to US English. Feel free to draw your own conclusions from this. Just be aware that if you purchase the game in its current state, you'll probably be spending a bit of time at the Spore Help forum.
The missions themselves are your standard RPG fare. They typically involve going from place to place on a planet’s surface and talking to, befriending, defending, escorting or killing creatures.
Like the creature phase, players can make use of both social and combat abilities. Unlike the creature phase, your space captain’s genetic traits are finalised and if you’re stacked with one or the other, you’ll run into more than a few problems.
The Maxis-created missions involve diplomacy and action in equal measure. If your experience with the original Spore was anything like mine, it was a practical experiment in the nature versus nurture argument. Over millions of generations the wretched denizens of Midia were cajoled by an invisible hand into open conflict with their neighbours and now they can’t dance to save themselves - just like their creator. Suffice to say, the diplomatic missions usually saw the socially-stunted Midian captain slinking back to his spaceship, trying to hold back the tears. If you commit to some mission grinding, you’ll be able to unlock upgrades that enhance any abilities your captain may be lacking in. Nonetheless, the Midians were relegated to evolution’s wastepaper basket and a premade Maxis captain took over.
Once on a planet’s surface, you’ll find that the detail on many larger models is slow to load, the controls are heavy-handed and the computer AI is underwhelming. In particular, NPC path finding is short sighted and collision detection is overly sensitive. You’ll often find yourself impatiently tapping your foot as you wait for your escort to politely make its way through a crowd. Apparently you’ve mastered interstellar travel but moving and shooting at the same time is still a distant dream.
Fortunately, all quests are optional (some are even entertaining!) and the sounds and animations are as fun and endearing as they were in the creature phase. For these reasons you’ll want to dote on Galactic Adventures. Moreover, the missions add some much needed variety to the galactic phase and completing them will raise your empire’s esteem with others. They’ll also credit your captain with a handy dose of Spore Bucks.
The expansion comes with 32 new abilities and accessories to unlock. They’re gained thick and fast and you’ll soon be strutting through the galaxy with an entourage of adoring allies (well two, anyway) and an array of useful tools at your disposal. Finally, it just wouldn’t be Spore if you couldn’t take your captain into the outfitter and tweak its kit right down to the minutia.
Indeed, player creativity is where the original Spore excelled and the expansion’s Adventure Creator tool is simply without peer. Galactic Adventures is a must for anyone interested in Machinima. Even if you’re not, you’ll still lose track of time recreating scenes from books, movies and other games.
Like any good video game the Adventure Creator easy to learn but takes time to master. Using presets, slider bars and a drag-and-drop menu, you can tweak everything from the topography and atmosphere of a planet to the aggression radius of any hostile creatures that might populate it. The game ships with an extensive collection of creatures, music and themed buildings, but naturally you can create your own, modify theirs, or download other players’ inventions through the online Sporepedia. Add mission objectives and dialogue then play-test any part of it. Players hoping to design an epic space odyssey may find their creative wings clipped by the eight act limit.
Once you’re done, you can upload your mission and Spore can distribute it into other players’ galaxies. It reinforces the game’s credentials as the benchmark Massively Single-Player Online Game, but as you can imagine, it’s a blessing and a curse. For now, the player-created missions can range from the boring and trivial to the outrageously difficult. Many are designed with the creator’s own space captain in mind. In time however, the cream will rise to the top and amateur designers from within the Spore community will no doubt become the respected producers of highly anticipated content.
Spore: Galactic Adventures has unlimited potential. In many ways, it’s difficult to write a conclusive review because it’s not a finished product. Like the creatures that players create, the game itself will evolve. As users become increasingly familiar with the inherent flaws of the Maxis-created missions and begin to design their own that circumnavigate these issues, the ever-expanding Spore universe will shine and the community will prosper.