Creating a creature in Spore for the first time is an amazing experience. Character customization tools surpass those of any previous game, and set new standards for years to come. The individual parts from which a creature can be constructed are many and varied, and each is adjustable in size, shape, and placement. Assorted spikes, spines, eyes, mouths, arms, and legs are custom combined, into a final model that can be painted in a level of detail limited only by the player's patience and imagination. Most impressively, nearly any creature the player can construct is able to perform a gamut of animations, which emote with anthropomorphic familiarity and warm humor.
Spore's creature creator is superlative. It is what the player does with those created creatures, however, that makes the game. There are plenty of activities and goals, in five evolutionary stages, but none of these play modes ever really comes close to justifying the seemingly organic complexity of the creatures themselves. The player's customizations have the most influence in the initial "Cell" stage, where the placement of mouths or horns can actually make some difference in the success of the creature. In later stages, however, the size, shape, number, and placement of parts have no effect on how the creature (or vehicle) performs.
Abilities are determined by the numerical ratings of constituent parts, and these ratings do not stack. There is nothing to gain by adding more parts; only by acquiring better parts. Creatures do this via a third-person action game, in which they wander a hilly, pastoral landscape, impressing or attacking other species into submission. Similarly, in various styles of strategy play, the three later stages of the game involve little more than conquering other tribes and civilizations, to acquire better technologies, in order to conquer stronger tribes and civilizations. Abilities are generic, and incremental upgrades are dispensed according solely to progress in the game's conventional real-time missions.
Tide pool to tide pool, planet to planet, the player encounters allies and enemies of remarkable diversity in appearance, but all with similar specs and abilities. The vague sameness of the game's randomly generated environments begins to add tedium, as well, after only a few play-throughs. From the 2D action of the cell stage, on through the third-person exploration and real-time strategy, Spore is jack of all genres and master of none. Like the custom-designed creatures that are the source of all the true fun in the game, the Spore experience is irresistibly engaging at first, but once in play, disappointingly less than the sum of its parts.
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