Spore • Page 2

Gene cool.

And you'll need to, as danger is never far away. There are beasts of all shapes and sizes lurking in the waters, all genetically hard-wired to gorge on anything that fits into their hungry mouths. This leads to some surprisingly tense gameplay as you dash to snaffle scarce morsels of food while avoiding the clutches of large enemies (with an attendant darkening of the bubbly music), and survive the attacks of your direct cellular rivals. I become dinner on several occasions.

Eat enough food and you evolve a step, which produces a neat zooming-out effect as your organism grows in size. All the while, massive species linger in the background with menace. It's a simple yet terrifically well executed arcade game that smartly introduces you to the basics. And, significantly, as I evolve enough to enter the Creature phase, I'm already feeling curiously attached to my personalised critter (meet Kylie: head-spikes, four eyes, shocking pink with green spots, GSOH).

The Creature phase is immediately familiar if you've already tinkered with Creature Creator. Here the game switches into three dimensions, and as your species wriggles onto dry land, the editor pops up so you add essentials like land-ready limbs.

Again, this section is relatively straightforward, mainly concerned with easing you deeper into Spore's themes and toolsets as you unconsciously strengthen your attachment to your creation. Elements are added bit by bit: Creature introduces the Test Drive, where your genetic experiments in the creator tool can be given a run out before going back into the game.

As a carnivore, my species is again predominantly tasked with scavenging for food in order to grow and evolve, but further gameplay choices are offered: do you attack other species, or engage with them socially? The latter involves rather twee mimicking of actions either to try and win their trust; the former is aided by new skills that can be gained. The evolutionary path I have chosen, incidentally, appears very precisely to date the genetic origin of the chav, as I acquire Spit and Charge skills.

It's less engaging than the desperate fight for survival of the Cell phase and seems more geared towards familiarising you with world exploration and 3D character creation, with the added draw of never knowing just what kind of human-created penis monster is waddling over the next hill.

3

The ok corral was living up to its name.

Complexity increases further in the Tribal phase. You begin with three members of your species at your disposal, which can be selected and controlled individually or as a group, and your appreciation of the world is raised further by the addition of a free camera.

At this point physical evolution is complete, and survival becomes a matter of learning to use tools, mastering your environment, interacting with rival tribes and breeding to grow your tribe and protect the gene pool.

As you progress you accumulate points as before, which can now be spent on more practical items, such as a larger hut - essential if you wish to grow beyond three creatures. This is Spore's RTS-lite section, with a growing number of elements for you to manage and keep track of. As soon as my guys are sufficiently tooled up, I head straight for the nearest tribe and start kicking the crap out of them.

Progress to the next phase requires you to become a civilization, which is visually symbolised here by building up a totem pole in your village piece by piece; each new section is the reward for conquering or forming alliances with other tribes. Depending on whether you choose a combat or more social path, your playstyle begins to inform the autonomous behaviour of your tribe, shaping their nature. In each phase, a progress bar across the bottom of the screen tells you at a glance how far you are along the evolutionary path.

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Dance dance evolution.

There's undoubtedly a lot more subtlety in this phase than I can appreciate in the available time, and rattling through as I am as quickly as possible, it becomes more like a frantic levelling-up ritual. But as with the rest of Spore, you'll spend more time in the areas that play to your tastes as a gamer.

The Civilization phase massively expands the complexity of the experience, and will be familiar territory for fans of Wright's SimCity, or Sid Meier's Civilization series. It's an age of technology and transportation, where you must construct and manage a society.

The brilliant simplicity of the Creature Creator toolset transfers effortlessly to buildings and vehicles in the section. The same principles apply: you can choose from a range of parts and styles, depending on what you can afford, and everything can be stretched, squeezed, spun and styled to your precise tastes. Or, if you really can't be bothered, Sporepedia provides instant access to the fantastical creations of other players. But, as with creatures, its absurdly easy to knock something up in mere moments.

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