Spore • Page 3

We looked over the hill and we saw fire.

Lovable as you are, people need convincing. One of our early acquaintances - the self-appointed fashion police of the universe - demanded that we rid a neighbouring planet of its ghastly turrets to earn their trust, which was painstaking (and painful) as we were already part of a trade route with them. Others are too meek or aggressive to be dealing with; and then there's the Grox, the pirates and other ever-present threats. It can all seriously hamper your quest for the many Achievement-style badges, the rare item sets, terra-forming equipment and proficiency, and the big secret at the centre of the universe, but it's seldom the tedious drag of the Sims' inability to wash themselves or clean up.

There is so much to do, and while much of it seems functional on the page (the many fights with pirates bothering your trade routes; scouring systems for tell-tale yellow outlines that predict a rare item; building up a fleet of allies; looting and grinding to gather money to spend on new kit and to buy up entire systems) there's an inherent appeal that's traceable partly to the desire to experience the unknown. The history of your species is on a timeline of exploration, and there's always a What's Next. (There's also a visual timeline of your exploration to inspect, if you're curious about what you did yesterday.)

It's also partly attributable to Maxis' Sims-style sense of humour, ballooned manifold by the massive expanse of populated space into which you're thrust. There's the reams of dialogue to chuckle through (with your own range of amusing responses; Star Trek's first contact could do with more "Yeah, I could get into that"); there's the Sporecasts you can sign up to, which populate your galaxy with the best of someone else's discoveries, ever the hook.

By now though your eyes have crept down (after all, What's Next?) and maybe started a bit at the number, and it's true that Spore's recommended with caveats. Although you're mostly prepared, space can still be unforgiving after a sequence of innocent missteps, like a shortage of funds because you misinterpreted an instruction, or an unwinnable war you stumble into, and while the Spore Guide help files are deep, they don't always answer your questions.

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Given what people achieved with the Creature Creator, the Vehicle Creator's future will be fascinating to watch.

And for all their mighty purpose, the first four phases of the game don't always play brilliantly, and they're too fleeting. Creature is the best place to experience other people's work, for example, and while there's nothing to stop you lingering or beginning again in Creature, there's not enough in the repetitive gameplay to encourage this. Throughout the four there are myriad reasons to frown intermingled with the smiles: the Costume Creator is a bit crap; the Civ and Tribal phases are very lightweight and there are too many buildings to edit in Civ; the Creature Creator doesn't let you make exactly the creature you want because your survival depends on parts that spoil the look.

But while there are days you won't want to go to the four-stage school, and compromises to be made, such is life; and ultimately it is worth it for the fun you have along the way and the experience of the space strategy game at Spore's heart, which overwhelms any burgeoning disappointment. All along we've known that Spore's ambitious design demanded so much of the developer that it had to - and of course wanted to - pass some of that onto you, and perhaps the flaws that endured are symptoms of that extensive, intricate development and infrastructure, and that fate which sometimes befalls even the best developers: losing sight of a few basics.

Yet they're irrelevant to the bigger point. We're all familiar with the innovative, web-aware customisation cloud that underpins Spore, but nobody's done it better (even though many now do it - apparently years after Maxis thought of doing it here) and the final game is proof that it was all worth it: you're all one big Designer, and Spore succeeds as much because of you and me as the many worlds scattered across the stars and the many ways we've been given to explore them.

9 / 10

Read the Eurogamer.net review policy Spore Tom Bramwell We looked over the hill and we saw fire. 2008-09-04T08:00:00+01:00 9 10 Follow Eurogamer.net on Steam to get more PC game recommendations

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