At the heart of Spore, say some, lies a fascinating, amusing, baffling contradiction: you're the Creator in the ultimate God game, in which you can succeed by imposing your beliefs on others, and yet Maxis' universe - a convincing mishmash of procedural and many-user generated species - is, as the game puts it, "an epic journey of evolution". One tends not to get on with t'other.
However, as with so many things (religious fundamentalism, for instance), the mistake was to accept the premise; Spore isn't a God game, it's a many-Gods game. In it you guide the development of your species from a single cell in a 2D ocean onto its newly formed feet, along a prickly path to abstract reasoning, problem-solving, emotion, science and interstellar conquest, with rest-stops in savagery, tribalism and tank-rushing. As you do this, thousands of other real-life players do the same and their species become part of your game-world, adopted by the AI ruling their own planets to greater or lesser effect.
Spore's happy to think of you as a God, but in the end your status is debatable. Perhaps you're just evolution itself. So endeth the contradiction in what, as is typical of Spore, turns out to be bright and amusing fashion.
It's an unusual situation, to say the least. The Spore Creature Creator is one small part of the full game of Spore, due out on 5th September. Specifically, it's the bit - and smart, title-reading readers will spot this - about creating the creature. You stick bits together, in the manner of a 21st Century Mr. Potato Head, and watch it animate. There's no game. Of course, since one of Spore's main selling features is that your in-game universe will be populated with everyone else's creatures, they'll turn up in a game eventually, but right now there's nothing more than making a creature out of computer clay and marveling as Maxis' magic brings it to life. Maybe put it in front of a different background. Make it dance. Make it play with kids.
But to review or not to review? That is the question. The 'nay' argument: this is only one part of a much larger project, and in the UK it's basically a pre-order thing so you can get your money back. The 'yay' argument: whenever a company charges money for something, you bloody well review it. Like, obviously, you blithering idiots. Review!
If you've any interest in videogames, you should at least play the demo. While it's going to be disappointing to some people - and I'll explain why in a bit - this is absolutely one of the cutting edges of videogames at the moment. That it does what it does so naturally almost undersells its achievement: it just works. The difference between the demo and the full version is that you simply get a lot more parts out of which to construct your creature. Which, when written down, makes you wonder why anyone would pay for it. It'll all be in the game eventually, and you can have a crack at a fair chunk of it now... why pay?