By Adam Rosenberg
Will Wright’s “Spore” is many things, but ‘ambitious’ trumps them all. The evolution simulator sometimes stumbles beneath the weight of its too many lofty goals, but what it nails it does so with wild abandon. The scope of everything, the ability to share created content of every type across a unified, solo player-focused network, the God-like act of creation… these are all things that work marvelously well. If the majority of gamers out there have any complaint, is that there’s somehow not enough depth to satisfy a more experienced player.
“Spore Galactic Adventures,” the first major gameplay expansion, is an effort to change that. “Spore” has an endless late-game; players who are able to reach the final Space Stage with their created species see the galaxy open up before them into thousands – perhaps more – of discrete star systems, each with planets that can be colonized, explored or simply obliterated. There’s a trade economy between galactic empires, a variety of recycling ship-based missions to tackle and an overarching – but admittedly distant – directive to find a lost race at the center of the galaxy. Despite all of that, many seasoned video game lovers continue to take issue with the simplicity of it all.
Central to “Spore Galactic Adventures” is your Space Captain, a lone representative of your chosen species who acts as an avatar for ground-based missions. The Captain can be developed in a number of ways as he levels up – by earning experience via completed missions, ‘natch – allowing players to focus his skills in a wide range of directions. Of course, it wouldn’t be “Spore” without a creation angle. Players are also able to access a simple-yet-powerful set of tools to author their own missions. Created missions can then be shared with the “Spore”-using world via the Sporepedia.
Robots And Chickens Are Funny: While Maxis provides a number of pre-loaded missions for players to enjoy, the real star of the pre-made content is the collection of missions designed by the team behind the “Robot Chicken” TV series. These adventures in particular are marked by their sharp writing and zany objectives. And, of course, exploding poo.
Let There Be Missions: The creation tools in “Spore Galactic Adventures” seem intimidating at first, but it really boils down to placing a bunch of triggers into environments. Players have full access to the Sporepedia’s arsenal of created content of course, but there’s also dialogue to be written and goals to be set. Each mission can be broken up into discrete “acts,” which allows for narratives with multi-stage objectives. The best part of course is that everything can be shared; even if you don’t want to mess around with the building tools, it’s easy to add the work of others to your own collection.
O Captain! My Captain!: The Space Captain avatar is a cool concept that works marvelously well in its execution. There are eight categories to level up, each one with four ranks. Whichever category/rank is chosen, a new ability-bestowing accessory unlocks which must then be added to the captain’s body in an interface which mimics the Creature Creator. Development can be focused in a number of ways depending on the categories chosen, but with only 10 experience levels per captain there’s no way to see them all with a single species.
Mission Impossible: The included missions offer plenty of content for players to access right out of the box, but they all seem to highlight a fundamental flaw of the expansion pack. Longer missions, particularly ones which fill out every available act, can be needlessly tedious thanks to the lack of any sort of save system. Failure at any point requires a full restart. While the gameplay goals are relatively simple, they’re not always apparent. The usual stumbling errant mistakes, coupled with some unavoidable control issues (more on that below), result in a frustrating number of repeated missions.
Issues Of Control: The missions in “Galactic Adventures” bring players all the way back to the single-unit controls of the Creature Stage, albeit with a bit more complexity. While the third person movement/interaction commands worked fine in the early part of the game with its wide-open spaces, the tighter confines of many missions only serve to highlight the inherently simple gameplay design. Getting around feels plenty simple, but not terribly entertaining.
Lights! Camera! Camera?: Along with the frustrating controls is an even more frustrating camera. There’s only the barest of auto-correction for it, leaving players to manage their perspective on the action most of the time. A tight, over-the-shoulder setup is usually best, but missions which feature tighter confines or more populous environments again cause a bit of a problem. The view of the action is frequently obstructed when the camera gets stuck behind an object or doesn’t adjust its angle properly. While players certainly can adjust the view to their liking, the need for correction is far too frequent.
It’s tough to peg “Spore Galactic Adventures.” The newfound depth likely still won’t be enough to please action-loving gamers, but the trifecta of gameplay issues will quickly frustrate less experienced players. As powerful as the creation tools are – and they are quite impressive – the missions themselves offer less to enjoy as they become more complex. Ultimately, the tedium of excessive restarts coupled with control & camera issues are the expansion’s major undoing. The missions themselves add a great deal of flavor and personality to the late-game in “Spore,” but only for those who are willing to endure some sizable frustrations.