I anticipated Spore's release from the first time I watched it demonstrated by Will Wright at a trade show. It promised to be one of the most advanced games ever created, allowing you to evolve a species from the primordial soup and take it all the way to space colonization. It promised to take a little bit of everything and combine it into an epic hybrid.
The first stage of the game takes place in the ocean, where you are a microscopic creature that must eat smaller creatures to get evolution points. Using these evolution points, you can mate with another of the same species and produce an offspring with different traits. You get to design the new and improved version of your species by adding things like spikes for defense and flagellates for increased speed. As you progress, you also get bigger and bigger until it is time to move onto land.
The second stage takes place on land and you get a set of legs for your previously aquatic creature. Now you have to roam around, finding more parts and killing other species to make them extinct. Over time, you can add more and more advanced parts to your creature, customizing it to look like anything from a human to a care bear to a phallic monster (warning: EA now bans you if you make penis monsters :P). The cool thing is that if you are in online mode, you will be encountering creatures made by other players although they won't be controlling them. As you progress, your brain grows and you can also recruit others from your same species to form a hunting group.
Once you have a big brain, you enter the third stage, which is the tribal stage. In this stage, you are given control of a small tribe of your species and you can decorate them with various accessories, like hats and armor. You have control of a small village, with a hut that produces babies and you can also build other buildings that produce musical instruments or weapons. This part of the game requires you to send some of your tribe to gather food, but you must also either destroy other tribes or impress them with your culture.
The next stage is the civilization stage. Now you have control of a city and your job is to take over the planet by capturing other cities and spice mines. The only resource you have is spice and you can get more by capturing more mines and building more factories. To wage war, you start by designing a land vehicle with weapons. Later, you are allowed to design a ship and plane to fight the enemy. You are also given special abilities, which include various types of bombs to aid in battle.
After you have taken over the planet, you are allowed to create a space ship and advance to the final and longest stage, the space stage. After a tutorial with various missions, you will soon find yourself terraforming planets and populating them with animals and plants. You can also establish trade routes, find artifacts, and wage war with other civilizations.
The creature editor and vehicle designer is very easy to use and allows you nearly infinite possibilities. By browsing the Sporepedia you can see the amazing creations that people have made. You can also share your own creations online so they appear in other people's games.
The game itself is fun, but I think it has some major shortcomings. The number one shortcoming is the lack of depth in the early stages. The tribal stage is fun but its too simplistic and short. The civilization stage is also simplistic and it seems that no matter what weapons you mount on your vehicles, they always look the same when firing. I think that if they added more depth to these stages they would be more replayable and a lot more fun.
The second major shortcoming or oversight is that the space stage can be a major pain in the ass. Every five minutes or so you will have to go back to one of your planets to fight off enemy UFOs. Even though you are a space-faring civilization, your cities are unable to defend themselves. Along with invaders and pirates, you have to deal with ecological disasters, like diseased animals that you have to destroy before they ruin the ecosystem on a planet.
As far as presentation goes, the graphics are good and the planets look very cool. The game has a cartoony design and the planets reflect that. The sounds and music are also excellent.
Overall, I think this is a good game and certainly unique, but it is too shallow to live up to my expectations. Knowing Maxis, they have 20 expansion packs in planning and perhaps these will add the depth that hardcore gamers want, but for now the game is just an interesting toy. The most enjoyable part is probably designing creatures and ships and buildings, but if they fix some of the problems in the space stage and increase the depth I think it will become the game that it should have been.
As an aside, EA put their lame digital rights management software into this game and they force you to activate online and you only get 3 installs before you have to call support to ask for more. I think this is stupid and a waste of everyone's time. If I am paying for your game I don't want to be treated like a criminal. The DRM inclusion has triggered heavy criticism from gamers, with many refusing to buy the game and pirating a version lacking DRM instead.