‘Spore,’ by ‘Sims’ creators, makes evolution fun

Lately, video games seem to suggest the Earth you and I live in — bogged down by war, melting ice caps and idiots in general — is in dire need of a do-over. In one of 2008’s best games, “Civilization Revolution,” you build Earth from scratch, evolving from warriors carrying spears all the way to astronauts.

Now here comes the new and buzzed “Spore,” which evolves us even further. In “Spore,” in stores now, you begin by choosing a planet to inhabit. Then you decide how you want to create planets and its species — starting with a single, simple-celled, microscopic organism.

This game could give you a Darwinian God complex. The very first thing you do is choose whether you want to play as a meat-eating carnivorous microscopic organism or a vegetarian microscopic organism. Details, details.

I painted my organism green and named its family of cells “Teresa-shopolis,” after my sister, Teresa, because why not? Then it became Teresa’s mission to “eat, grow and evolve.”

As a stupid-celled organism, you swim around a watery environment. It looks like you’re spying yourself through a microscope in a petri dish. You hunt for green bubbles of food (if you’re a vegetarian). You grow larger. You avoid getting eaten. You mate in a “G”-rated song method with similar creatures.

This is a beautiful beginning. The swimming looks lush while a music score by Brian Eno lulls you into tranquility. Once you’ve picked up DNA residue lying in your path, the game lets you buy legs to get out of the muck. Once you’re on legs, you find more DNA junk, or you sing to win better DNA — yes, sing — and you are allowed to buy sharper teeth, faster legs and attributes like “charm.”

This evolution continues until you reach the next stages: land creatures; tribal groups; civilization; and the space age. It’s like the latest “Risk” game where you’re building buildings and weapons, flying around and trying to win, eventually, by reaching some spectacular point in outer space.

This simulator was created by the people who made “The Sims,” although, “Spore” moves a lot like a cuter, prettier “Civilization Revolution.”

This can all be entertainingly distracting, except when it becomes redundant, trying to find DNA and or sing and dance for it, as you jog from tribe to city and tailor your species. It’s a gorgeous, interesting adventure. It should also be easy for newbies and casual gamers to figure out.

The stink is that the non-hand-held version of “Spore” plays only on PCs and Macs. I don’t normally review such computer games. They take forever to load. You must own the latest, most expensive computer. It takes up valuable real estate on your hard drive. Sometimes, the screen stalls.

And as remarkable as “Spore” and “Civilization Revolution” are, you might wonder what the point is of redoing life. When you out-evolve rivals, “Spore” states the obvious, “To the victor, go the spoils.” Ergo, to evolve is to eat, mate and kill. That’s an exciting game, but as a metaphor for life, it’s a downer.

(“Spore” by EA retails for $50 for PC/Mac; $30 for DS — Plays interesting and entertaining, except when redundant. Looks great. Easy to very challenging, depending on settings you choose. Rated “E 10+” for animated blood, comic mischief, fantasy violence. Three and one-half stars out of four.)

Contact Doug Elfman at 702-383-0391 or e-mail him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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