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Previews

Spore

First impressions: From amoeba to the stars

Spore isn't a game. Well, it is. Hold on, it isn't. Wait! It's both. Spore is either utter genius or utterly mad, and we still can't decide which.

In an attempt to pigeon-hole it, it's a god game taken to the ninth degree and dropped in a sandbox, but that's only half of it.

Don't be in any doubt that it's MASSIVE, the aims and goals behind it are of equal proportion. Should it sink its claws into you, it'll suck your life away exactly like your beloved MMO.

That's a parallel that Maxis alludes to, describing it as a "Massive single-player game" and confidently declares it "a platform for the future".

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Spore's basic premise is evolution. You begin in what is, frankly, a bit of man juice played from the top-down in which you're a single-cell organism wallowing in primordial ooze and building up your DNA (gaining experience points, more or less) by eating green blobs and killing other cell life.

Acquisition of DNA allows you to 'buy' modifications for your cell - the evolution bit - allowing you to add such enhancements as speed boost and the sort of weapons that single-cell organisms have.

It's the first of five evolution phases in Spore, each of which has a defined goal and tutorials holding your hand in the early stages. But that's mixed up with incredibly clever tools that essentially allow you to create your own experience for each phase. It extends the lifetime of Spore indefinitely, Spore producer Thomas Vu promises, "You can keep playing forever".

Phase one thankfully only lasts around 30 minutes before you've evolved to a point where you crawl onto land and enter Creature phase. It's here that you get to create your own creature using some clever tools. The creation ability later extends to buildings, vehicles and space ships.

Although they have their limitations, you can still let your imagination go and Spore uses a very impressive animation to turn your creature into a living, moving, thing.

During a play earlier in the week we attempted to conjure the most ridiculously daft 'thing' we could think of. But whatever you do, the results always induce laughter. It will actually ship with loads of pre-defined creatures, buildings, vehicles and space ships, but where's the joy in picking those when you can become your own?

In fact, the time spent with the title was akin to tickling the top of an iceberg or reading the first paragraph in The Lord of the Rings. There remains a huge amount of gameplay to experience.

Spore is about evolution, so the gameplay style evolves as you progress. In Creature phase, things go a bit action-strategy and your overall goal is to socialise with other creatures, survive and ultimately evolve to group or Tribe phase.

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Tribe phase equals RTS. Here you're building primitive bases and trying to defeat or convert other Tribes populating the world, which ends in the creation of a city.

This then takes you to Civilization phase (no prizes for guessing what game this is like), where you're attempting to become the dominant species on the planet through military, economic or diplomatic means.

Once you own the planet, you enter Space phase, a strategy experience where you terraform planets, visit and trade with other empires (or befriend them) to acquire enough asistance in order to wage intergalactic war. That's where we're all heading folks. By the way, the Space phase is GIGANTIC.

SO there's a lot of different styles under one roof. As great as it looks on paper our time with the game unfortunately didn't allow for any satisfactory exploration of Spore's strategy gameplay so that remains an unknown quantity.

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