Spore : Galactic Adventures

So Spore : Galactic Adventures has finally hit store shelves, after much anticipation and hype, drawing comparison to Sony’s Little Big Planet .  I’ve gotten a lot of play time with it, and I’m sorry to say that I’m less than impressed.  I feel qualified to say that as a huge follower and fan of Spore since before the Creature Creator/Demo was released, and having followed the game from pre through post-release.  The premise of Galactic Adventures is to allow the player to take a character from their previous Spore games or create a new character to be their Space Captain.  Your Captain will then be available to be used in numerous Maxis created adventures, six free adventures from the creators of Robot Chicken as well as the unlimited plethora of user created adventures.  The game feels similar to the Creature Phase of Spore in camera angle and control.  You don’t actually control your ship anymore, but instead have the vantage point of your Captain through the entire mission.  This brings me to one of my many complaints of the game-the lack of an over-arcing story in the Maxis created missions.  It’s surprising to me that Maxis decided not to link any of their missions together with a bigger plot.

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Each mission is it’s own individual adventure, usually lasting no more than five minutes.  Unfortunately, it seems that for every five minutes you spend playing a missions, there is at least double the time spent downloading and sitting through loading screens.  If you haven’t played Spore before, let me give you some background.  There is something called ‘Sporepedia’ in the game, which is a management tool to view all of your creations and all of your imported creations.  Inside the Sporepedia you can subscribe to “Sporecasts”, which is basically a subscription to a specific user’s content, allowing you to automatically download their new creations as soon as they are uploaded to Spore’s servers.  By installing Galactic Adventures, you add a Sporecast for Maxis adventures to your Sporepedia, as well as a sporecast for the Robot Chicken adventures, if you choose to add that content.  Why am I going through this lengthy description?  Well, as I mentioned, Spore automatically downloads new content, ie new adventures, if you are connected online and signed into your Spore account in-game.  So if I have already downloaded this content from my Sporepedia page, why is it that when I start the mission I site through an additional loading screen while Spore : GA downloads all of the textures, buildings, creatures, etc. for the mission that I just choose to play?  I would have hoped that all of that material would have been downloaded already, but you’ll be surprised to find that is not the case.  This can be especially irritating considering it happens after an already lengthy load screen for the mission.  Add on to this, as well, that I have a very sketchy home internet connection that works when it wants to, meaning that I cannot play a new mission if my internet is down—unforgivable.  I’m sorry, but for me that is a little too much of an investment for a five minute gaming experience.  I actually got started playing the Iphone version Spore : Origins while I waited during the long and frequent load screens in Spore : GA.

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The gameplay in Spore : GA is pretty solid, camera controls, as I mentioned, are a direct mirror of the Creature Phase controls.  Your Captain is controlled with the W, A, S, D keys, Spacebar will activate a Jetpack if you have one, and the numeric keys activate your weapons or melee attacks.  This is another area I really feel Maxis dropped the ball with.  I can’t fathom why a game of this nature would be controlled with a more typical third-person control scheme that could have been accomplished in one of two ways.  Once again, let me reference Spore, if you are not familiar with the original game.  Your Captain can take on a friendly or hostile stance, controlled by green and red buttons in the bottom middle of the HUD.  A hostile stance will allow for attacks – controlled by the 1, 2, 3 and 4 keys on the keyboard.  Friendly actions are controlled the same way.  Maybe it’s just me, but it feels very awkward to be forced to engage in shooting combat from a third-person perspective while you are searching for numeric keys and having to tap them to shoot or melee attack your target.  If  Maxis was that attached to keeping the HUD mechanic like this, I would think they could have highlighted your active attack or friendly action, allow you to use the scroll wheel to change actions and activate/attack by clicking the LMB.  Alternatively, they could have supported the 360 PC pad by allowing the left and right bumpers to change active attacks/actions, and use the right trigger to fire or attack.  You may think I’m taking this a little far, but it’s a poor choice of control scheme that, in my opinion, further shatters the immersion that has already been destroyed by loading/downloading screens.

Fumbling controls and epic load screens aside, there is a huge amount of additional content included with Spore : GA.  Maxis definitely should be applauded for effort with adding to an already groundbreaking game.  The ability to download and play through user created missions offers a far more useful approach to user created content than the original Spore did, if you are willing to sift through all the bad apples to find the gems.  The Maxis and Robot Chicken created content is very solid and very polished.  Also, let’s not forget the ability to delve into the Adventure Creator and build your own adventure from the ground up.  This is a much more grandiose task than simply creating your own creature, building or spaceship as you must create objectives, dialog and anything else you would like to add to make your adventure stand out from the host of others already uploaded.  I must say that if you were in any way intimidated by the creation tools in Spore, than I would have a hard time believing you will be designing your own adventures.  I am not at all criticizing the feature, it is truly amazing the customization and control you have over adding truly custom content.  Every creature, building and vehicle can be designed by you, as well as composing your own soundtrack similar to the way your species’ anthems were created in Spore.  I’m simply trying to illustrate that this is a huge undertaking, and probably isn’t for the more casual player.

Galactic Adventures is definitely not a bad game, it simply suffers from some poor choices that, hopefully, can be patched in the future.  It forces the gamer to make the decision of whether or not the meat of the game is worth a larger investment of sacrificed controls and load screens.  I think, by now, it’s obvious, for me, the answer to that question is a resounding no.  I cannot recommend a game that requires patching to provide a more smooth and enjoyable gaming experience.  I will be happy to eat my words and edit this article if future patches change any of the faulted game mechanics I have cited here, but until then I would have to say that Spore : GA is only for the extreme Spore fan(Which, until now, I thought I was).

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