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A lot of Maxis' technical achievement might not be obvious at first. Spore looks great, with some beautifully rendered cartoon visuals and some of the best lighting you've ever seen in a strategy title, but it's not showy in the way that, say, Crysis is. When you look, however, at how the animators have managed to make even the weirdest creatures – creatures they could never have planned for – move in a believable way, it's just staggering.
Sound and music are both used with a real grace, adding character or offering subtle cues that actually help you with the gameplay. I don't think there's much in the game you could call dumb or thoughtless.
And while it might make you feel dumb, Spore never leaves you thoughtless either. It makes you think about nature, biology, creation and culture, yet never shoves its ideas down your throat. The Space section, for instance, seems a little unnecessary at first; a very odd, almost arcade-like addition after the two strategic phases that have come before.
But then you realise that it's Spore's ultimate sandbox, allowing you to drag creatures from planet to planet, mess with the atmosphere, colonise and terraform at your leisure. You realise that all the stuff you've been doing up until now is just a tiny part of the big picture, and that you're playing your own part in Spore's constant evolution, and that this universe is really, really big – a bit like our own, really – and – possibly like our own - full of all kinds of interesting stuff. This won't be news to anyone who has read the first paragraph of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but Spore certainly rams the point home.
Yet, while Spore makes you ponder, it never preaches. You never feel that the game is linked to (or set against) any particular view or creed (though I imagine it will be an easier fit for Darwinists than creationists). Instead, it just opens up questions and lets you have fun and explore, always building your own little corner of the cosmos in the knowledge that others might be playing with their own version of it soon.
I'm not sure that it's perfect, and I'm not sure that it's simplicity won't put some players off, but I am sure that it's an awesome game, and one that I'd like anyone reading this to run out, buy and enjoy.
Individual phases have their faults, but the old adage about sums and parts applies, big time. Hardcore strategy fans may shudder and turn back to Sins of a Solar Empire, but anyone with the urge to create and a sense of wonder will find Spore practically unmissable.
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