What really makes Spore special, however, is its potential for creativity. This is at its most obvious in the Creature phase where you’ll find yourself tweaking and recolouring your creature every time it breeds, but it works throughout the phases. In a way, the Cell and Creature phases remind me of Gran Turismo in terms of the cycle of reward and upgrade, not to mention in the way you’ll also take an aesthetic pride in how good (or nasty) your creature looks. When you get to the Tribal and Civilization phases, however, you’re still creating, whether it’s a suitable outfit, a national anthem, the tanks and planes that you’ll send in to invade or the towers, homes and factories that will shelter your citizens.
The tools with which you’ll do all this are easily the best I’ve ever seen within a game. It’s no exaggeration to say that anyone with a mental age of 10 or over could produce decent looking buildings or vehicles by dragging and dropping the simple primitives provided, and the program handles all the complex bits like the joints, intersections and skinning. It’s a joy to create a new city hall or retro rocket plane, and Maxis has hit a superb balance between giving you enough variables to create something distinctive and not giving you so many that you feel overwhelmed.
This is important, because another truly impressive thing about Spore is the way it handles player content. Spore was designed to get everybody – not just the hardcore few – creating and sharing. Unless you choose to play offline your content is automatically propagated to other Spore players, and their content will automatically sneak its way into your games. You don’t even have to think about it, and the result is that you’ll encounter an endless variety of creatures, cultures and objects, and you’ll never know from one game to the next what wonders you’ll encounter.
Behind the scenes there are some fairly sophisticated tools to subscribe to or ban content from specific users, plus options to comment on other people’s efforts or accept comments on yours from them. It’s content sharing, but it’s not in your face. It’s great.
Of course, there are niggles, and each phase has its share. I may be corrected, but at the moment I can only find one save slot per planet and there’s no way of backtracking to an earlier stage if you find you’ve made a fundamental error. In the Civilization phase there’s no way I can find of loading ground vehicles onto naval vessels for transport overseas, while gathering food in the Tribal phase can take up a little too much of your time and effort. Still, overall the construction is impeccable.