Spore Updated Hands-On

We build cities, harvest resources, and vanquish competitors in the Civilization phase of Spore.

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As the passing days bring Spore's September 7 release date ever closer, anticipation for Will Wright's newest brainchild continues to rise. The recent release of the creature creator and the subsequent proliferation of user-created aliens is a testament to Spore's appeal, and we were fortunate enough to get our hands on a near-final build of Spore at a recent EA press event. In our short time with the game we delved into the Civilization phase and played out a real-time strategy scenario, Spore-style.

Spore spans the dizzying arc of life, from the primordial ooze to the vast reaches of space, stopping along the way to engage players with new gameplay modes and new challenges. You can begin your adventure at any one of the five distinct phases, so we jumped to the Civilization phase to get a taste of what it's like to develop cities populated by the bizarre creatures of our own creation. We decided to create our own creature, which was a breeze, thanks to the remarkably deep yet intuitive creature creator. Whether we were molding the size and shape of our creation or adding limbs, eyes, and other bizarre appendages, it was easy to figure which icons would effect which changes. From there it was just a matter of clicking, dragging, and watching our alien take shape before our eyes.

It's easy to create all make and manner of monsters with the creature creator.
It's easy to create all make and manner of monsters with the creature creator.

Once our creature was complete, we had to determine whether our civilization would be militaristic, economic, or religious. This choice, we were told, would affect what buildings and vehicles we could build and would be a general guideline for our world domination strategy. Since our creature had some nasty teeth and a few other mean-looking features, we went with militaristic.

We were then prompted to design the palace that would serve as the hub of all our cities, but our time was short and we were eager to get to the actual gameplay. Fortunately, there were already plenty of premade buildings ripe for the picking. We opened up the in-game browser and watched as it quickly populated our screen with a full complement of architectural oddities. Most, if not all, of the buildings available to us were created by the development team, but once Spore launches, the browser will bring in the creations of users all over the world. After choosing a building, we went through the same process to choose our first vehicle. Then the browser closed and we were launched into the game in earnest about seven minutes after we sat down. Take out the time we spent creating our creature, and we could have started a fresh game in about two minutes, thanks to the smooth-loading and dead-simple content browser.

We began with a circular city ringed by walls with our chosen palace towering high in the center. Outside the city walls waited our first vehicle, an insectlike walker with a mounted gun. Taking it out for a spin was as easy as selecting it and then right-clicking on our destination, which was the nearest colorful gas geyser. We captured this resource point by squatting next to it for a few moments, and then we headed off toward the next one. The entire continent was visible to us from the get-go, though whether this was a result of our presumed exploration from previous phases or just the way Spore presents the world was unclear.

Back at our capital city we began to poke around in the build menu that dropped down on the left side of the screen. Flush with newfound income, we started by installing some relatively cheap defensive turrets at a few of the set build points along our outer wall. Then we started churning out some more vehicles, only to have our stockpiling abruptly halted by the unit cap. Factories increase this cap and can be constructed inside your city at one of the many preestablished build points. This seemed like business as usual until we constructed another factory and were rewarded with a productivity bonus for putting the two next to each other. It seems that the placement of structures within your cities will have certain effects on their functionality, though our time was too short to further explore this interplay.

You can try to convert your neighbors to your side, or take the military route and crush them beneath the wheels, treads, or feet of your assault vehicles.
You can try to convert your neighbors to your side, or take the military route and crush them beneath the wheels, treads, or feet of your assault vehicles.

Now in command of a good number of vehicles, we set out to deal with the pesky civilizations that had popped up on our continent. Though our species was the only one to make it out of the Tribal phase, there were still many different factions vying for dominance. Different-colored vehicles had begun poaching our resources, and what better way to put a stop to such mischief than a good old-fashioned conquering? A few clicks later our walkers were bombarding their lone city, which quickly fell to our assault. Having vanquished them completely, we moved right into their city and redoubled our production efforts. As city after city fell beneath our crushing might, we realized that while continental domination was at hand, global domination was still out of our reach. So we headed to one of our coastal cities and, with a quick selection from the browser, created the first ship in what would soon become a powerful armada.

Though brief, our time with Spore was enough to give us a good feel for the familiar and accessible real-time strategy action of the Civilization phase, and we caught a few glimpses of complexities to come. The game played smoothly, and the creation browser was a snap to use--our appetites are definitely whetted for further Spore action. In two weeks we'll be down at E3 bringing you tons of new content, and you can bet we'll have plenty more on Spore then.

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