Spore Galactic Adventures (PC)
As the snaggletoothed humanoid gator gawks from the monitor, eager for his next space adventure, I wonder how I'm supposed to take this seriously. Sure, I've raised old Gatoroid from the planet Gatorade since he was nothing but a planarian -- from Petri dish to galactic conqueror. But that wasn't good enough, apparently. Spore wants more of my time, and Spore Galactic Adventures tries to give the most open-ended game ever more purpose.
So I suit up old Captain Fierce Ice and hit my newly expanded gaming universe. Prepare for blastoff; things are about to get weird.
To start with, the whole idea of reviewing an expansion pack is a little too much like going into a restaurant and ordering a meal just so you can critique the dessert. For most of us, the assumption is, if you liked your dinner, then a slice of pie to finish things off always goes down well. If you enjoyed Spore, then you'll buy Galactic Adventures, right?
But with the game industry growing more and more pirate-leery -- and ever-so-slightly starting to freak out about the used-game market -- expansions, add-ons and downloadable content have turned into something all their own. A few years ago Fallout 3 would have been fine as a standalone game. Now that title seems determined to have players download the entire post-apocalyptic U.S., one city at a time (presumably ending, we can hope, with Niagara Falls Out 3 -- hoo hoo!). And the World of Warcraft is, arguably, nothing more than one giant piece of never-ending add-on content. Games have gone all postmodern with their endlessly iterating stories and big bang of possibility. Expansion just doesn't seem the right word anymore.
With the release of Galactic Adventures, we can at once admire how well EA has handled the subject of expanding (or growing or reproducing or exploding or cloning) the seeming infinity of the original Spore, and wonder if that game was just a Trojan horse designed to sneak the Will Wright master plan for world domination onto the unsuspecting hard drives of gamers everywhere -- like some sort of fun virus you just can't shake.
It takes a while before you realize that Galactic Adventures isn't just an annoying collection of scenarios meant to wheedle some more space bucks out of your space pants.
Back to Captain Fierce Ice as he strolls into his first planetary adventure -- filled with dancing rabbits and confetti blowing up into the sky with frivolity not seen since the Second Life fad passed. You can't help but think you've left the Spore universe and landed on planet Rare (Anyone seen Banjo or Conker? They ought to be here somewhere). And despite the definite feeling that the level designer was in some pretty bad detox when he/she cooked up this intro level, it's pretty cool to walk around in full-on Spore space regalia on some foreign world.
If you never played Spore, then the breathless fan enthusiasm for being able to actually stroll about on the planets you are exploring will blow by like so much noxious space gas. And for the player who really -- like, cosmically -- connected with Spore, this expansion is such a loony left turn that they might wonder what happened to their game.
So let me explain:
Galactic Adventures is really a complete game on its own, built on top of the Spore engine and editors. If you never played Spore before, you could happily install the original and the expansion and get to playing the GA content without ever opening up a standard Spore game. And even if you did click into the original Spore cosmos, you'd notice very little different. Galactic Adventures and Spore share the same DNA, but this evolutionary step gets you thinking about a whole new species of Spore-life in development.
What GA adds is a nifty little scripting engine that allows you take your spacefaring creatures and play through missions that roll out like a best-of of 3-D gaming genres -- racing, combat, real-time strategy, puzzle-solving and even a little platformer play. But like the rest of the Spore universe, none of these genres is particularly deep. These basic game mechanics provide a prop to the main event, which remains the charm in seeing your Spore freak run, fight, or puzzle-solve.
This being Spore though, the secret sauce is found in the building tools, which now include adventure-building tools. With similar ease to making a creature, constructing a town, or crafting a spaceship, players can create scenarios -- call them adventures -- and upload them for others to play.
Perhaps sensing that this was all going to be a little hard to swallow, Maxis teamed up with the mad toy scientists at Robot Chicken, and let them loose with the tools. Now you can download adventures uploaded by that nerdy Spore fan down the block, or some pro content like Robot Chicken's "Shake It Up," which is -- well, let me quote the press materials:
"You are trapped inside a snowglobe filled with snowball bombs, kamikaze penguins, evil two-headed snowmen, enraged yeti and skiing unicorns."
In other words, the whole idea of Spore being some sort of science lab for the 21st-century future pretty much went out the window with, let's just say, those flying unicorns.
Spore attempts to rein all this back into the main game by having the intergalactic creatures in the game, who routinely dispatch you on missions, now occasionally invite you planetside to complete Galactic Adventures. So because these strange adventure scenarios tie into the main game on a content level, it is possible to consider GA a proper expansion pack -- like buying hats or holiday stuff in The Sims. But at its weird little alien heart, this "expansion" is another expression of Spore's core idea -- that user-created content driven by a massive procedural system under the hood and shared online can create endless types of entertainment. Under the microscope, Galactic Adventures is just more strange, Spore fun. From the cosmic view, this is another piece of the ever-expanding imaginative insanity the original game only ever hinted at.
Here, cue Captain Fierce Ice, as the gator man does a jig for joy with the happy bunny people on some planet, in some galaxy, in some star system on some computer, somewhere in time and space.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.