In Spore, you control your own creation as it progresses through the stages of evolution. Back when this concept was first announced, the sheer potential of what it could be was overwhelming. You would be able to make any sort of creature you want in the ultimate sandbox, playing through a game experience that evolves along with your creation! Then, EA just kept announcing more and more features. As you progress, your creations gain intelligence, build their own tools, and establish their own civilizations! Eventually, they develop space travel! They were promising a game in which you could create whole worlds to your liking, have the entire universe as your playground, and do almost anything you could ever conceive of doing in a video game!
What we got instead was a collection of mini-games without any depth or substance.
The game is divided into five stages, each one based on a different stage of evolution: Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization, and Space. Throughout the first two stages, completing certain tasks earns you "DNA points." You can use these to change your creature, by adding parts and abilities to them. No matter what kind of monstrosity you decide to make, though, it will all pretty much play the same. The differences between the abilities afforded by different parts are minimal, at best. You're usually going to go more for aesthetics than practicality when choosing parts, anyway.
There is, admittedly, one part that influences the game experience quite a bit: the mouth. You can chose between playing as either an herbivore or carnivore, but you're basically choosing between whether you want the game to be simply monotonous and repetitive, or excruciatingly painful.
Each stage amounts to a bastardized mini-game version of other, better games or genres. Cell, for example, is basically a Pac-Man clone, only even simpler. As either a carnivore or a herbivore, your goal is to find food while avoiding being eaten yourself. This isn't exactly exciting, as it means wandering around aimlessly while avoiding anything larger than yourself until you find the objects you need. As a carnivore, you can go after creatures smaller than you and eat them, but as an herbivore, you're stuck searching for the much rarer plant cells while avoiding being eaten by the larger predators that will hound you incessantly.
No matter which path you choose, or which difficulty setting, this is just repetitive, boring, and, like most of the stages, dragged on way too long. It may take you only 30 minutes to an hour to complete a stage, but you'll probably be sick and tired of it after 2 minutes. To make it worse, the difficulty is greatly diminished by the fact that you are never really penalized for getting killed. You just respawn at a certain point, maybe with a little less DNA points or money, but that's never a problem except for in the last stage, Space.
Stage two, Creature, is like a PC RPG stripped down to its most basic elements. You can either be a predator, making a living hunting down other creatures. Or, you can be a social creature, expanding your territory through communicating with the other species. This is accomplished by an embarrassingly stupid "Simon Says" game, in which you match the actions of the other creatures with your own. You are given a sizable area to explore, but as it's mostly featureless and there's not much to do, plus the concern of finding food and defending yourself from enemies, you probably won't stray far from your nest.
Stage three, Tribal, is an excruciatingly dull resource management bore-fest, while stage four, Civilization, is an extremely dumbed-down RTS. But stage 5, Space, is unlike any of the others, and of all the stages, it comes closest to be engaging in any way. Of course, they had to mess it up in some way, so they made it so unbalanced to the point that it's nearly impossible to play. You're given more things to do and more freedom to explore, as you take to the stars.
However, before you can actually do any of those things, you need money, and also need to establish colonies to expand your empire. The game seems to do everything in its power to prevent you from accomplishing any of this. Pirates, terrorists, and natural disasters will offset your colonization progress and economic resources; neighboring empires will bully you out of money, and you'll have to pay up, or else declare a war you can't win because you don't have enough money; you'll have to complete missions for more money, but find that you can't purchase the tools you need to accomplish such tasks because you don't have enough money! Now, the game will punish you for simple mistakes, getting killed, and even accomplishing tasks too slowly. Perhaps most unforgivable of all, is the horrible control in this stage.
After the snail-paced, piss-easy stages that came previously, this sharp upturn in difficulty is not welcome. The incline is so sharp, in fact, that you may feel like you've hit a wall. You might feel like calling it quits at this point, and I wouldn't blame anyone for stopping there. Even if you were to soldier on past all the crap and got to the point where you can do whatever you want, you'll quickly find that the things you can do in the Space stage get just as boring just as fast as anything that's come before.
In every stage, there's something you can create or customize. Stages 1 and 2 let you tweak your creature's physical appearance. Stages 4 and 5 let you create vehicles and buildings. Stage 3 only gives you the ability to dress your creatures up in static, boring clothes that add almost nothing to the game. But, even this emphasis on creating your own game components gets tired, as you might not always feel like making something new from scratch whenever you need it. You can download others' creations and use them, but that's no fun.
Although making buildings and vehicles is kind of a bland process, creature creation can be alot of fun, and it's the game's one saving grace. You have a plethora of parts to choose from, and you can make almost anything you could imagine. There's even an option to make creatures from the main menu. So, you can just go in and make some wacky monsters without having to put up with the main game. Sometimes controlling the camera in the Creature Creator can be a problem, as it has to be in just the right position for you to manipulate things in certain ways. But the big problem is, after you've made your monster, there's not much to do with it.
Like other games such as Little Big Planet or Magic Pengel, Spore takes an interesting customization feature, and then does nothing with the actual game. Also like LBP, Spore shows a disturbing reliance on randomly-generated or user-generated content, almost as if the developers didn't want to bother actually designing anything themselves. Often you'll see the creations of others in your game, although there is no direct player-to-player interaction. Sometimes you may see something humorous or unique, but most of the game's users seem to show a surprising lack in creativity.
For the graphics and sound that the developers did design themselves, the graphics are in a colorful and cartoony style, with some nice textures and fairly fluid animation. The music is ambient noodling.
The game has been praised as thought-provoking and realistically simulating the evolutionary process. Of course, that's just something the media pulled out of their asses to justify giving such high scores to a product that by no means deserved them. If this game were used as an educational aide to teach the evolutionary theory, any students involved would be left with many misconceptions and misunderstandings concerning the processes involved. For example, in nature, changes in species occur slowly over periods of hundreds of years. In Spore, you can disassemble and change a creature completely during the span of a single generation. Everything in the game is too exaggerated, too cartoony, and too scientifically inaccurate to be take seriously on any level.
To me, Spore only symbolizes one thing: broken promises. The one redeeming aspect of the game is the Creature Creator, which was released for free download months before the game's launch as a demo. If you're still curious about this game, download that demo instead, and skip this unevolved specimen altogether.