Unlike most Hollywood movies, which, as you well know, are typically shot in a weekend and released in theaters the following Friday, large-budget video games can take years to develop, as teams of artists, programmers, and designers work together to eliminate every possible bug and kink. Such was the case (or so we thought, anyway) with the massively anticipated evolution-simulating computer game Spore, the latest opus from Will Wright, creator of Sim City and The Sims, which has been in the works for the past eight years and finally arrives in stores this Sunday. If you’ve read anything about it over these past few years (and you probably have in The New Yorker or the Times, since Wright’s been flogging this thing forever), you’ll know it’s widely expected to be a world-changing masterpiece and more like art than a simple video game. It’s always sounded cool to us — in it, you create crazy-looking multi-legged creatures from an infinite collection of wacky biological parts, then see how they fare against nature — but how is it, really?
“Spore is probably the coolest, most interesting toy I have ever experienced,” says Seth Schiesel in today’s Times. “But it’s not a great game, and that is something quite different.” Schiesel takes issue with the way Spore is split up into mini-games, some not as good as others: “The real frustration with Spore is that the team behind it was capable of such high achievement in the areas it focused on, while other parts languished.” Also: “There are the inexplicable lapses in basic functionality, like the absence of an auto-save feature. The first time the program crashes, probably in the space phase, and you realize that hours of effort have been lost, you’ll be mad. The second time, you may quit forever.”
Schiesel’s review is in line with those of critics at IGN (“I can’t help but feel that Spore is ambitious and memorable, but I also admit that, save for the cool Space Stage, there’s not a lot of depth here”) and GamePro (“[It’s] a good game held back from greatness by a few flaws and gameplay mechanics that won’t appeal to everyone”), who also seemed a little disappointed, especially given the talent and man-hours that went into the games development. (It currently has a good but not great Metascore of 87.) Even so, if you’re still trying to decide between Spore and Bangkok Dangerous this weekend, just remember — it is still a video game.