Spore, which came out in 2008, is a sim/strategy game that introduced a unique creature-evolution tool to go along with some simple but creative gameplay. Its construction, along with its designer's self-described status as an "agnostic atheist," prompted me to speculate that " some will see [it] as a creative and involving apologetic for Darwinian evolution" while " others may decide its ludicrous 'process' and wacky creatures diminish the idea that brainless blobs can somehow come up with a game-plan for world domination." One thing was more clear: The game lived up to its E10+ rating.
Darkspore keeps the pseudo-evolution theme and pushes the rating to a T by adding fierce firefights between glowing-eyed critters with hacking Wolverine-like claws (and many other such meanies and beasties). Instead of building new life-forms from genetic bits falling to Earth in a meteor, Darkspore picks up its story after widespread DNA experiments have gone terribly wrong and infected the universe with a mutating virus.
Playing as the last of a group of brilliant scientists, gamers wake from suspended animation and find themselves facing a colossal challenge: They must work with a handful of healthy heroic creatures under their control and somehow wipe everything clean of the nightmarish scourge called the Darkspore. How do you wipe everything clean? Well, by building critters and sending them out to fight.
Biology Meets Technology
Darkspore demands that you sign on to an Internet connection for those battles. In fact, all play, whether single player or cooperative, is online. There, up to four co-op buddies pursue two central courses of action. They zip from planet to planet—crawling through dungeon-like mazes, slashing and bashing scores of RPG enemies, and collecting loot as they go. Then, as they level up, they gain access to 100 creature variations, edit and equip them with the spoils of battle, and group them into strategic squads of three.
The hero creatures themselves are a mix of biology and technology that end up looking like everything from laser-eyed robots to creepy insects to demons. The monsters they fight are … worse. You can use long-ranged blasters to riddle foes with everything from bullets to fireballs, or up-close ravagers to hack away with elemental claws or plasma-boosted fists. You can trot out your transporting creature who jumps in on the enemy for a surprise attack, or a multi-legged robot assisted by a circling pod of satellite bots.
The early rounds are simply a series of mouse clicks and number button attack choices. But as your creature catalogue and list of specific skills grows, so does your challenge to equip your squads properly and match them up so that their tag team prowess is balanced enough to face any onslaught.
War Meets Spore
The game's bird's-eye view of those onslaughts keeps gory outcomes at a distance. But as creatures are killed and disappear, crimson or purple pools of goop splash the landscape. The short missions (clocking in at around 15 to 20 minutes each) might make things feel pretty light and fluffy at first, but there are a good 80 of them to crash your way through, and the later stages involve wave after wave of ghostly foes, vine-tangling terribles and laser-blasting baddies. So the slashing conflict seems like it goes on and on and on.
Things have indeed darkened in the Spore universe. And the change is dramatic. But it's not so radical that we would have to label it a whole new species.