How do you follow up the most successful game series of all time, The Sims? Will Wright and the folks at EA/Maxis have answered that question by expanding their scope with Spore, a game that spans the evolution of life from asteroid-induced single cells to starfaring traders.
Spore is probably the largest implementation of the classic "God" game genre. You have an entire galaxy to control, and you can create and evolve creatures of all shapes and sizes within it. All the while, you're developing legs to leave the primordial ooze, establishing sentience, tribal society and even industry.
There are five stages in the evolution of your pet species, and each stage is in many ways a completely different game. The cell stage plays like a simple action shooter - you swim about collecting food and fending off competition while accumulating new parts for faster speed, defense or attack until you can finally walk onto land.
The creature stage follows, and it feels like a third-person action game. The tribal stage is a simple resource-based, real-time strategy game, while the civilization mode introduces a simplified world-conquest scenario based around three basic concepts - military, economic or religious domination. This all leads to the final mode of gameplay in Spore, the space stage.
Spore's space stage plays much like a traditional real-time strategy game, but in space. It supports both action-based gameplay and economic simulation as methods of exploring and dominating the planets of your spore galaxy.
Hardcore gamers will likely find Spore quaint and lacking in real depth, especially in the later modes, but there's something very approachable about it. Sims fans will find their customization and building fetishes sated. Not only do you customize your creatures, but also their dwellings, their vehicles, and even their spaceships.
I've spent hours playing with the creature creator, and once I gained access to the civilization mode I was practically derailed from playing because I was spending so much time developing the look and feel of my race's technology.
You can share your designs with the entire Spore community thanks to integrated internet features. And any creature registered on the Spore site could potentially show up to pester or challenge your creations as well.
The game sometimes feels like a sneaky attempt to get gamers interested in evolutionary biology without screaming the intent at them. While it's not the greatest thing since opposable thumbs, Spore is a solid, fun simulation that could even convert non-gamers if they spent any time with it.