When Spore burst onto the scene in 2008, it opened up a world of possibilities. After all, it was a game which was based on procedural events - you could create almost anything you wanted. But ever since then, almost every other property associated with the Spore brand name has suffered from severe mediocrity at best - they haven't managed to capture the essence of the original. With Darkspore, Maxis hoped to change that. The game is a much more serious offering, as opposed to the light-hearted fun approach previously seen. But, it's probably not the revolution they were hoping for.
The plot of Darkspore revolves around the existence of E-DNA. In years past, a group of people called the Crogenitors managed to master biogenetics, allowing them to create an army of genetically modified heroes called Living Weapons. And when they found a substance called E-DNA, they believed they could create perfection. However, its unstable nature caused undesirable effects and spawned the Darkspore.
The Darkspore then went on to put the Crogenitors on the brink of extinction, but the last remaining one, you, awake 1,000 years in the future when an AI system called Helix has managed to make E-DNA stable. From here you're tasked with defeating the Darkspore and their leader, The Corruptor.
It's a pretty shallow narrative, even for this style of game, because after the initial introduction, there's not much else that happens. For each phase of the game, there's a little nugget of story that's told by Helix, but it's never very detailed. It will usually give a short description of the world you're travelling to, explaining what happened there and what type of Darkspore you're likely to face. Each Living Weapon that you unlock as you progress also has their own back-story, and to their credit, the developers could have easily just ignored all of this. Fans of lore will be rather glad the didn't though, but overall, it's not the best.
Gameplay is also an area where this attention to detail wasn't paid, as Maxis has done very little to innovate. In each stage, you take to the battlefield with three Living Weapons in a top-down environment. Each Living Weapon can perform a melee or ranged attack and they have three special moves - although their third move can be used by any Living Weapon in your squad. It all just feels very basic. Living Weapons can't learn new abilities or really improve either, so if you unlock one you don't like, chances are you're never going to change your opinion.
You see, the only way for your Living Weapons to actually improve, is through acquiring items. There's no EXP system for them and no stat progression outside of equipment. It's a bit disappointing really, because it means if you aren't lucky with item drops, there's no way for you to improve outside of the sparsely populated shop.Progression gripes aside, the gameplay just doesn't feel that great. Honestly, it all feels very dated and static - far from the "fast paced" tagline that's been touted. Levels will, as with most games of a similar ilk, degenerate into spamming the attack button, but it's not that satisfying in Darkspore because there's no real oomph behind anything that's happening in the game. The attacks are bland and hardly any of the special moves have a wow-factor about them.
Similar feelings can be applied to the Editor - one of the most exciting parts of Spore in general. But again, it all feels very simplified. Because all of the Living Weapons are set in stone, customisation isn't that prevalent - there's never an option to create your own Living Weapon from scratch. All you can do is attach items that you've picked up on your travels, and change the colours of things. So, if you go into the realm of PvP and someone has the same Living Weapons as you - there's not that much that can distinguish yours from theirs. It can be seen as a good thing, as it allows attachment with certain characters and obviously, it makes balancing the game a lot easier. But it's difficult not to feel disappointed when there's so much potential which has been purposely stunted - it's now rather similar to just changing a shield on a generic RPG character. The only difference is that you can change its colour, size and rotation.
Presentation isn't too great either, with everything again feeling very toned down. The animations of the different Living Weapons are nice, but that's about where it stops from the perspective of eye candy. Some of the more powerful enemies have interesting designs, but the levels themselves are rather bland - especially once you've done a fair few missions. The structure just never changes. Walk through the level, kill some things, find a teleporter, do this a few times, and fight a horde at the end. The sound design was nice though, with the music providing a suitably eerie backing to everything that's going on.
While you can play the game solo (albeit online only), it's better to try and find some other people to play with. Unfortunately, it's not all that user friendly. You have to find people who want to do the same thing as you, then attempt to party up, etc. etc. It's a process that can take a considerably long time, so unless you have some people you actually know, it can be frustrating.
Then of course, there's the PvP, which, because of the game's rather boring mechanics, is rather boring - especially in 1 vs 1 matches. It's a bit better when played co-op though, so that's at least a saving grace for the game's replay value.
Darkspore is nothing short of a disappointment. It's a competent game, but expectations should be set higher for a game made by this studio, carrying this brand. A lot of the elements are there, but they're there in the barest of forms, including the creature creation tool and the story. If you want to have some fun with a friend, Darkspore might be worth checking out, but otherwise, you're probably best to just leave it alone.
|Decent amount of Living Weapons to choose from.|
|Co-operative play is solid.|
|Tons of items to find while playing.|
|Progression is rather limited.|
|Story is rather flimsy.|
|The gameplay feels rather boring and lifeless.|