Preview: Spore Galactic Adventures – The Cake Is a PortalS

Spore's first expansion pack focuses almost entirely on the space exploration segment of the game, adding a layer of adventure gaming to spice space up.

Once space exploration is unlocked, players can choose the Galactic Adventure tab from the main menu and get down to some real exploring – like where you get out of your ship and walk around. This gives players more of a connection to their Captain characters, especially when you start going on quests and leveling up with experience points.

What's really going to be the draw of the Galactic Adventures, though, is the adventure editor. This is a shame because there's so much to that particular facet of the expansion that I don't feel like I got to see enough of it to really write a fair preview.

Oh well. Here goes…

What is it?
Spore Galactic adventures is an expansion pack for Spore that lets you extend the space exploration segment to actual adventure gaming – kind of like the creature phase, only now you have guns and armor and stuff.

What We Saw
I got about twenty minutes with the title toward the end of an EA press junket held in possibly the noisiest club I've ever been to.

How Far Along Is It?
The build looked pretty final to me, but the game ships June 23. It's likely Maxis is doing a very careful polish with the extra time.

What Needs Improvement?
Spare Me Spore: Whatever else this expansion accomplishes, it's not going to change anyone's mind about the game. It doesn't address all the issues critics attacked the game for; it doesn't do anything particularly new or different to the established method of playing the game. That doesn't mean it's a bad expansion – it just means it's almost exclusively "for the fans."

Wings are in the way: You play the adventure mode pretty much the same way you play the creature mode – from a behind the shoulders view. However, because it's an adventure and not a virgin planet, there is often a lot of stuff on screen at one time that narrows your field of vision (buildings, trees, cars, etc.). This kind of makes it hard to play the Captain like you would an adventure game – especially if they have wings that get in the way whenever they walk into a building-dense town to talk to an NPC.

Adventure ADD: Twenty minutes wasn't really enough time to get a handle on how intuitive the adventure editor was – but I get the distinct feeling that all of the stuff you can do (planet editing, object editing, NPC dialogue trees) will likely overwhelm more than a few seasoned Spore players. Even my demo master said he'd start to create an adventure then "get ADD" and never finish it. He'd get side-tracked by some neat gimmick he invented (like disguising mines as cakes – see below) and forget what he wanted his enemy NPCs to do when they encounter the Captain (follow, territorial, defend, etc.).

What Should Stay The Same?
The Cake is teleporter Lie: All adventures have an item component. You can make your own items or choose from an extensive selection of random stuff that Maxis has cooked up for you – and then drag and drop them into your adventure. Once you do this, you can choose to set that object's "behavior" for different parts of the adventure. Like in Act 1 of your adventure, you can put a bunch of cars down in a town, but set them to be invisible. Then, for Act 2, you can set them to visible – so that when your Captain completes Act 1, the cars magically appear before him. Or – you can disguise objects with other images; like setting down a teleporter, bur disguising it as a cake. It's a very clever game mechanic that empowers the user.

The Planet Editor: I've longed for this since the original game, so I'm glad Maxis included it. You can't really change the size of the planet, but you can customize the colors, the weather, the water-to-land ratio and drop some really weird geological formations almost wherever you want.

That pre-created "Bar Hoping" adventure: According to my demo master, the Bar Hoping adventure I chose wasn't done yet – but whatever it was, it looked cool. My Captain was put in an alley between two clubs playing loud rave music (another customizable feature) and I had to get him past the bouncers to go inside and start picking up beer bottles.

Big Bang for your Buck: There is so much stuff to do in this expansion. Sure, it's overwhelming, but never let it be said you weren't getting your money's worth.

Final Thoughts
Whatever its flaws, Spore: Galactic Adventures does exactly what an expansion is supposed to do. It expands on the original gameplay, adds a bunch of new stuff to make the purchase worthwhile and does little (if anything) to appease people who've already given the game up or never tried it in the first place. The only thing you can really fault Galactic Adventures for is possibly dabbling in the dark side of EA's expansion pack practices — but I'd wait for a Spore: IKEA expansion before getting upset about it.