Darkspore
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Even aliens can be arachnophobes

In 2008 the term "Spore" was flung out from the basements of biologists and given new light in the form of a god game, which was brought to us by none other than Will Wright (the creator of both The Sims and Sim City franchisees). With his past experience and a desire to push the genre definitions out of the window, Spore was released which brought with it an unprecedented level of character customization in the form of the Spore Creature Creator. Thankfully for Darkspore, there will be some similarities noticeable to those who have played Spore, however it is an entirely different game in every aspect.

Darkspore is an online role-playing game that puts you in control of a squad of three unique heroes for each mission you undertake, with one being used at a time. These missions consist of exploring eye-candy fuelled locations that range from dense jungles to mysterious floating platforms in deep space. The core gameplay consists of fighting through hordes of enemies in order to reach an ever increasingly challenging boss fight. It's a very familiar hack-and-slash type of gameplay that can be found in games such as World of Warcraft, with this game having a heavy emphasis on the loot that gets acquired in the process. The ability to instantly change to one of your other heroes in the squad helps to add some strategy and depth to the missions.

Upon starting the game you are given a brief tutorial that touches on most aspects of the game and tries to put your missions and aims into context within the Darkspore universe. The most frustrating point to note about this game is the lack of storytelling, with the game managing to create a genuine feeling of disinterest from the developer. You will be sporadically given a narration that attempts to justify your mission, however it is not frequent enough and there is no reason for you to feel attached or even interested in what is going on around you, leaving you to what sometimes can feel like aimless grinding for items.

There is one important thing to note about Darkspore, the first few hours are not what you should judge the game on. This game offers somewhat strong repetition and within the first few hours you are still being introduced to different features of the game (unlockable heroes, large amounts of items to equip, the squad mechanics etc.) and only through playing into the harder levels and boss fights, will you be able to fully appreciate it. If you are looking for an RPG that you can play from the start and remain completely gripped the entire way through, then this game is probably not for you, however if you have some time and a little bit of patience you definitely won't be disappointed with what you begin to discover. The advanced character customisation on offer is arguably the strongest feature of the game. You can only really develop this fully after numerous hours of missions in order to bulk up your items inventory, and this allows you to create some truly special heroes, similar to Spore's customisation (however with no option to physically change the heroes).

Once you start to delve into the game you are offered an impressive 100 heroes to collect through the in-game levelling system that not only rewards you with new heroes, but also various genetic upgrades and perks. The ability to unlock and collect heroes is one of the main incentives to continue playing as each hero has new abilities and is fairly unique in terms of combat and appearance. The graphics suit the concept extremely well, and much like Spore, you will be finding creatures that look like robots, insects, reptiles, monsters and various other twisted and warped enemies that will be trying to kill you. There is also a brilliant sci-fi soundtrack on top of the visuals that really let you appreciate the game's world and ability to keep you interested, even if the actual core gameplay can get repetitive.

It has a very coop-orientated feel that resonates throughout, with matchmaking being extremely easy to do and very convenient to set up, this allows you to play with up to 3 other players on the missions. Not only is there a no hassle cooperative mode, there are also 1vs1 and 2vs2 player-versus-player modes that allow you to use your custom hero squads and see how they match up against other players squads. Both modes seem to work well with no obvious bugs or connection problems that are often encountered with this type of feature.

Those of you who have played the original Spore will have not-so-fond memories considering the uproar that was caused upon its release regarding the digital rights management (DRM) software SecuROM that was used as a form of copy protection. Thankfully, after various complaints from the PC community (ranging from thousands of negative Amazon reviews to class action law suits), EA have listened to the user base and the game is completely free from this type of software. However, although this might be a good thing in itself, it has led to a constant internet connection being required to play the game, regardless of whether you will be playing the multiplayer aspect of the game. This also means in order to be able to play the game you will need to login to your EA account (or create one if you have managed to escape the need so far), a choice that I feel is a harsh compromise for those looking to ignore the multiplayer aspect of the game.

Darkspore is certainly one of the better role-playing games that's been released in recent years. It manages to (eventually) hook your interest and keep it firmly attached through a mix of an eerily appropriate sci-fi soundtrack, exotic and varied locations and the constant desire to improve your heroes gear and to unlock more of them. This game could have very easily been a brilliant game, if only its sometimes serious flaws had been addressed. Role-playing games are generally only as good as the story telling and context they put you in, with Darkspore there is an extremely poor story-telling side that often leaves you blasting through missions with no idea as to why any of this is happening, which completely removes the limited immersion you may have had. However, this game is definitely good enough to survive this flaw and if you are looking for something to tie you over (or even an alternative for some) until the release of the big names in the RPG world such as Fable 3 or Diablo 3, then you should definitely check out this game.

Reminiscent of Spore