We've spent a lot of time playing games this year and some of us in the bit-tech offices thought it'd be an interesting idea to let our readers choose the best games of 2008.
Yesterday, we published part one of the results from our reader poll - the best PC games of 2008 - and we will be publishing the results of the best console games of 2008, as voted for by you, later this week. The results were interesting and although we've given you the final say on what games you enjoyed the most, we couldn't help but start talking about our biggest disappointments of the year when we started discussing the results of the reader poll.
And so this list was born - the most disappointing games of 2008.
Our choices were pretty unanimous after a few hours of discussion, but we're sure that you'll have a different take on the biggest disappointments. With that in mind, we all added reinforced tin foil hats to our Christmas wish list - now they've arrived and they're secured in place, we guess it's time to get on with that list...
This is a tricky one because Spore itself wasn’t a totally disappointing game – it did do all it set out to do after all, letting players create their own race of aliens and guide them through the evolutionary process from start to finish. At first that makes it an utterly amazing game, but that’s something that doesn’t last.
Spore was Will Wright’s biggest and most eagerly awaited game, ever. The Sims creator pulled out all of the stops, working tirelessly for years to create a game that fully showcased the growth of a species in all its stages. You start off looking after just one creature, but the game continues to zoom out until you’re eventually managing and adapting a pan-galactic civilisation.
The problem however is that as a game Spore doesn’t succeed quite as well as it does as an educational aid and the levels are all far too easy and far too repetitive after a while. The fatigue doesn’t really start to set in until you’ve played the game for a few weeks at least, but when it does it hits like a red-hot sledgehammer to the inside of your eyelids. There is no escape.
Slowly you start to realise that the game may be getting bigger as you go on, but you’re essentially just doing the same thing over and over – find another race and then press either the Friendly button and do a irritating minigame, or eat them. The only reprieve is when you get eaten first, at which point you just restart the current evolutionary phase.
There are some good parts to Spore, such as the creator stages that punctuate the main gameplay. Here you can re-adapt your alien species by adding on new limbs, wings or attacks, design new clothes and vehicles for them to use, or buildings for them to live in. These parts of the game are really well-made, constantly accessible and offer great replayability.
It’s just a shame that the in-between parts are such a disappointment – and more of a shame that these in-between parts are the actual game.
Spore remains a phenomenally successful and impressive game, if only from a technical standpoint. Getting those creatures to animate themselves intelligently can’t have been easy when players can create almost anything they want, but EA Maxis managed it. Unfortunately though, as Crysis proved last year, technical success isn’t a stand-in for good gameplay.
How To Fix It
Fixing Spore wouldn’t be an easy task by any means as you’d have to essentially re-design some stages of the game entirely.
A more important question though is; would EA even want to fix the game? As it is Spore is hugely accessible for casual gamers and, like Will Wright's other mega-seller The Sims, has been hugely successful outside of the hardcore gaming circuit. Little sisters and girlfriends love this game, trust me.
That aside though one thing we would have loved to see is a few more options for players to express themselves in the actual minute-to-minute gameplay. It seems crazy that we can create aliens however we like, but every decision is literally boiled down to either Eat or Dance. Giving players a chance to act a little differently with their creations would open the gameplay up, as well as taking away some of the repetitive playing syndrome that soon sets in. Fatigue can be an awful thing.