Darkspore hasn’t been an easy game to review, not least because its requirement for an always-online internet connection (even in singleplayer) has suffered interference from the office firewalls and security systems. Even if you table that issue for now, it’s still hard to forget the fact that none of the usual freelance writers were at all interested in playing Darkspore, even for a fee. That’s usually a bad sign.
Signs can be misinterpreted, of course, but the truth of the situation is that Darkspore is a game that suffers a bad rap not because it’s misunderstood, but because it’s too easily understood. It’s instantly obvious from a glance at the screenshots that it’s attempting to be the bastard son of Diablo and Spore; a combination that’s hard to get excited about.
Building Customising your squad is key
Ultimately, that’s probably for the best too; Darkspore isn’t really a very exciting game. It doesn’t offer much more than the usual action RPG mouse-clicking mania, albeit with the armour and weapons presented as collectible genetic traits, rather than items. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, however; as a basic action RPG it still has a raw, addictive quality that will keep you playing, clicking and not thinking. Whatever else drags it down, Darkspore is constantly buoyed up by a basic utility that's powerful enough to keep you playing, even if you’re adamant you hate the game.
There are a lot of reasons to hate it too, the first of which is the over-told and under-interesting storyline, which revolves around a race of genetic professors nearly driven to extinction by their creations. These scientific whiz-kids, the Crogenitors, stumbled upon a new form of DNA, which they named E-DNA, presumably after someone’s grandma. The Crogenitors fashioned a race of E-DNA warriors, who naturally mutated and turned evil; becoming the eponymous Darkspore.
Driven almost to extinction, the last Crogenitors put themselves into cryosleep and fled, leaving behind AI to attempt to solve the E-DNA problem for them. Eventually, the computers came good; you’re woken up and have to start wiping out the Darkspore with a new race of stable genetic heroes.
It’s as predictable as plots come, but the real problem with Darkspore’s fiction is that it’s presented with a total lack of charisma and in such great quantity. Reams of text are read out by a computerised voice, and while Maxis has tried to salvage some drama with sci-fi scenery, it’s a desperate and futile effort. There’s so much lore layered on to every creature, planet and collectible trait that it all gets bogged down in itself, becoming worthless and occasionally confusing. There’s really no reason to care about any of the races, nor any of the reasons for which you’re supposedly fighting. The only receptacle for player emotion is your squad of genetic heroes.