Some expansion packs offer more of the same, but Spore Galactic Adventures is not one of them. In fact, it adds an entirely new facet of gameplay to the original game's space stage: adventures that beam your captain onto a planetary surface and send you on a short series of quests. The expansion comes with plenty of such adventures, and there are already developer-commissioned adventures ready to download for free. However, if you enjoyed making your own creatures and buildings in the original Spore, you'll probably also get into the expansion's adventure creation capabilities, which offer imaginative players a set of fantastic tools to express their creativity. Like all of Spore's creation tools, the adventure creator is robust, though learning its intricacies takes some time. There are some nagging issues scattered throughout this otherwise excellent package. However, the new adventures and tools bring the charms of the creature stage into the space stage, and a levelling-up mechanic for your captain results in a welcome sense of progression.
The new adventures are accessible on their own via an in-game menu, but they work better when integrated into Spore's space phase. Adventure missions are available along with other mission types, and when you take one, you fly to the target planet and beam onto its surface. Adventures are somewhat akin to Spore's creature phase: you manoeuvre your space captain about and have access to movement, social and attack abilities as you do in the earlier phase. However, adventures are generally short and focus on role-playing-game-like tasks. These include talking to other creatures, fetching them items, attacking and befriending them, protecting them from harm, and so on. You can also take a crew member (or two or three), whom you can recruit from your allies in the space stage. It may be simple, but it's also charming and engaging, thanks to the hysterical sound effects and appealing visual style. The game's best built-in adventures have you accomplishing tasks from learning how bills become laws in a cute Schoolhouse Rock! spoof to getting a band back together just in time for its big concert. Some of them aren't quite as good, and a few are a little buggy, such as a Godzilla-themed adventure in which pathfinding issues may force you to exit. However, adventures give the space stage welcome charisma and variety, which are qualities the game needed more of in that portion.
If you were into Spore's crafting elements, you now have a new, extensive and incredibly robust tool set at your disposal: the adventure creator. Warning: there's a much bigger learning curve here than in any of Spore's other creation tools. However, if you take the time to experiment with it, you'll find that this exciting tool set offers incredible possibilities to players with an imagination. The ways you can customise the planet alone are astounding. Using the extensive terraforming and atmospheric options, you can mould the environments as you see fit. Populate the world with creatures of your own or download what you need from other players; create themed villages and drop in any building you can find or make; throw in special effects, music and objects. Then, use behavioural buttons and sliders to make them act and interact as you like and give them dialogue. Drag and drop goals onto each, separate the adventure into acts, and soon you'll have an adventure to call your own. Before, you got to play as God and architect; now, you get to play as game designer too.
The tool set takes some getting used to, but it's intuitive and fun to use, and you may find yourself glued to the screen for hours at a time watching your vision come to life. In our time with the tool, we created a short adventure at a school of magic, as well as a more extensive one that re-created the story of Perseus and Medusa from Greek mythology. The game makes it easy to test as you go, so while it is possible to make mistakes that render your adventure unbeatable, the game gives you helpful tools to keep things on track. You can't think too big, however. Levels can only be so complex, and the eight-act limit keeps you from getting too detailed. Thus, act-based limits in how you can order tasks and set creature behaviour may hinder your pie-in-the-sky daydreams. Getting the bottom of large buildings to be flush with the terrain can also be a chore, even when you take full advantage of the terrain-levelling tools. Other drawbacks become obvious when you play out your adventures, as well. Sensitive collision detection can make it a hassle to move around in areas with lots of objects, and mediocre pathfinding can make using the "follow" command on AI creatures an iffy proposition. And clearly, not every object was created to be seen up close. It can take a few moments for some textures to pop in — an issue that becomes more noticeable as you add multiple larger objects to the planet. Thankfully, Spore's fantastic animations and friendly visual presentation make that a relatively minor gripe.
Playing the best adventures is good cause for celebration. (Credit: GameSpot)
The other main addition to Galactic Adventures is less exciting than the adventure creator, but it's still appreciated. Now, your space captain will level up as you roam about the galaxy and take on adventures. When you earn enough points, you can choose from a variety of cool upgrades to equip, such as weapons, social accessories and armour. This adjunct provides a nice sense of progression to the space stage, and it ties into the adventure portion of the game because harder adventures require a more powerful (and properly equipped) captain. There's an inherent disadvantage to the way this assimilation works, however: you may not always be able to finish an adventure at a particular time. If you choose to play a stand-alone quest from the main menu, your captain of choice may not be equipped in ways that allow you to finish it. Provided you are levelling up your captain within the space stage, though, this won't be much of a problem.
And just like with creatures, buildings and so on, your adventures can be shared online. As you fly about the universe, you will experience player-created adventures, and your own will be pulled into the galaxies of other players as well. The integration, as expected, is excellent. While getting a search error is all too common when looking for new goodies, Spore's online assimilation is still unsurpassed in PC gaming. The community is still going strong, and judging from the number of comments we received on uploaded adventures, players are eager to try out as many adventures as they can. If you're one of them, Spore Galactic Adventures is a must-play, some obvious issues notwithstanding. It's as charming as you would want from a Spore expansion, but more importantly, it offers something truly new, rather than more of what came before.