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What Is Darkspore?
Following the release of the 2008 Will Wright hit game Spore comes a sequel of sorts. Rather than offer a new way to take your creations down a whole new evolutionary path (a theme presented in subsequent replays of the original) Darkspore instead offers you the game that Spore itself perhaps should have been in the later stages.
Featuring a revision of the Spore creature creation tool, Darkspore allows you to build take existing creatures and use them as living weapons to fight against the horror that is The Darkspore.
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System Requirements and DRM
Reviewed here is the Steam release of Darkspore, which comprises a vast 7 GB download prior to installation and then a subsequent series of updates, totalling 17 files. For a game released under a week ago, and one that has undergone extensive beta testing this is slightly concerning. Moreover it means that your initial launch of the game will take anything upward of 15 minutes depending on your broadband speed.
To play Darkspore, your PC will need to be running Windows XP, Vista or 7, and be equipped with a 3 GHz Pentium 4 CPU or 2 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU or faster; AMD equivalents are obviously accepted. The minimum RAM requirement is 2 GB and 10 GB of hard disk space is required. A 256 MB video card with Shader Model 3.0 support is also required, featuring NVIDIA GeForce 8800, ATI X1900 or Intel HD Graphics chipsets. The graphics card should also be DirectX 9 or later.
As with all EA games, you are required to use an existing or new EA account to sign-in and play Darkspore, as part of their digital rights management (DRM) system to prevent piracy. You will also need an always-on broadband Internet connection to play the game, even in single player campaign mode.
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Backstory and Atmosphere
Offering an impressive opening with plenty of exposition, Darkspore’s plot is based on the manipulation of DNA, e-DNA and the building of custom life forms. The backstory concerns so-called “Crogenitors” that travelled the galaxy to customize life itself, and the development of the Darkspore and the war that followed.
Thanks to e-DNA, Darkspore allows you to upgrade your heroes using elements found on the battlefield (100 combinations are possible based on the 25 templates; there is no opportunity to start a creature from scratch), something that you can try out early on with a useful practise mode that enables you to get to grips with the typical RPG control system (typical in that it is mouse controlled and requires the number keys to activate powers).
As with many RPG titles, initial gameplay involves breaking lots if equipment and combatting drones to find upgrades and DNA points; the campaign challenge is as much fun as the PvP mode, however, although there is no way to swap or trade items you have collected with other players.
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As mentioned in the previous section, the control mechanism is pretty rudimentary, enabling veteran RPGers to get started pretty quickly. Navigation around the mission level is via the familiar point and click method, while, powers and weapons can be activated by pointing at the target and tapping one of the numeric keys corresponding with the powers listed in the status bar.
Only one creature of your team of three can be used at any one time, but by using the Q, W and E keys you can swap them around.
Selecting the team before the mission gives you access to the creature editor, where you can add and resize the various abilities and powers that you have collected in previous rounds, as well as customize them with a new paint job!
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Graphics and Sound
Darkspore is an online sci-fi action RPG, and as such the character design and landscape graphics – not to mention the special weapons effects – are to some extent pre-defined. Any player of an RPG knows that when a power is activated/spell is summoned some attractive visuals are about to be witnessed, and Darkspore certainly doesn’t disappoint!
Sadly despite the good quality of the visual design and characters that could have come straight out of Spore, there are limited camera views. This may be down to the use of the right mouse button as a means of launching attacks, but it would have been good for Darkspore to offer a 360 degree camera option as opposed to the limited zoom in/zoom out.
The game’s soundtrack is excellent, meanwhile, with top quality audio sound effects and a nice selection of music. Pretty much what you would expect from a big EA release, in all honesty!
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Fear of the Darkspore!
Although an enjoyable title, Darkspore is probably only going to appeal to RPG fans and those intrigued by the evolution of the game from the family friendly Spore into something much darker.
Creature customization is addictive, and makes the urge to get to the end of the various (repetitive) missions worthwhile, but Darkspore loses considerable respect for having a massive 400 MB update within a day of its release. Given the massive amount of time spent on open beta testing this shouldn’t have been the case.
Those unhappy with the EA DRM should be aware that Darkspore cannot be played if you don’t have an Internet connection, so bear this in mind before purchasing. If you’re happy with the DRM, however, and have a good connection, you will find that the PvP mode is the most satisfying.