A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Darkspore is a violent action RPG that encourages players to connect with others online. Its light story about fighting off an alien menace takes a backseat to sensationalized sci-fi violence, which, though not gory, is often exceptionally bloody. Teamwork with human allies -- either friends or strangers -- is all but necessary to succeed, especially in the game's extremely difficult later missions. Voice chat in online play is not supported, but players do engage in open text chat communication. For this online play, an optional profanity blocker can be switched on or off.
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What's it about?
An unlikely follow-up to 2009’s difficult-to-define Spore, DARKSPORE is essentially a dungeon-crawling action role-playing game with a sci-fi bent. The tenuous connection to its predecessor -- a game that allows players to create and evolve species -- comes in a creature editor that allows players to customize the look and abilities of their heroes, adding new horns and eyes and armor wherever they like, then modifying their shape and appearance by pulling and spinning little arrow icons.
Set in multiple locations across the galaxy, players control squads of “hero” creatures who must battle back the game's titular genetic menace, hordes of swarming monsters that have decimated worlds. Players can work through the story alone, but are encouraged to team up with others to take on the darkspore threat. Without the help of allies, many missions becoming dauntingly difficult. A player-versus-player mode exists as well.
Is it any good?
Darkspore looks nice and its combat should prove instantly accessible to anyone who has played an action RPG. What’s more, it delivers satisfying rewards in the form of 100 unlockable heroes and countless pieces of ability-altering equipment. Indeed, many players will spend almost as much time in the hero editor as they do on the battlefield, striving to create the most powerful squad possible to take on what often turns out to be extremely challenging missions.
Indeed, the difficulty may end up turning off some players, especially if they aren't adventuring with experienced players. It’s unfortunate that the game isn’t more conducive to people interested in a solo experience. It could also do with a meatier story. None of our heroes talk -- the game’s only voice comes from a cold, computer-like narrator -- and the story feels a little soulless as a result. There’s no human element for players to latch onto. Still, if you enjoy a good challenge, fancy multiplayer gaming, and appreciate a well-designed and rewarding action RPG battle system, there’s a lot here to like.
Online interaction: Players are strongly encouraged to team up with others -- including strangers -- to play cooperative and competitive games online. Players are automatically logged into a server at the game’s outset and can see other players freely communicating with one another in a dialogue box at the bottom of the screen. An optional profanity filter is capable of blocking most curses, but doesn’t stop players from discussing inappropriate subjects or sharing personal information.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in games. Do bloody battles against alien creatures have the same impact as realistic simulated combat between humans?
Families can also discuss online safety. Games like this one support large Internet communities. How do you ensure you remain safe while chatting with strangers?
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