Spore tells the story of life—all life—through a series of five stages. From the earliest single-celled organisms swimming in a primordial soup to a domineering race of space explorers, you're tasked with guiding the development of a species over hundreds of millions of years.

Though each stage is vastly different in setting, your goals remain basically the same: Gather genetic material by eating whatever sort of food you deem appropriate and procreate as often as possible. By sowing your wild oats and developing a creature that would make Charles Darwin proud, your species eventually spreads across the galaxy.

This relative sameness to each stage of development nearly makes Spore dull: It will eventually dawn on you that you're basically repeating the same quests ad nauseam, but just when things start to turn stale, Spore switches things up.

The simulated Manifest Destiny, despite being the overall goal of Spore, is far from its biggest draw. Players can spend hours customizing nearly everything. Not only is every facet of your creature left up to your imagination, you're also given the same level of creative freedom with your species' cities, land vehicles, boats, and spaceships. You can even write a national anthem for your minions, if that's your thing.

Once you've crafted your perfect utopia, you can share any facet of it through the game's online "Sporepedia." Even if you choose to keep your creature designs to yourself, the game will automatically scour Sporepedia for other players' creatures to populate the world you play in. As a result, every beast you fight, kill, or befriend was once created by someone, somewhere in the world playing the same videogame.

As a game, Spore is only great: It's held back simply because it lacks a solid storyline and varied objectives. But as a canvas where players are free to explore their own creativity in a limitless sandbox, Spore is a stunning achievement in programming and creative thinking.