Probably the year's most eagerly awaited PC game, Spore arrives from the folks who brought you The Sims series of games.
This ambitious new effort, from designer Maxis, allows players to control the evolution of a species--from paddling around as a single-cell organism in primordial soup to developing a sentient creature culture to launching an interstellar spacefaring civilization.
Part of your task will be to coax a wriggling critter out of primordial waters and onto two, four or perhaps even six feet. You'll palaver and hunt and sometimes hoedown with other life forms, shepherding a handful of nesting beasties into a planet-straddling empire. At some point you'll lift off into space, exploring thousands of whirling orbs that are seeded with species devised by other players and folded into your own universe on the fly.
Most important, you don't just play that scenario; you design it, making Spore's most compelling attribute the way it blurs the line between creator and consumer. Though it's not the be-all and end-all that its five years in the cooker may have suggested, Spore is a transfixing, perplexing, occasionally vexing, but mostly triumphant example of what happens when a design team gets the balance between imposition and choice almost exactly right.
(For more about Spore, read PC World's interview with Lucy Bradshaw, the game's executive producer.)