Ahh. Once more unto the breach lads.
It’s a shame that we are the humans that were born too late to explore the planet with a boat, were born too early to travel the stars but were the ones to have invented the television. So instead of being the folks that ruined America for the natives, or we’re the ones who ruined Xibolga for the alien race known as Aryhmia, we instead have to imagine that we’re those bastards. Typical, but at least Genesis Alpha One can tide us over in the latter category.
This is the debut title from German developers Radiation Blue, who umm… Well, they shipped games at one point! Yeah, all the classics, like Hitman: Blood Money, and umm… Velvet Assassin? So they haven’t got the portfolio of champions, but they do have Team17 publishing them, who have been producing some phenomenal hits as of late: Planet Alpha, My Time at Portia, Sheltered, and so on. They have an eye for the unique, and Genesis Alpha One is no exception.
You play as a man, or a woman, who is a human clone. These men or women are the pioneers of a new future for humanity, as they search for a planet similar to Earth that they can call their own and ruin just like last time. Not only is the road arduous, but it’s also crawling with hostile alien life, but given that we’ve mastered FTL travel we’ve also mastered the power to harness them for cloning capabilities.
Genesis, at its core, is a roguelike. None of that finicky rogue-lite shite, we’re talking near-Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead levels of robust and tricky management skills, and Enter The Gungeon levels of sudden difficulty spikes. The tutorial does try its very hardest to ease you in with how it works, and it succeeds in providing a welcome atmosphere to any newcomers.
First off, you choose your faction! After you die for the first time on the tutorial, you’ll be given a small handful of factions to complete your mission from, all of which start off with different advantages or benefits. More resources to build stuff with, more crew members to begin with, and more artifacts you can hold from the beginning.
Artefacts are basically power-ups you can find on the desolate planets below, evidence of man’s previous failings in trying to complete the same mission as you. These can be anything from suit upgrades that increase your health or armor by a percentage, new guns that can be tested on the local wildlife, and further information about the planets you’ll find, whether it be resources or new species.
Before all that, you build your ship, with my first christening being the “USS Todger”. While your clones may just be seen as labor monkeys used for difficult jobs, they also need accommodation, and a breathable atmosphere. Leading into this is a ship-building mechanic which is fairly basic, but still provides you with tests of simple resource management and structure.
This is one of the more fiddly parts of the game, because there are two sides to it; one of them being the fact that the part sizes can’t be modified, meaning that you need to plan ahead with how you’ll navigate your ship. The other side is the fact that every ship part also has a part underneath where alien life can breed and infect the ship, meaning in-between everything else, you’ll have to double-check every part underneath, making sure there’s no stragglers.
Going back to basics however, and you can build spaces for commodities, hangars so that you can beam down onto planets and gather resources, storage for refined items, deposits for ore, and finally; tractor beams. Tractor beams will allow you to gather materials that have already been refined from ore, but they do carry the danger of harboring alien lifeforms inside, and this is where you’ll get to grips with the combat.
You can acquire a large array of weapons, most of them energy rifles of some sort, but what’s important is that they should feel good in your hands – and they don’t. None of the guns have any recoil, the sound effects for every gun don’t sync with the actual gunshots, and all of them sound like they’re being shot underwater. Beyond that, none of the guns have an ADS option, meaning that you’re waving a weapon around ineffectively, with a crosshair that vaguely implies where bullets will land.
Not a single gun can be classified as accurate, not even the single shot weapons, which should have what could be considered an unfair advantage when paired with the no recoil bonus. Alas, we’re here wielding inaccurate powerhouses of weapons, and for the most part, we’ll be facing off against puny alien insects that shouldn’t even be a bother, and the macho aliens who do roam the galaxies will shrug off your bullets and shells like they’re dust.
The cloning mechanic is a neat idea, even if it does undermine the importance of your mission and crew members. After a while, aliens will have dropped enough information on themselves to the point where you can integrate their DNA with humans, creating clones that can have more beneficial features than humans. More intelligent, more combat-worthy, etc.
It’s a neat idea in that it means you will almost always have enough materials to cook up another batch of test tube soldiers, given how little they cost to produce, but it also means its hard to care for anyone who lives in your ship, even the character you play as. As far as you and the game are concerned, you’re both cannon fodder for a higher power.
This might sound obvious, but X-COM does the same thing, but the only reason why I’d rate X-COM higher points for this feature is because there’s more effort put into making you connect with your roster. You train them individually, with different upgrades, names and features, and if they die? That’s all of your effort and manpower gone.
I’ll never forget you, Major Slick Rick… that Muton didn’t deserve to claim you as a trophy.
Oh, sorry, moving on. In Genesis, your characters can be named, but when it comes to upgrades, they’re all tied to whoever is Captain (The person you control), and if the Captain dies? Another clone becomes Captain, and they get all of your suit upgrades. So all you have to do is go to the Clone lab and pay the meagre amount of Biomass in order to upgrade your current Captain with all of the upgrades available, meaning that anybody you lose on your journey doesn’t matter.
Still, you could always play it as passively as possible and search around the galaxy for traders and the best loot. As time goes on, you’ll see that the small universe the game has generated will be fairly spread with galaxies promising high rewards with high stakes. The problem comes from the fact that the high stakes take too long to happen.
Once your tractor beam gets you enough materials, you’ll soon have a ship that has it all: a hanger, clone labs, refineries for basic ore, and so on. With that in mind, you’ll probably want to get into your harvester ship, land on a planet, and gaze in awe at the small patch of nothing the game allows you to explore. Watch in amazement as this small circle of land offers you nothing but a few pieces of ore, and maybe a meagre upgrade.
Pro-tip: don’t even bother going onto planets that don’t have “sites detected” on them. Granted, you’ll usually obtain a power-up or information about a species or weapon you won’t be able to obtain until later in the game, but once you do obtain that power-up or info? It carries on into later playthroughs, even after you die on your mission to find Earth 2.
The only problem that comes from this? They’re almost useless. Suit upgrades that increase overall health or damage from certain weapons by 5% is fine and dandy, but what about certain weapon schematics you can find? Well, they sound promising at first, with the promise of high damage, but all of the good guns require ammo from resources that aren’t available until way later into your journey, meaning that if you load your armory with them immediately, they’ll be useless once you run out of ammo, which is usually just after Framen arrive.
Framen are essentially space pirates, roaming the galaxies for your ass to shoot down, and once they enter the same space as you? Write your will, because they will relentlessly bombard your ship with un-counterable cannon fire and minions that’ll spawn inside the ship with the best gear, and tons of health. These will be your run-ender, more than anything else in the game. They’re ruthless, they outnumber you, and they out-gun you.
See, the beef I have with Genesis is that fundamentally, it’s way too much of a slow burn to invest emotions into. This is something you need to devote massive sessions to, and that’s a massive gamble unless your game is mechanically interesting to stick with. Is Genesis that mechanically interesting? Unfortunately, no, especially when a game over is always right around the corner.
Part of this is because of the routine Radiation Blue have set you up with. You go to a new galaxy, you scan the planets, you tractor beam the floating materials with one team of two, and you jump down into the planet by yourself and grab whatever you can with your small harvesting ship. Repeat x amount of times until something impossible to counter or foresee happens.
Another pain in the arse is that you can sometimes build yourself into an impossible situation. An example would be when I filled in all of the paths on my ship with stuff that I need, only to find out that I had been given much more substantial ship parts that were much more necessary and vital to my survival. Now I have to sacrifice the smooth flow of my ship to account for something much more important and pray that it doesn’t get bombarded by solar radiation and asteroids.
You can make progress to the point where your ship isn’t so effectively useless against the environmental or human hazards that can randomly transpire. However, the means of doing so rely mostly on sheer luck via the sites detected on the planets, or merchants who charge ridiculous rates for modules and ship parts you don’t really need.
Merchants, in particular, are a tad annoying to get to. When you hyperjump, they hyperjump also, and they’re obviously unaffected by the environmental hazards at play. Once you finally finish chasing them around the universe, you’ll usually find that they sell resources that won’t be necessary or worth it at any point. ‘Panic Rooms’ seem to be a constant feature within the merchants market, which rarely come into play once installed, since every one of your shipmates will be armed to the teeth, and will attack despite voicing concerns.
Still, none of this compares to the sheer assault on the eyes that is the graphical quality of this game, which is remarkably poor. Props for trying, but goodness gracious, the weird saran wrap sheen all of the textures have over them make me feel like I’m playing Dexter in space. Beyond that, a lot of the vistas the game provides are conflicted with the brightness setting of the game, to the point where I believe the sunlight bloom on planets has the potential to make you blind.
Genesis’ design does accept the fact that at the end of the day, you’re simply filling out a routine– a 9-5, if you will– And I’m not too sure if this type of game allows for it. If some of the mechanics and gameplay were to be tweaked, like maybe giving more “oomph” to the weapons or more flexible ship-building mechanics were thrown into the mix, it would be a lot better.
Granted, you can gain some form of momentum after playing enough times, but once again, this takes 6-8 hours of playtime to reach. By that time, your senses will be so dampened by the lack of anything mentally nourishing won’t allow you to notice it until Framen knee-cap every one of your clones. To put it simply, Genesis Alpha One isn’t fun to play.
Despite ambitions that reach the outer galaxies, the core of Genesis Alpha One is flawed due to the “maybe” nature of all of its mechanics. It wants to be this enriching space simulator, but it also wants to be this risky management simulator, but it also wants to be a fast-paced first-person shooter with light RPG elements, and it ends up being this grotesque mutation that almost certainly won’t appeal to anyone.
In the end, those stars in the developers’ eyes blinded them, much like the graphics.
This version of Genesis Alpha One was played and reviewed on the Xbox One. A code was provided to us for review purposes..
As much as Genesis Alpha One tries its best to keep you entertained, it's an admittedly ugly experience, both visually and mechanically. The lack of ambition or context given to gameplay makes it one to avoid.
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