Procedural spaceship building and roguelike shooter combined, Genesis: Alpha One is a unique fusion, but how does it hold up against the dark reaches of space?
The life of a clone can be a hard one. Always overworked and generally underappreciated, it isn’t a life that most of us would choose. Especially not if the DNA used to generate our particular body was created as a hybrid of human and arachnid genetic material, resulting in a hardened epidermis that was both capable of resisting tough environments and of causing incredibly uncomfortable itching. There are worse things in Radiation Blue’s Genesis: Alpha One than minor inconveniences however and if you persevere long enough, you’ll encounter all of them.
Unfortunately, not all of the minor issues in Genesis are built into the game intentionally. Some of its irritations are either mechanical or come as the result of too much ambition and not enough time, money or talent. Before I say too much about the specific strengths and weaknesses of Team 17’s hybrid between ship building and roguelike shooting however, I think I need to explain a bit more about just why Genesis is such an ambitious project – and one that initially had me greatly excited.
Genesis is a game about ship building, exploration and combat, wrapped up in a smart and immediately understandable roguelike shell. Simply put, Earth is gone and humanity is searching for a new home. Acting as the captain of a crew of clones aboard a colony ship, the player must build up their vessel, collect resources via several methods and then repeat the cycle by adding more and more advanced modules to the ship. More advanced modules lead to new ways to obtain resources and then spend them – including on weapons, armour, enhancements and more.
In addition to mundane materials like iron, copper and, erm, plutonium, players will also gather alien flora and fauna to either plant on their ship (enhancing the biosphere) or to modify the basic human DNA that the clone crew are made up of. Yes, by killing the various beasties that inhabit the many, many worlds of Genesis, it’s possible to sequence their DNA and splice it Jurassic Park style to make new crew members. This can result in various resistances (and sometimes weaknesses) that can help to compensate for the traditional fleshiness of the human condition.
So far, it sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? When I first began Genesis, I certainly thought the idea was a good one. The ship building mechanic is incredibly simple and whilst there is lots of variety between modules (as well as how the player can position them) the designers have wisely made sure that the switch between ship building and first person wandering is seamless. This is thanks to fairly restrictive connectivity tools that mean modules only join at certain points. A recurring issue that I did find was that it can be possible during early plays to exhaust key materials like copper and iron, which can lead to the need to destroy modules and rebuild them. You’ll need to put those issues down to experience.
The first person elements in Genesis are less successful than the ship building. The ship graphics look fairly decent, but it quickly becomes apparent that the basic module designs are much less interesting to explore than they are to build. Each one has a crawl space under it that is filled with energy modules which soon become a target for any potential hostiles – usually beamed aboard the ship with any debris or harvested resources. I found myself spending far too much time crawling through these spaces flipping broken energy module switches, which isn’t much fun.
These energy modules are the favourite target of invasive species like arachnid and insectoid creatures that come early in the game. Leaving their destruction unchecked can lead to entire sections of the ship going offline or even being destroyed, which will often result in a chain reaction of further power outages, module explosions and crew deaths. What’s most frustrating about these smaller enemies during the early game is that you can seemingly wipe out all traces of said enemies, only to then start discovering their eggs in random locations. Go on an away mission without thoroughly checking all those crawl spaces and you might return to an unmanageable level of destruction.
These irritating enemies can be dealt with automatically to a certain extent by turrets and shields, but even that doesn’t seem to be an exact science thanks to what seems to be totally random spawning, even outside of areas that should be put at risk by invasive species (such as the tractor beam room and hangar.) I wouldn’t mind problems like this if the consequences were minimal, but the number of crew members on the ship is the number of lives the player has – any shipwide problem of the magnitude I’m describing here could turn ten hours of play into a complete waste of time. When that happens, it always, always feels wholly unfair and completely unpreventable.
Ultimately, whilst these issues are predominantly early game, they are likely to prevent a lot of players from seeing the more interesting, later stages of Genesis: Alpha One. Indeed, the aim of the game is to create what the game calls a Genesis, which is essentially to find a planet worth of colonisation and then hold it with the help of the crew. Achieving this will potentially take many cycles of flying from one sector to the next, scouring every resource you can and then moving on. The lessons learned early in the game about invasive enemies will mean that any player who wishes to succeed will need to take it slow – which can be fairly boring.
Whilst I loved the idea of Genesis: Alpha One to begin with, I felt fairly done with it long before I actually reached the end. Repeated, unavoidable failures were not what I wanted from a game like this and when the Genesis finally came, I felt more relieved than excited or proud. Genesis is not entirely bad (and in fact it has some great ideas) but it’s tough to recommend that you spend hard earned cash on it when there are much better games out there – including the much improved No Man’s Sky, for example. As a result, you should treat this one with caution – and keep your bug spray close to hand!
Genesis: Alpha One is available now for PC (Via the Epic Store), Xbox One and PS4. It will be releasing on Steam in 2020.