Genesis Alpha One Review
For as long as I can remember, I have been utterly enthralled by the idea of interstellar travel and life. While I certainly enjoy the pristine nature of space travel in the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars, it is the more realistic settings that I really get a kick out of. Battlestar Galactica, Alien, Firefly and The Expanse are often the settings I imagine when I consider the realities of setting out into the great fathomless beyond — and in playing Genesis Alpha One, I get the sense that developers Radiation Blue are on exactly the same wavelength. Space travel, they would caution, is damn frightening and they’re going to go to great pains to show exactly how unforgiving it is.
In Genesis Alpha One you take charge of a Genesis ship bound for the outer reaches of the galaxy — your mission simply to find new worlds in which to lay claim and save humankind. You begin with a skeleton crew of five and the barebones of a starship. What you do in the void and how you do it after space-dock is entirely in your hands — because in true roguelike tradition, Genesis Alpha One is procedurally generated every time you start a new game. You will have to explore star systems to procure valuable resources, both rare and common, scan and scavenge for new blueprints for ship modules, vac-suit upgrades and weapons — all the while keeping one eye on the scanner for potential threats both on and off your ship.
If this sounds relatively simple then I think it’s fair to put some perspective into view.
I have had the pleasure (and subsequent misfortune) of commanding no less than four Genesis ships to date. The USS Apollo (may her crew rest in peace), Pegasus (may her crew also rest in peace), Icarus (and this crew too) and now the Gallant (knock on bulkheads, she has still has her wings and crew intact). The crews under my command have been decompressed into space, infected by alien fungus and subsequently turned into alien breeding pools, blown apart by alien mercenaries, succumbed to oxygen deprivation, eaten by alien spiders and smashed into the bulkheads by giant rock … aliens. Space is absolutely horrific and in its inky darkness you will find only pain and misery. And due to Genesis Alpha One’s procedural nature, every time you lose a ship you start right back at the very beginning with a new ship, a new crew and a whole new randomly generated galaxy map. This has meant I have had a ship survive less than two hours, but others lasting significantly longer with one heading into double digits — the length of time your ship survives and achieves a Genesis landing is very much down to how softly you tread through this very hostile galaxy.
I cannot stress enough how fast things go wrong in Genesis Alpha One. It takes mere minutes for your hours of hard work to crumble around you and, due to its total random nature, one playthrough may be significantly harder than the next just due to how the proverbial dice have landed. However, at no point did I find this to be a burden on my enjoyment of the game as a whole. One playthrough yielded an abundance of weaponry that I simply did not encounter in other journeys (one gun even made a satisfying PEW! PEW! noise), whereas in my current playthrough I have a new hyperdrive system that allows for larger system jumps, which I simply didn’t know existed until that point. The game is still very much surprising me with its secrets, and I am still very eager to explore and discover them all.
Radiation Blue has taken great joy in giving the game a very analogue feel in its technology. The on-board computers tap, click and whir with a thoroughly pleasing 80’s home computer aesthetic, with every screen having that really sexy (yes, sexy) CRT monitor look. Every time you work on a monitor it feels suitably chunky and clunky, which wholly works in the game’s favour. This is balanced with a calming ship AI that always announces impending horror with its dulcet tones (which always seems to add to the panic), as well as more mundane things such as your harvester returning to dock or that your ship’s biosphere has improved.
This is offset, somewhat, with the rather disturbing process in how you expand your crew. Essentially, you have to clone them (such is the state of humankind, it would seem, we are running low on interstellar volunteers), but in order to do so you need ‘biomass’. Essentially the puddles of goo that aliens leave behind for you to ‘process’ into that what is required to manufacture a clone. You can combine biomass with discoverable alien DNA in order to boost stats and the such, or even create new races based on that which you have harvested. It’s all very practical, but when you’re cackling like a mad scientist in a gore-smeared room with ‘parts’ littered around to create what will be a new strand of humankind it just feels grim. At least it is in the early stages, as when you upgrade the clone lab it looks and feels a bit more shiny and sparkly — they at least clean up the goo after they’re done with it.
However despite several ticks in the 'win’ boxes, Genesis Alpha One does slip on a major issue. Given that a very large part of its gameplay relies on you being able to stop enemy invasions and infestations with weapons, you’d think there would be more care given to its execution. As it currently stands you are essentially playing a game that adheres to the early days of FPS — you’re a camera with wheels and a gun attached. In the context of moving around a massive ship, that speed is absolutely needed, but shooting anything becomes an absolute horror show. I fully appreciate that on PC, with its pointing and clicking, this probably isn’t an issue — but on console it’s just a near unforgivable oversight. It is nigh on impossible to accurately shoot anything in the game with a controller, unless you throw down the sensitivity as low as it will go. While that certainly helps some, in a firefight you still become reliant on the auto-aiming turrets you can place to win rather than with your own personal skills. There also seems to be a conscious decision to not use hitscan in its bullet mechanics which is just odd — in a game based in realism, why is there noticable travel time in bullets? It’s just a bit of a head-scratcher.
But overall shooting, while a fairly large part, is only one part of the whole. Genesis Alpha One just feels really good when you play it. Yes, it is a roguelike interstellar travel simulator, but it also feels like a really good puzzle that you can just spend hours and hours getting your teeth into. It’s so darn satisfying to accomplish anything in the game — whether that be creating decontamination corridors, or building a slick production line from harvester to refinery, or setting foot on your first Genesis planet; it all just works. It’s incredibly easy to lose yourself for hours as you play, just wondering what the next star system will hold (good or bad) whether that be a new ship module, or a rare resource that you desperately need to reinforce your ship, or even an alien life form that has attached itself to a crew member’s head.
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