Developer: Nu Generation Games
Release Date: September 1, 2005
If I may be so bold, I love me some guns. While some players and critics may consider them passé, or simply the mark of poor game design and limited creativity, I think they can really add to a game if used properly. Serious Sam is the shining example, so say I. What's not to like about going balls-first into a scummy future city, armed to the teeth and more than ready to eliminate a chitin-based menace from the face o' da earth? Nada.
Origin of the Species is a design we're not seeing so much of these days: the third-person shooter. It's not an entirely lost concept, but it's lost much steam to the FPS, given today's ability to screamingly push realistic perspectives. Outside of Max Payne, have we really seen all that much of the concept? So Origin digs back into the fray and pulls up a gory, psychedelic foray into an invasion of little bugs, big bugs, and OMG bugs, guaranteed to make your local exterminator cower in the corner.
The preview build we were issued was the same version on display at E3 earlier this year. Clocking in at three partial levels and still obviously incomplete, the basic tenets were there. As former candy raver and recently-made-into-a-supergirl-by-some-random-government-plot DIRT (no, I'm not making that one up), it's up to you and only you to dig in and, well, kill things. Dirt's not incapable of the job, either: between her arsenal of nearly 30 various guns — all kinds of things from double pistols to flamethrowers and sniper rifles — and the new psychic powers she's somehow wound up with, you'll be making things die with style and panache. Toss razor blades, light fires with your brain, or throw things around at a touch. It's all there for you to experiment with, easy to cycle through and fire off without a thought. Not all of it was implemented in this version, but that just leaves a lot to look forward to.
At the play level, Origin is a stock shooter, trying very little to deviate from roots laid down years ago. The build reads like a cheat sheet of all the clichés we've come to love in PC gaming: a svelte female in moderately revealing clothing who's very sure of herself and has suddenly emerged from a weird situation with the very powers she needs to remedy the problem, lots of guns and explosions, and so on and so forth.
It's very difficult to analyze these things from just a basic play through, especially at a very early stage. While certain elements look great (Dirt is particularly well put-together, and I don't mean it that way), there were simply tons of graphic anomalies, missing elements, and hints here and there of poor level design. In this early stage, many of the graphics are dull and uninteresting, Dirt has some chunky animation, and the controls ... well, some of them simply don't work (one or two even render the game unplayable). There's the great basis for a mobile dodge system that doesn't work at this point, and many of the guns seem to be using placeholder graphics and the same machine gun icons. This, however, was May's build, so one could only assume that things have come a great distance since then.
What we get to see of the levels is interesting enough: the three segments are all very separate areas, each rather short but worth a quick buzz nonetheless. After a rather well-rendered John Woo-inspired intro movie, the first is a strip club (possibly from the beginning of the game, but there's honestly no way to tell) where the bug-things have trapped some strippers inside the place. Given enough time, those scantily clad dames will become food, but it's not all that difficult to whip out a firearm and open them up, all the while gaining points (the purpose of which are not yet determined). The level is extremely claustrophobic, with just a few kills now and again and very little to actually do. The "active object" marker needs to be implemented because right now, it's impossible to tell what can be used when necessary. The next two levels, a museum and an abandoned subway, show grains of promise but are really just too incomplete to pass verdict on, with enemies appearing out of thin air and AI that doesn't work at all (many enemies just stand and stare at you with dumb expressions) playing alongside the same terse design and bland texturing.
There are so many elements that aren't available in this version — lots of variable guns, a skill-building system, item pickups, dialogues and cut scenes, and about half the PSI abilities — that I just can't make a ruling at this point in development. I'd love to see a more current version, but you take what you can get. At face value, Origin has the chance to become a sort of third-person Serious Sam with the right touches here and there and a tightening of what's already there. On the other hand, it could wind up like another frantic, bizarre TPS that rolled out several years ago (Space Bunnies Must Die!), and we all remember how that one ended up. Here's to hoping that a massaging or three can put this beast back into shape before the scheduled September release, so we can all save the world in tight leather pants and a thong. I know that's my dream, anyway.