Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: Q1 2006
Everyone seems genuinely hung up on the future. What will it bring? Will I be happy? Will the world implode messily? Is Adam Sandler going to get a network sitcom? I stopped all that worrying, though, because I know how it'll work out: aliens will invade, kill most of the population, and ruthlessly lord over us until a random anonymous half-naked grunt with a pistol blows a hole in the regime. It has to be so; I read it on the internet.
Gene Troopers is yet another trip forward into the far-flung and bullet-laced future of humanity as we know it. The preview build is rather short on the details — many of plot elements have yet to be totally fleshed out at press time — but the basics are readily apparent. An army of genetically modified troops have landed on an unidentified world and have started to take it apart, using the native males as the fodder for the troops, referred to as "G.T."s, or Gene Troopers (hence the title). The lone gunman is captured quite early along but freed by a pair of rebels before the mutation process completely eats his brain. Now a lumbering giant of a being, fully capable of absorbing those he kills into his system in order to increase his own abilities, you'll get to run roughshod over the landscape, bringing death and agony to those who would rather you sort of sat there and looked subservient.
Beyond the initial drapery of a thin plot, Gene Troopers immediately sits down and gets right into the old school action FPS mode. Once free of the pod you're supposed to be resting in, you're immediately handed your wimpy little single-handed pistol and sent onwards towards a completely undefined goal. The first 10 minutes or so act as a rush tutorial, helping you learn how to shoot, reload, and handle the Grip Glove (how you get to move crates about). The controls are well laid-out, though it took about 20 minutes to figure out exactly how I was supposed to "click in the right thumbstick" or "pull the left trigger" or even "press start," but these are all things that can easily be improved in the later stages of development. (If you're wondering, Gene Troopers is starting its run on the Xbox — please save your "console ports suck" rants for another day.)
I'd love to tell you more and more about my experiences with GT, but the version we received was early and is rather coarse. The beginnings of interesting ideas are here — the pistol has a useful sniper scope; grenades are handled Halo-style on an independent button to allow gunnin' and bombin' smoothly; and the upgrade menus harken back to System Shock 2. and its Upgrade Terminals. There's plenty of ammo, and the guns are given a Giger-esque biomechanical look which goes with the whole "genetically manipulated army of superthugs." Still, there's a lot of similarity in the textures and enemy designs as it stands, and with no sort of mapping function, the base of the first level is extremely confusing. There's also the heavy leaning on purple in the color scheme — your guns, pickups left by the deceased, your Grip Glove, and most of the walls are nearly the same shade of purple. Other graphical issues pop up now and again, but many are to be expected in beta software. "They'll be cleaned up later" is a mantra for these sort of preview products.
And I sincerely hope they are cleaned up, because Gene Troopers is crawling with bugs that simply cannot be allowed to get out into the retail product. The save game system simply did not work, and not in a "disabled feature" sense — reloading sends the player back to the beginning of the level but does not reset the state (you still have your guns and GripGlove, and the actor who frees you walks right past a clone of himself) and then crashes later. Hitting too many buttons at once crashes the game to the desktop. Your partners have dreadful AI and tend to walk into fire and, well, crumple over and die explosively. Targets that need to be destroyed are nearly indestructible. Guards run out and stare you in the face, and foremost, the game engine has a strong tendency to lock up violently. I haven't had a program jam Windows XP this completely in quite some time.
As previewed, Gene Troopers is incomplete, something that PlayLogic makes no attempt to hide. It is uneven, unfair, and only passingly fun. But everything that curses it to the bargain bins now can be fixed, and if love is given as love is due, there's a possibility that Gene Troopers can be rescued. It will require much more attentive care and many months of bug squashing and re-thinking of basic elements (weapon selection by mouse wheel only? a sniper pistol that sprays like a machine gun and can still be heard no matter how silent the game swears it is? AI partners that forget to fire?). Watch this space for more details as things start to become cohesive.
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