In 1986, Charles DeLisi (at that point the director of the US Department of Energy) started work on the Human Genome Project, a long-running task that aims to map out the building blocks of human meat. One presumes that once the project has been completed and fully worked out, the potential we’ll have to tinker with our own DNA will create more-human-than-human perfection, and will be a bright and shining future for us all. Of course, there are those who believe that this system may be open to abuse as well, and that we’ll see a type of genetic class warfare. It all seems so fantastical, and thus it’s naturally fertile ground for a game. Enter the development house known as Cauldron Games, and their new FPS called Gene Troopers. Who needs steroids when you can just vat-grow a better set of pectoral muscles?
The basic plot of Gene Troopers is somewhat difficult to break down into a single tag-line, but I’ll try to keep it clear and to the point. In a distant future, amongst the stars of a different galaxy, a tyrannical government maintains control of its planets via genetically augmented super-soldiers called Gene Troopers. Not content with the armies it has already built, this power-mad group is perpetually searching for superior DNA to forge into machines of war. All of this comes crashing down on the hero of our tale (Johansson Bridger) the day that a civilian inter-stellar cruise ship he is on with his daughter Mareen is raided and he is forced into the GT program. After he awakens from his induced coma, he finds that the genetic experimentation has given him new powers and abilities but his biology has defied the GT process and left him with free will. He is broken out of his confinement by two mercenaries, Keysha and Al, who draw him into a complex plot to dominate more and more of the known universe through the forced enslavement of genetic tampering.
Along the way, there are some other events that happen; ancient relics of great potency, power-struggles between rival clans on oceanic planets, an unraveling tale involving a kidnapped daughter and her father-with-the-DNA-chops to take down armies in order to get her back. It’s all very complex. What kind of “chops” might I be referring to, you ask? Well, for starters, how about the ability to manipulate gravity? Sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it? Free of charge, courtesy of the Galactic Empire! (Yes, that’s actually what the developers named the big bad guys in this game.) All GTs come standard with tube-fed gravity-control gloves that allow objects of great size and weight to be moved with ease. This is handy for the creation of make-shift platforms. We’ve all been there, looking foolish as we hop up and down in a futile attempt to reach a distant ledge. Away with the everyday drudgery of insufficient hang-time! Just move those crates, Trooper! With some development, the heartlessly cruel GT can even learn to kill an enemy Darth Vader style, by crushing their hemoglobin pumping mechanisms with their spiffy Gore-Tex© lined grav-gloves. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
Speaking of personal development, all gene troopers can upgrade their abilities by collecting the raw DNA of fallen enemies. Various special traits like night vision, increased health, regeneration, and even energy shields can be "purchased" with your stockpile of genetic code collected from dead opponents. This is also the system you use to enhance your gravity-glove, as mentioned previously. Most of these powers also come in several levels, which naturally have a higher and higher cost associated with them. This isn’t the most comprehensive system I’ve ever seen, but it does serve to add a much-needed dose of depth to the somewhat tired FPS genre.
On top of this, there is also the usual assortment of weapons; pistols, rifles, automatic slug-throwers, "freeze" guns, and rocket-launchers. All of these have alternate fire-modes, ranging from varying degrees of zoom to high-powered explosive discharges. Thankfully, ammunition is plentiful, owing to the fact that all enemies carry oodles of the stuff. Watch in amazement as they clumsily drop their clips, dramatically falling to the ground after you’ve shot them and cleared away any hope of their attending their children’s graduation ceremonies. You heartless mutant, you! Oh yes, there are grenades too, for those tender moments where mass-detonation is apropos to the scene.
Gene Troopers isn’t without its share of flaws. To begin with, the game tends to crash fairly often. These are fairly free-form interruptions, occurring randomly. Next we have the frequently broken scripts. NPCs will often vanish, or not complete actions that continue the sequence of events, or sometimes you’ll finish a level and simply nothing will happen. Your only recourse at this time is to re-load an earlier save. The voice acting is sub-par, but it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen. The delivery is fairly flat, lacking in range and intonation, but the biggest problem I have with it is that I have a hard time telling the characters apart. The most egregious setback in all of Gene Troopers is easily the heads-up display. The placement of the read-out graphs on the upper left and right hand sides of the screen display health and ammunition levels. That’s all well and good, but these don’t scale outwards when you adjust your screen resolution. What this means is that, if you like playing at the default of 640x480, everything is positioned comfortably.
However, if you push that upwards, to say 1024x768 like I use, the meters stay put and sit about a full inch away from the edges of the screen, basically right in your direct line of sight. The effect is somewhat like taking light blue highlighter markers and drawing lines down your glasses (if you happen to wear them) about a half-inch in from the frames. Sure, you can still see, but the constant presence of a bluish hue gets irritating. So it is with the HUD in Gene Troopers; a perpetual frustration that can’t be fixed. Deus Ex: Invisible War comes to mind here; it too had a poorly placed tactical display. Finally, Gene Troopers has been sullied by the Starforce copy-restriction system. Those of you who know what this is will also know how bad it is; those of you who don’t should take the time to Google this invasive software and decide if it’s worth having on your system.
Other than these issues, I didn’t think this game was all that bad. Sure, it tends to wear its influences so prominently on its sleeve that it bleeds over into the derivative (Unreal 2, Tron 2.0, Deus Ex, Star Wars, etc.), but there did seem to be a certain passion that went into the code somewhere along the line. The sheer volume of extremely detailed environments is testament to this care. If you do get your hands on this, I’m sure you’ll agree that there are many solid ideas and a few tasteful dashes of RPG immersion to make this more than your standard shoot-‘em-up. Graphically, Cauldron has nothing to be ashamed of and the audio work is strong too, with only the slightly flat voice-acting crew detracting from the overall quality. With some patching to smooth out the previously mentioned flaws, this could be a worthwhile title for fans of science-fiction FPS. As it stands, I’d say it’s only going to be a good value if you can find it at a discounted budget price.
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