Developer: Metamorf Studios
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Rising into Mediocrity
Genesis Rising: The Universal Crusade is an RTS title looking to change the way we think about and play RTS titles. Screenshots and descriptors hearken back to Relic's classic Homeworld series, but upon immediate inspection, Genesis Rising reveals itself to be a much different game than Relic's groundbreaking offering from yesteryear.
Genesis Rising makes some very promising first impressions. The game shines very well in the visual department right off the bat, and normal mapping for the ships creates the organic "look and feel" the game is trying to achieve. Ship designs range from small insect-looking fighters to massive creatures that look distinctly alien. The game-space is an expanse that can be maneuvered with a 3D camera which is like any other, but maneuvering ships reveals something very quickly — the playing arena is 2D. While the illusion of deep space depth is there, ships can only be maneuvered along the same plane, a limitation which throws the rest of Genesis Rising into doubt.
Where the game promised much through great visual effects and modeling and ambience, the core gameplay mechanics were already hampered by the lack of being able to maneuver units in a 3D space. Why set a game in space if the player cannot make use of all of it? Why not at least add layers to change elevation? It doesn't make sense, just as having organic spacecraft that look so determinedly alien be owned and created by characters so mundanely human. Furthermore, the resource is blood, which is another odd choice ... but perhaps Genesis Rising excels elsewhere and is fun to play.
Genesis Rising is a classic RTS in a sense that you gather resources and build fleets. While you build ships that allow you to build more ships and enhancements, there is no base building in the Warcraft 3, Company of Heroes or Command and Conquer 3 sense of the design conceit. This departure is a welcome one, and the idea of a roaming base with your resource harvesters searching out more resource centers is much like Homeworld's base and resource management model and makes Genesis Rising easier to manage. Unfortunately, that is the only aspect of Genesis Rising that makes the game easier to play.
One of the key components of Genesis Rising is also its least well-implemented component. Every one of your units can be genetically modified, which offers a wide variety of customization for your fleet. This, in itself, is a great gameplay enhancement. Learning how genetic codes mutate your ships in different manners is key to success and allows you to perform vital mission functions or to create a tailor-made fleet. You can make each of your fighters gun-slinging death dealers, or you can modify your core ship into a beast that can wade into battles and tear apart enemy formations.
The problem arises when you want to activate these genetic modifications. Many of these genetic mutations are weapons which need to be activated, and to activate a special weapon, you select the unit, hit the space bar, select the weapon, and then select the target. In a fast-paced RTS game, this many steps to get your units to use their best abilities wrecks any sense of timing and creates a needless sense of micromanagement. There is no reason for this. In every other RTS title, upgrades work seamlessly and automatically, unless it is a one-time use special ability, like Command and Conquer 3's faction special abilities or Company of Heroes' faction abilities. Imagine if every time you wanted a modified Sherman tank in Company of Heroes to use its main gun, you have to order it to do so. Does this sound smooth and simple? In practice, it is anything but, and it quickly gets tiresome. This is truly a tragic flaw in the game's overall execution, as otherwise the gameplay designs and conceits are fascinating, to say the least.
The idea that you can co-opt enemy mutations by harvesting their corpses is a compelling way to get access to otherwise unavailable upgrades. The upgrades are also crucial because your fleet is limited in terms of unit types. Of the three factions — Military, Inquisition and Defiance — each faction boasts a whopping seven ship types, three of which are fighters, two are capital ships, and the rest are stations, harvesters and laboratories. With the 20+ genetic modifications the player can use, there is still a great deal of means to create special units. The base units are simple and basic and largely unvaried from faction to faction, and they all share the same organic "living ship" look and feel.
One lesser aspect of Genesis Rising that is generally well done is the diplomacy model, which is an aspect largely left untouched by RTS offerings. Diplomacy is something that is usually reserved for large-scale strategy games, but in Genesis Rising, the player can make contact with third parties and trade with them, establish diplomatic relations, and even work toward an alliance, which are forced mission objectives in some of the single-player game and a means to an end in other missions. When third parties are allied with the player, they can then request aid and coordinate attacks with each other and trade for resources or mutations that are otherwise unavailable.
Another area in which Genesis Rising stumbles is stability. Many times, changing visual options or making specific configurations — such as anti-aliasing in a 16x9 widescreen format — creates artifacts.
Every so often, the game will render itself in a corrupted form that is unplayable, and then every so often, the game will simply crash back to the desktop. Multiplayer games aren't spared from these stability issues, either. This would be a problem were it not for the fact that Genesis Rising doesn't boast a very strong multiplayer community at this point. It does enjoy Game Spy support, but finding multiplayer opportunities can be difficult.
All in all, Genesis Rising's core gameplay is single-player. The storyline is largely forgettable, and the cinematic cut scenes primitive at best and laughable at worst. The art direction is sound but doesn't make sense. While the "organic" ships morph and modify in a visually perceptible fashion, the ships look so alien that it doesn't make sense for humans to be piloting them. Furthermore, the story is rife with science fiction clichés, such as the reluctant hero or the noble father inspiring his son to greatness. The plotlines have been told before and in a better manner. In fairness, the branching campaign paths are a nice diversion from more linear and predictable campaigns with canned storylines.
Genesis Rising: The Universal Crusade could have started off a great franchise, but there is so much left undone in terms of gameplay and core design mechanics that it becomes a largely frustrating incident. Activating special abilities gets annoying, and technical glitches further frustrate any attempt to have fun. Despite the unique look and direction this takes on the RTS genre, the feeling of "I've been here before, done this before, and seen this before" pervades the entire experience.
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