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April 2020

Genesis Alpha One

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Radiation Blue
Release Date: Jan. 29, 2019


Xbox One Review - 'Genesis Alpha One'

by Cody Medellin on May 24, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Genesis Alpha One is a sci-fi game that puts you in the role of an interstellar pioneer, and combines a mix of roguelike, FPS, base building and survival elements.

Buy Genesis Alpha One

Some games are burdened with unfortunate names, and Genesis Alpha One is certainly one of them. Break down the meaning of each word, and it simply feels like someone looked for synonyms to the word "beginning," took a few of the words that sound appropriate for a sci-fi setting, and threw them together without another thought. Unfortunate naming aside, everything about the game seems fine on paper, but it ends up being quite messy.

The premise is familiar. In the not-so-distant future, overpopulation and other environmental calamities have left the Earth starving for resources. With very little left to conserve, humans have once again taken to space travel to stave off extinction. Almost all of the major corporations have banded together to find a solution. With deep space exploration conquered and the ability to perfectly clone human beings, it is up to you and your cloned crew to find a new planet that's habitable enough to ensure the survival of the human race.

Don't expect things to go deeper than that. Beyond the premise, there's nothing that provides narrative direction. There are no notes to give you the backstory about what happened or what the expectations are, and there's no banter from your crew to inform you of what daily life is like on these missions. The only story you get is when you die, as the aftermath is quite verbose for a "game over" screen.

Much like the title, the game is a mash-up of several different stand-alone mechanics. When you start the game after picking which corporation to align with, you start building your ship. You'll always start with your bridge and power cores, since they're at the heart of your spacecraft, and you'll have at least one quarter for yourself and possibly a few other crew members. From there, you need to at least build a greenhouse to have plants that'll contribute to your ship's breathable atmosphere. You'll need a tractor beam to haul in space junk to mine resources, so you can build out more of your ship. A cloning facility is also needed for new crew members. You're also going to need a weapons facility to make guns and a hanger to launch shuttles and explore nearby planets. Though these rooms have specific connection points, you can arrange the layout any way you want. The corridor pieces allow you to further customize your ship.

Unlike other games where you simply build the ship, you can instantly explore it from a first-person viewpoint, where you can also instigate actions from the interface. You can talk to the ship's AI or the crew members, but you won't do that often since all you'll get is an explanation of each room's function. Since this is deep space, you'll be invaded by alien life forms that hitch a ride with the debris that you beam in — and space pirates can also beam aboard your ship. You can place turrets in every room to deal with the threat, but you'll eventually have to do the fighting yourself.

The best way to describe the shooting in Genesis Alpha One is perfunctory. Modern conveniences are gone, like aiming down iron sights, and the game is very generous about auto-aiming. You move very quickly, so it's easy to outrun foes unless you're in a narrow chokepoint. Considering that most enemies rush you to attack and refuse to fight with any semblance of tactics, gunplay becomes repetitive no matter which weapon you use.

Aside from the uninspired shooting and basic AI, you'll notice two other annoyances. First, there's no actual way to get rid of alien invaders. Alien creatures that board your ship can all be shot, but even when you find all of the eggs on a ship and refuse to beam in any more space junk, they'll still find ways to appear. The same goes for space pirates, as you can warp several galaxies over and still get alerts that they've invaded your ship and are wreaking havoc. It's exasperating that you can't get rid of them, and a basic video game mechanic that should be exciting becomes boring instead.

The second thing you'll notice is that your crew members are essentially useless. The good news is that you can actually harvest alien DNA from dead enemies and merge it with your human DNA to modify any clones you create. Those new creatures may suddenly get more appendages or breathe new gases, but the modifications are also supposed to make the clones more skilled at certain things. One clone type, for example, may be better suited to maintain the greenhouse, while another may be a better explorer type since they're more durable against alien attacks.

The bad news is that, aside from general appearances, you never see any of these changes in action. Whether in a normal human form or a modified one, clones don't bother fighting off any enemies unless they get hit first. They ignore enemies, and they're perfectly content watching you get pummeled. They do a decent job if you assign them to a task, but anyone who's not specifically assigned to something will be content to hang out and not contribute in any way. For the most part, you'll do all of the work yourself when you're on the ship, and the problem is amplified whenever you warp to a new solar system and find that everyone to whom you had previously assigned tasks have quit, forcing you to run around and reassign jobs to new clones.

Aside from babysitting the ship and everyone on it, you have the chance to explore new nearby planets. Planetary combat is similar to ship combat, so expect enemies to rush you and allies to get hit before they fight back. Actual exploration takes place in a small area, since the rest of the planet has been deemed hostile, and you will likely spend most of your time gathering items for further refinement aboard the ship. You also get a chance to analyze each planet, and if things are good enough, you can take care of an alien queen in order to take the planet for yourself and make it humanity's new home. If not, you simply move on to plunder another planet and start the process again.

Although the task of planetary travel can get repetitive due to the limited things you can do, analyzing each planet gives you a chance to play around with your overall strategy for winning, since the parameters for what would be considered a hospitable planet are highly flexible. For example, you may find a planet that has all of the necessities for human life, but the atmosphere is dense in nitrogen instead of oxygen. Instead of abandoning it, you can modify your clones so that each one born breathes nitrogen instead. Things can get morose when you eliminate the normal clones in favor or the modified ones, but at least you'll be able to use those corpses as resources for your new modified species, putting you one step closer to that goal and beating the game.

Perhaps the most baffling thing about Genesis Alpha One is that the tutorial provides such a terrible first impression to the player. There are plenty of things you have to learn at the beginning, and the tutorial seems to go through things very slowly, often not providing guidance about where you need to be or which menu you need to use. It also doesn't help that it takes a multitude of button presses to get out of the tutorial PDA and into the area you need to reach. Most of the time, you're simply stumbling on to the solution, but the worst offense is that the whole thing seems to ignore what's happening in the world. The ship may be on the brink of collapse, but the tutorial insists that you find a way to get a crew together for an expedition. As an introduction to the game, the tutorial fails hard and is much better at discouraging players from continuing.

If there's any solace to be had, it would be that the game's roguelike elements aren't as punishing as expected. As long as the ship isn't blown to smithereens and you have at least one clone alive, you'll be able to come back to life and continue where you left off. Barring that, each death brings you closer to unlocking a new corporation, and while the benefits of each one aren't substantial enough to make another playthrough very easy or very hard, they can make you change your strategy.

Presentation-wise, the title is rather confused. The sound is fantastic, and the brief pieces of the soundtrack provide a sense of dread and foreboding similar to that of a horror game. The machinery effects are very well done, and the scant few voices perform well at their given roles. Graphically, the game moves at 60fps, but the high speed at which you move feels somewhat off for a title like this. The washed-out colors are fine for the FMV sequences, but they make the gameplay look uninviting. The character models are meant to look unappealing because they're clones, but the game looks cheap because of it.

Genesis Alpha One is a game with some good ideas but no elegant way to execute them all. The merging of ship building and exploration is quite good once you understand how to do it. DNA splicing is also a neat little touch, but it doesn't fix the fact that the clones are as dumb as bricks and about half as useful. Planetary exploration feels fine, but the gunplay is undercooked. All in all, there's a decent title here if you're able to overcome all of its issues.

Score: 6.0/10

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