Genesis: Alpha One

My most recent gaming purchase is a game called Genesis: Alpha One, a rather bizarre sci-fi roguelike game that I bought based on the review by Worth a Buy. I liked the look of it and thought the ideas behind the game were very interesting, so I decided to pick it up on the Epic Store.

When I say bizarre, I do mean it, but in a good way – good enough for me to write about. The basic objective is quite straightforward: you search the stars for a Genesis-ready planet. In other words, you’re looking for a planet that you can start a colony on. That’s the main objective, but getting to that main objective takes quite some time and the requirements that you need to meet are dependent on the planet and its atmosphere.

But first before continuing, let’s establish many of the games systems that in place to get you to your goal.

Ship Building and Resources

The first thing to take note of is that you pilot a small ship that can eventually become quite big by building more rooms and corridors to it. There’s a simple and efficient ship building menu you can go into which allows you to build set modules for specific room types, as well as corridors, access vents and even lifts, as the ship can be a multi-floor behemoth, which is a nice touch. It always irks me that ships feel very flat in games, so seeing multiple floors being possible in this is good – it does remind me of film ships such as the Event Horizon or Alien’s Nostromo.

All these modules take energy and resources, with energy being produced by creating “reactor” modules, and resources coming from both using a tractor beam to beam up resources from space debris, and from planetary exploration. Raw resources from planets need to be refined however, so you need to also construct storage modules, a deposit and a refinery, which is used for making the mined resources actually usable.

All of this is pretty well integrated to create both a ship and resource management system. An efficient ship layout is important too – not just for supply lines moving efficiently but also for other, dangerous reasons too, because your ship can be susceptible to infestations and invasions. Infestations can come from either alien lifeforms clinging onto your harvester after a planetary expedition, or from tractor beam debris that contains them. There is also the problem of potentially being boarded too, and a confusing ship layout could make the difference between clearing out the invaders and blowing out the entire ship and losing the game.

It’s interesting. There’s a decent amount to think about when building your ship and a lot of different tasks that need to be done. Damage to your ship needs to be manually tracked and repaired by yourself too, so you need to be constantly on guard in case of aliens sitting in your vents pooping out eggs, or invaders blowing out sections of your ship. You lose when the bridge is lost, so that’s the number one priority when it comes to protecting parts of your ship.

Clones and DNA

Part of what makes your ship run smoothly is the cloning aspect. In Genesis, the entire crew are clones of you, and you can create clones and assign them to jobs on the ship. This includes things like operating the tractor beam, planetary expeditions (they can do this without you), scanning planets on the bridge, managing the greenhouse, and many more. They’re also a key component behind Genesis planets, which I’ll explain later.

If you die and have a respawn chamber module, a clone takes your place and is promoted as the captain. Clones require living quarters and a biosphere – which is built with greenhouses. Biospheres allow you to grow certain plants that provide a certain type of atmosphere to the ship, and this atmosphere allows specific types of clones to be able to live.

This part is one of the most interesting and bizarre aspects to the game. When exploring planets and encountering new alien lifeforms, they have a chance to drop DNA samples, which once you acquire enough, allow you to merge those DNA samples with human DNA and create a bizarre human/alien hybrid clone. These kinds of clones have different atmospheric requirements so you need to search for plants that can accommodate them. Having these kinds of alien clones is beneficial too, because they all have different traits. Some of them are less intelligent so they would be terrible at scanning planets on the bridge or growing plants, but they’d be an excellent asset on planetary expeditions because they’re more resistant to damage. On the other hand, some of them are highly intelligent but frail, so keeping them as researchers and engineers on the ship is beneficial.

It’s interesting and I’ve never seen this in a game before. The cloning aspects could use a little more fleshing out as a lot of the stats seem superficial, but they are useful for the main goal of finding a Genesis planet, as you need to make clones that can handle the atmosphere of the planet you’ve found and a large amount of them too. It all goes hand in hand and is well integrated to create a game with a very clear purpose.

However the best aspect to the game is its threats, which end up being very tense and enjoyable.

Invasions, Infestations and other Dangers

In Genesis, the first form of danger you’re likely to encounter are small alien lifeforms crawling through your vents and damaging important nodes that keep everything connected. These little critters come in varying forms and can crawl into your ship through a returning harvester from an expedition, crawling out of resources they were hiding in, or popping out of the tractor beam as they sometimes get beamed up along with the resources.

These aliens don’t really pose a threat directly and are easily killed, but the big problem with them is that they can hide in your ship and lay eggs. If you are not properly laying out your ship and keeping the potential breakout areas covered with turrets and other defensive modules, aliens can crawl all out into your ship and infest it.

Infestations are insane and creepy. Apart from making corridors it’s important to also make access tunnels so you can crawl under the floors of the ships modules. In the access tunnels you have to manually find and clean out whatever aliens have holed up in there, and there’s a little motion detector on your wrist that both beeps faster the closer you are to an alien, and shows from which direction it’s coming from (though you can only see the visual indicator if you’re holding a two handed weapon). Again, if you’re not efficient about keeping aliens out, you may end up with an enormous infestation of aliens and eggs all over the place, which can rapidly rip apart your ship and put you into a panic state.

This game tends to get me tensed up with the noises and lighting – in my first run I dreaded having to crawl through the tunnels to find eggs and aliens that were hiding. Seeing them, hearing the beeping noise and moving through the dimly lit tunnels really set off an “Aliens” vibe. It’s impressively creepy but also really fun. I think that having a later, advanced robotic module that helps clear out infestations would be nice though, as manually having to do it all the time can be a bit much. Otherwise, it’s a nice touch and something you have to be vigilant about constantly.

Then there are the invasions, which also end up very tense and exciting when they happen. There are other ships apart from you in the galaxy, with some of them just being trader ships you can trade with, but others being other corporations that warp into your cluster and start boarding your ship.

Boarding can happen very fast, and if you have a chaotic ship layout, can be an utter disaster. The corporations that board you are usually heavily armed and can kill off your crew very quickly as well as destroy sections of the ship, so during this time you’re frantically running around trying to stop the boarders from doing much damage. My favourite part about this is really the alert and warp in of the other corporation – as the alert goes off, you can visibly see a massive ship warp into the cluster above you if you look outside. Something that is really nice about this game is its attention to detail with active events in the world like that. You can see your harvester entering and leaving your main ship, damage and debris from blown up modules, the greenhouses shining in the distance, etc. It’s lovely and adds a sense of scale that feels fantastic.

Boarding events are usually finished after you eliminate all the intruders and the enemy ship warps out, however you can also quickly warp on out to a different cluster yourself to immediately clear yourself of any more reinforcements being warped into your ship.

The only issue here, and one that plagues the game as a whole, is bad AI. For aliens, moving in a straight line and being generally quite stupid is fine, but crew and intruder AI is summed up with running around aimlessly, gasping and shooting – and often times running right past you before finally stopping, taking a gander at you and shooting. It’s awful, and detracts from an otherwise very frantic and exciting experience and something that needs to be worked on in the future. I can live with it to some extent as being boarded makes for a very challenging experience, but giving your crew some self-defense competency alongside enemies would make for a much more immersive and interesting play. Being able to see crew hiding for cover and taking potshots would be glorious. But alas, it is what it is for the time being.

Death, Corporations and Replay

As mentioned previously, dying in Genesis has you replaced by a clone who you then take control of. However, once the entire crew is killed off or the bridge is destroyed, it’s game over and you have to start a new game – part of what makes it a roguelike. Game’s are not short, however. Unlike FTL, which can be maybe an hour long in play time, Genesis runs actually go for quite a few hours, which gives the game quite a bit of value for its asking price. The good thing about new runs too is that as you explore the galaxy and find sites and research items, they can be unlocked and used in your next run, and with different corporations too.

At the beginning of the game you choose a corporation that dictates aesthetic appearance of your ship, as well as your crews loadout and some other small perks. For example, when I first played the game I thought the crew was only ever going to have pistols, as I picked the ‘tutorial’ corporation. Not until I started a new game as the advanced cloning corporation that I realized that the crew end up looking a little different as well as having x-ray rifles as a gun too. There are other perks, such as more storage for biomass (the resource used for healing and cloning), but those kinds of perks and quirks in each corporation adds a strong incentive to start a new game and get exploring. Apart from this fact, you can pick some starting research items that you’ve unlocked in previous runs too, so if you unlocked shotgun research in a previous run, you can immediately have that available to you in the next run by adding it as a starting point. Each corporation has limits on how many research items/perks they can start with, but usually if they have less there, they have more in crew capacity or some other feature.

There are also corporations which can be unlocked by achieving certain goals throughout a run, so there’s more incentive there to keep playing too. These corporations include the ones that board your ship too, which I found very surprising and cool – primarily because I liked the aesthetics behind them and that would mean that you can have a run with a heavily armed clone army from the get-go. I’m not sure what the downside is as I haven’t tried them yet, but I’m sure it’s probably something in research or storage limitations, etc.

Unique, Bizarre and Encouraging

I think that overall Genesis: Alpha One is definitely worth buying and I don’t regret my purchase. What I particularly like about it is that it has interesting ideas and a very focused kind of aesthetic to it. If I recall reading, the team behind it is very small with about three or four people, so what they’ve made here (and I’m sure it’s also partially thanks to Unreal Engine being so good to work with) is quite impressive.

It does have issues. I can foresee the repetitive nature of its resource gathering and planetary exploration getting tedious for some. It has pretty bad AI, and the scope is still quite limited in that you can’t go very far on a planet, likely because of budget limitations, etc. There are also small QOL issues such as not being able to recycle the robots you build for helping move things around. The reason you’d want to do this is because you can get better ones later on. You have to shoot them to kill them off, then build a new one. I think that it would also be good to be able to manage crew jobs in the ship building menu or PDA that you have (unless there is some feature I’ve missed that allows it). Moving from area to area and assigning crews can be quite tedious as running around in a big ship takes time.

But they are mostly little things and quirks to an otherwise fun, unique and most of all engaging game. It’s not like other titles, it has a very distinct style, both visually and aurally, and the developers seem certain on that style.

I like that. They have a vision and stick to it. The game is also sufficiently creepy enough to get me to tense up during infestation events or boardings. I can’t recall a game that has made me feel that way while simultaneously enjoying myself. It’s great, and you can buy Genesis on the Epic Store for PC. The console versions should be on their respective online platforms, but I have no idea – I don’t have a console!

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